Janneke Schopman resigns: India women’s hockey coach leaves on bitter note, but here’s why her contribution shouldn’t be undermined | Hockey News

Janneke Schopman’s voice choked with emotion midway through what would now be one of her last interactions with the media. The Olympic qualifiers saw the Indian women’s hockey team fall short of accomplishing their goal; after famously finishing fourth in Tokyo, they wouldn’t even be playing at the 2024 Olympics.“Very hard. Because, you know…,” she paused when asked about the challenges she faced. “I come from a culture where women are respected and valued. I don’t feel that here.” She would also say she felt ‘alone a lot’. For a coach who spoke at every possible opportunity about growing as a team, the parting words couldn’t have been more anti-climactic.
After the FIH Pro League leg in Odisha, Schopman’s tenure as head coach officially ended on Friday night. And as it often does in Indian hockey, not on the best of terms. The first-ever female to take up the role – and among the very few international female head coaches at the top level – Schopman bowed out calling out the disrespect she felt she was at the receiving end of, based on her gender. “Coming from the Netherlands, having worked in the USA, this country is extremely difficult as a woman, coming from a culture where you can have an opinion and it’s valued.”
Indian women’s hockey team captain Savita Punia with teammate Bichu Devi Kharibam and head coach Janneke Schopman during a training session ahead of the FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers 2024 match against USA, at Marang Gomke Jaipal Singh Astro Turf Hockey Stadium in Ranchi, Friday, Jan. 12, 2024. (PTI Photo)
At the highest level of any sport, coaches are ultimately judged for results. The team’s best outcomes in major events in the last few years have come at the FIH Nations Cup (winners, promoted to Pro League), Commonwealth Games (bronze), Asian Games (bronze), Asian Champions Trophy (winners), Junior Asia Cup (winners, for the first time). The lows, however, were sharp too. The ninth place at the 2022 World Cup was below par, but the biggest disappointment came in Ranchi during the Olympic qualifiers where they missed two chances to win a quota for Paris Games.
But beyond results, Schopman changed the Indian team’s identity. It cannot be ignored that Schopman – a former world champion who grew up in the world of Dutch hockey where attacking, fast gameplay is paramount to success – made Indian players embrace speed. She put together a squad that had some of the most exciting young attacking players in the world, something her adversaries acknowledged repeatedly. More recently, Japan scored an early goal against her side and tried to hold out for more than 50 minutes in the match that mattered the most.
The biggest critique of Schopman – even Schopman – would be the inability to convert this attacking verve into more goals in the big games. She rued the lack of penalty corner specials across the Indian system, but couldn’t address it fully herself. It is also in this aspect that leaving out Rani Rampal raised more questions. She defended that saying Rani didn’t fit into the system she wanted to play, but perhaps reaching a middle ground could have helped all parties, as India sorely missed the goalmouth final flourish with the missing star.
In hindsight, it perhaps didn’t help her that Schopman took over the leadership role after India finished fourth in Tokyo. In the years preceding that, Indian women were largely underdogs, but she tried to turn the tables around.
The change in India’s identity can even be seen through the lens of three India vs Australia matches. The famous one in Tokyo, where India scored early and defended with their lives. Then the semifinal in Birmingham at the CWG where the tables had turned on the Hockeyroos, with India constantly going forward in search of an equaliser that they eventually found, before a shootout heartbreak. Then more recently, perhaps a consolatory reward to mark the end of Schopman’s time, a well-deserved 1-0 win at the Pro League where the two teams were evenly matched.
Janneke Schopman on unequal treatment given to women’s hockey team
Schopman also felt there was differential treatment between the men’s and women’s teams, precipitated the home Hockey World Cup defeat. Her request for a mental conditioning coach early last year didn’t come through in time for Asian Games, and she found assance only late last year. At Asian Games too, the men’s team had 11 members on the support staff while the women had 5. That the women played fewer top-level matches at the beginning of last year also didn’t sit well with her.
She kept fighting, as her team often did for her. She jumped with joy when her team delivered, she cried on the sidelines and behind closed doors when things didn’t go their way, she helped players off the field to understand mindfulness. On a break day during ACT in Ranchi last year, the 46-year-old spent an entire morning with the two goalkeepers, where she took shootouts herself. In a regular training session, she often matched players for their energy levels.
The most repeated phrase of Schopman’s tenure was: ‘I just want my team to play good hockey.’ She lived and bowed out on that mantra. Full of intensity, riding emotional rollercoasters with the players, not without criticism for results not going her way, but ultimately, with plenty of care for the group of women she tried hard to improve.
In Rani’s absence, Schopman tried splitting the goalscoring load amongst younger forwards with the group in Ranchi having five attackers below the age of 22. The average age of the squad is just above 24 as well, as she placed her faith in youth over experience, perhaps needing more time for the unit to click.
Given India still have an exciting young group of players, perhaps hory might be kinder on the Janneke Schopman era and what she was looking to achieve here.
India’s record under Janneke Schopman in key events
World Cup (9th)
Olympic Qualifiers (4th, missed Paris quota)
Pro League (3rd)
Nations Cup (1st)
Commonwealth Games (3rd)
Asian Games (3rd)
Asian Champions Trophy (1st)
Junior Asia Cup (1st)

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