You may or may not be aware that along with being the founder, Head Coach and Executive Director of The Hockey Foundation, I'm also the Head Coach of the Indian national ice hockey team. Yes...that's right...India has an ice hockey team.
Let's get a few things out of the way here...
While on the surface it may appear to be similar, no, it's not like Jamaican Bobsled (as depicted in the movie "Cool Runnings". Whereas in Jamaica it was a group of men who trained for the Olympics in the US for a sport very much unfamiliar to their nation, in India, ice hockey has been around for about 100 years in the mountainous regions where the game can actually be played outdoors, and we do not compete at a level even close to the Olympics. In fact, we're one of the lowest ranked teams in the world, and that's OK.
The players on my team are comprised of military and civilians. They're respectful, hard-working, absolutely love ice hockey, and come from limited means. Many do not own the equipment that they use, often borrowing from their friends that do not get the opportunity to represent their country in the IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia, a developmental tournament for low/un-ranked Asian hockey nations. Due to the lack of popularity and support for ice hockey in India at large (it's immensely popular in Ladakh, where 90+% of ice hockey in India takes place), the players have to pay their own way in order to play. It's an unfortunate reality. Until the team can garner some sponsors and/or government support (unlikely, considering the significant preference for cricket in India) the players will be expected to pay for themselves, which many can't do, ultimately creating a financial burden on their family and reducing the pool of players available to play for Team India.
It became clear to me a few years ago that coaching the Indian team is not an objective or of The Hockey Foundation, nor is it relevant to the mission. By no means does that diminish the importance I place on having the responsibility to select, train and coach those players. I am honored to have the opportunity to be the head coach of a national team, no matter our performance, and I care deeply for the success of the program and the players, coaches and officials that have been a part of it.
Recently though, it's become clearer how The Hockey Foundation could and should support the Indian national ice hockey team. Prior to and during last year's Challenge Cup of Asia, I had multiple budget meetings with the team, first as the bearer of bad news when I announced how much each player would be expected to contribute, then as the cheerleader, writing and sending letters to local officials to solicit support for their local athletes, then as banker, collecting funds, then again as the bearer of bad news, telling the players that they owe more money due to a handful of avoidable circumstances, and finally as possible ameliorator, coming up with some solution that could potentially help players reduce/recoup costs. This is where The Hockey Foundation comes in...
First, I thought about all of the jerseys being worn by the players. These jerseys would most likely sit in a room for 8 months before being worn again in the following winter by those players that got to wear their nation's colors. But couldn't those jerseys be more beneficial if sold to collectors and/or supporters? Not only would someone be able to acquire a truly rare and collectible piece of hockey memorabilia, but the proceeds would be divided between the players themselves and The Hockey Foundation, as facilitator and mediator in the process. Many of the players wanted to retain some of their jerseys, so I was able to ensure that every player received another set of new jerseys upon their return to India from the Challenge Cup of Asia, which was hosted in Bangkok in March, 2013. Everyone got to retain their memento for playing on Team India, and we all agreed that this was a great way to make back some of their significant financial burden.
But for those that can't afford a game-worn jersey, the Ice Hockey Association of India was able to have a handful of official Team India jerseys made before my departure from Delhi, with proceeds supporting The Hockey Foundation as a unique fundraising memento.
A new plan of action for this upcoming season is to be proactive in the team's fundraising efforts. To date, every player that has played on the Indian national ice hockey team is either from or lives in Ladakh. They are a part of the community that The Hockey Foundation supports in our programming, and many have participated in our coaching clinics. This year, all players have been notified, well in advance, of the expectations placed on them, including the incentive in driving enrollment in our coaching clinics, as we collect a nominal fee for the Ice Hockey Association of India to support the national association's growth and development. The more we raise in India, the more money that can be allocated to the national team, and ultimately less is expected from each player/family. This push for Ladakhis to take ownership over their own success is a major mission of The Hockey Foundation, as Ladakh has an issue with apathy, complacency and a reliance on outsiders to keep on giving money and equipment. We've adjusted our methods for donating hockey equipment due to this realization, and have become more strategic, thoughtful, and collaborative in our distribution of equipment and the expectations associated with an organization receiving our support. It's a constant work in progress, but one I'm happy to undertake and improve.
Although being the head coach of the team is not a part of The Hockey Foundation, I believe supporting the players, the team and the association are, and that support in turn helps The Hockey Foundation. Our organization's are inextricably linked. And I wouldn't have it any other way.