In its bid to develop the game at the grassroots level, Hockey India is planning to introduce zonal system tournaments in the sub-junior (U-17) and junior (U-19) categories across the country, said sport body's president Dilip Tirkey. (More Hockey News)
Dilip Tirkey, a veteran of 400 international matches, reiterated the importance of national championships and said a zonal system needs to be introduced at the grassroot level to give more game time to budding players.
"For any sport to thrive, grassroots development is vital. A strong foundation results in good players and a strong senior and junior national teams," the former India captain said in Hockey Pe Charcha, a podcast series of Hockey India.
"In the past, athletes in the sub-junior (U-17) and junior (U-19) categories haven't had enough game time. We are going to rectify that by introducing a zonal system, where they play will intra-zone and inter-zone competitions.
"Pragmatically, not everybody will play for India, but this set up will at least allow players to take pride in representing their respective zones and give them a feel of a competitive atmosphere at an early age," Tirkey added.
He feels the new system will also help selectors and the administration immensely in creating a vast pool of players.
"We are trying to build a pipeline of talent. From each zone, we could potentially have a pool of around 50 players. At any given time, we should be aware of what level our sub-junior or junior athletes are at and therefore we can accordingly give them the resources they need."
Tirkey also informed that Hockey India is introducing special training programmes for athletes and coaches as part of the initiative.
"Based on the level of competition at the zonals or the nationals, we can accordingly provide training modules, such as a 'drag-flick program' or even a 'goalkeepers program' involving former international players who can headline these clinics.
"Focusing on the individual development is very important and that is also why we are emphasising on residential facilities for younger athletes rather than a simple academy-based model. This will enable them to familiarise themselves with the necessary training and nutritional requirements in order to perform optimally," he said.
The HI president said that at the upcoming national championship, to be held in Odisha in April, players can expect a world class set up, with matches being played under flood lights.
"Once we give our junior athletes the responsibility and experience, by simulating high level competition from a young age, they will find it easier to cope with the challenges that accompany playing for India at an international level."