On Friday morning as chief coach Harendra Singh put the senior team campers through their paces, the difference in fitness levels was evident. There was no rustiness coming into the first camp of a crucial year.
With three major tournaments – Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and the World Cup – lined up this season, the players are working hard at getting faster, fitter and skill-wise better. Their hard work is showing and the latest yo-yo tests are a case to point. The 33 campers underwent the yo-yo intermittent recovery test (level1) – a test to measure an athlete’s ability to repeatedly perform high-intensity aerobic work – on Thursday under the watchful eyes of the team’s scientific advisor Wayne Lombard.
The scores have not only been encouraging but have left the coaching staff pleasantly surprised. The highest score was 21.1 – reached by four players – while the lowest was 17.7.
Harendra, told TOI, “We are pleasantly surprised. The average is very good. We will take time to reach the optimum levels. But I’m glad the process has started.”
Lombard, who has been with the team since March last year, pointed to the improvement in the team’s yo-yo test results and said, “When I first arrived, the team average was about 17. It went up to 17.5 and now it is just above 18. We also have seen improvement in their strength as well as speed over the last couple of months.”
Asked if they had set a passing mark for the players, the South African explained, “Each player has their own individual target which we match up against position specific norms according to international performance standards. Individually, I look at something called smallest worthwhile change, which is seen as statistically significant improvement. This is adjusted after each testing round, so we look for small improvements all the time.”
With a 2020 Olympic berth also up for the grabs this year, Lombard, a doctorate holder in exercise science from the University of Cape Town, pointed out, “There is always room for improvement, but it is difficult to put a number on it. This is especially so with players running on the lower side of the team average. Ideally, we want every player running 18 or higher before the Commonwealth Games. That said, the yo-yo test is only one performance indicator. Things like strength, agility and speed, and repeat sprint ability are just as important, especially for injury prevention as well for playing at international level hockey.”