Ranchi (Jharkhand), Jan 12 (IANS) India is not a strange land and a new experience for Valentin Altenburg, the chief coach of the Germany women’s hockey team that starts as the top favourite to top the standings and clinch a berth to the Paris Olympic Games via the FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers starting here on Saturday.
He has visited and managed different teams in India, with the senior men’s team for the 2014-15 Hockey World League Final in Raipur, as coach of the Dabang Mumbai team in the Hockey India League and now as the coach of the senior women’s hockey team from Deutschland.
The different visits to India over the years to execute different roles have also helped Altenburg grow as a coach of international repute and help the Germany senior men’s team win a bronze medal in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
World No.5 Germany, the highest-ranked team participating in Ranchi, will open their campaign against Chile in the tournament lung-opener on Saturday.
The 43-year-Altenburg is hoping to transfer the experience he gained during his visits to India to the women’s team and help them clinch a berth at the Paris Olympic Games later this year. If Germany manage to qualify and win a medal in Paris, it will make Altenburg one of the few coaches to win Olympic medals with both the men’s and women’s hockey teams.
Altenburg is hoping to help use his experience in India to understand the atmosphere of a jam-packed hockey stadium in India.
“We have actually talked about it because we are expecting a great crowd and also a fantastic atmosphere here in Ranchi. We showed the girls some videos from Hockey India League days where everything was packed. Everybody was cheering for the Rhinos and the game in the old days,” Alternburg told IANS in an exclusive interview on the eve of the opening day of the women’s FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers here.
“So we really enjoy that and we are looking forward to a lot of crowds, a lot of young people we can inspire. So we are very happy that the qualifier is here in Ranchi because the conditions are perfect. We were very surprised when we came (to know) that the arena was already nicely fixed and especially today I think everything is prepared for tomorrow’s start,” Altenburg added.
Asked how has these different roles helped him grow as a coach, Altenburg said executing these different roles has made him a better manager.
“From every visit, I came back I realized how many people in the world love hockey and share that love with myself. This is very outstanding here in India throughout the country and it has shaped me as a coach because working at for example Hockey India League with players from all around the world and getting people together and understanding their different backgrounds and cultures has also enriched my life,” said experienced coach who has also guided the Germany U21 and development squads.
“So when I come to India, which is a very different culture than the German culture and it is so interesting to see how life can be different and how yeah our approach of life, it’s just one way of doing it. So I’m very, very thankful always to be here and when I come back I really realize what it made with me that those days here in your country and the girls, for most of them it’s their first visit to India and they have a smile every morning they wake up,” said Altenburg.
Altenburg said there is a lot of difference in coaching men’s and women’s teams and the challenges are different.
“Yeah, so from my experience working with men, women and also youth teams, which I like a lot and did a lot. And I think that my experience is that every team is a little bit different. And in the end, they’re all human beings, but they’re different human beings with different challenges, with different issues, with different things to focus on. And for me, it has helped me that I don’t have my specific approach and I bring a different approach to every team I go to. But my approach is to look, at where are we and where the team that I take over, where the team needs help.
“And so I don’t think there’s a huge difference between men and women or adults and kids. They’re just a huge difference between human beings overall. And so I always try to look at what human beings we have and how we can bring those potential strengths and opportunities together and and create a union out of those strengths. So it’s always a new way that we can go with a new team as a coach and that’s great because it never gets boring,” said Altenburg.
Altenburg loves the challenge of managing the different personalities in the team and getting them to play as one unit.
“Coaching a national team, I think is 80 percent management involving mental and team building issues and technique or technical issues. So most of my time is focusing on mental and team building issues and social issues.
“That is sometimes rather difficult to be honest, because the talent brings them to the national team and they’re very different personalities that are bound to to work together. And also that international schedule we have nowadays asks a lot of them, a lot of time together, a lot of travel together and so you have to find your own team culture and identity and this is a lot of work.
“It might not be very obvious to people outside of teams that it’s not normal that people come together and are a team, so there’s work that makes a team work,” said Altenburg, who is married to Lisa Altenburg, a former German hockey player and national team player since 2013.
Altenburg took over the German women’s senior national team in 2022 and has guided them to a bronze medal in the 2023 European Hockey Championships at home in Monchengladbach.
The FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers in Ranchi will be the biggest challenge for Valentin Altenburg in his role as women’s team coach.
But having been there and done that with the men’s team, Altenburg is confident of his team coming up with their best performance in Ranchi. He said the focus will be on qualifying for the Olympics. He has an experienced squad that has prepared well for this event.