Darren Smith, the coach of UniKL comes with impressive credentials. He fields questions on what his expectations are in the MHL and also is frank on his views about Malaysian hockey. He also touches on the issue of coaching the national team in this interview. Read on...
Question: Before coming to Malaysia, did you have any knowledge of the MHL and if yes what was your initial opinion?
Darren: My knowledge of the MHL was fairly limited. I had heard about TNB, Sapura and KLHC through reading about last years competition. I knew it was a company based competition where players were contracted to companies rather than joining a traditional hockey club. Over the coming weeks it will be good to see the competition unfold and see what the standard is like.
Question: Having trained the UniKL team for the past month, what are the strengths and weakness that you identified and worked on?
Darren: The UniKL team has some exciting youth players who work hard and will put everything out on the field. In training I have been impressed with the teams desire to lift the intensity and apply themselves. We will be working hard on our ability to hold possession of the ball, attack the 25 and circle and defend as a collective unit. Taking a more structure approach top our game without impacting on our speed and flair. Woody (assistant coach Embraj) and I really want the young players to relax, play without fear and enjoy compeiption. To play to their potential.
Question: You have in your team several talented youngsters that could be knocking on the doors of the Malaysian national team at the end of the season. Your opinion on these players and how will you guide them to deliver for your team?
Darren: Many of the UniKL players from the Project 2013 squad are impressive. In particular I like the skill and speed at which they play the game. Breaking into the Malaysian team at the moment will be tough especially given the performance in China and the quality of what is a young National team. Our young players need to concentrate on performance over the whole match, developing consistency and being tough and aggressive on the field. This along with clever positioning and tactics will give them the package to compete internationally. We will work hard with each of them to give a boost into international hockey where the true test in hockey ability is.
Question: In New Zealand there is a league of similar nature with many Australian players plying their trade? Do you feel that having too many foreign players in a team will be counter productive?
Darren: Foreign players is an interesting concept. In NZ you are allowed to have 2 international players with your team which is different to the open policy in Malaysia. Every year within my team in NZ I will try and attract two high quality internationals. There are many reasons why but first is to learn from them and allow their quality to impact on our top youth players. My Midlands team has had David Guest, Bevan George and Matt Wells all Australian Olympic medalists with Bev and Matt winning gold. Them and the other internationals including Raju Sandrakasi and Phil Stahr from UniKL have impacted hugely on our team and our players.
Within UniKL we will have 4 international players working with our youth players to help performance, education and try to get our team closer to the top Malaysian sides. Everyone is winning in this arrangement from the players who get the experience of living in Malaysia to the UniKL players and also lastly the opposition who will get to face them. We cannot wait to play Rehan and Sohail the Pakistan legends up against our young team. What an experience.
Question: What are the targets that you have set for your team and how receptive are the players towards your coaching methods?
Darren: We would like to perform well against KLHC, Sapura, Maybank and TNB. We would like to have our team competitive and playing to their potential. Entering the semi finals is a target and obviously we dream of winning the MHL as everyone does.
We try and play a passing vision orientated game. Our players need to have skill and the game knowledge to apply the right options at the right times. The players have been very receptive to training and are committed to the team and what the management are asking them to do.
Question: Malaysia seldom sends its players out to play in other leagues. What do you think of getting players to play in foreign leagues?
Darren: I'm a fan. In the past I have approached Kuhan, Chua and Raju to play for my teams. All of these players are great and I'm sure that working with them would help my coaching and help them as a player. I would love to see Tengku, Amin or S.Kumar in the NZ league all of them great players and all of them would enjoy the experience.
Question: You have brought in two players from NZ and two German's for UniKL but there is no penalty corner ace in your team. Is UniKL lacking in this department?
Darren: Petherick is a flicker for NZ and is currently the second top goal scorer in the German league all of which are from corners. He has scoring ability. Kevin Lim is an effective 2nd flicker and Gege shows some good potential with a technique I liken to Kuhan.
Question: On a personal note, what do you hope to aspire, in terms of a coach and will you consider the national team coach job if approached?
Darren: I'm contracted to Hockey New Zealand as Shane McLeod's assistant coach and enjoy working with him and the Blacksticks team. Stephen Van Huizen and his two excellent assistant had the team playing well in China and I'm positive will do a good job qualifying the team to London. I'm happy working with NZ and having a small experience with UniKL. Stephen can plot the future of Malaysia.