of the publishers
of the FIH magazine,
As Canada's Shiaz Virjee was selected to coach the World Team in Alexandria, Egypt at FIH 75th Anniversary, Jawwad Qamar talked to the great man about the future.
Canadian men's hockey coach Shiaz Virjee was chosen to select and coach the world team that played against The Netherlands, Olympic and World Champions, during the celebration of the FIH 75th Anniversary in Alexandria, Egypt on October 27, 1999.
Virjee, upon hearing the news of his appointment, felt very honoured and grateful to his team and Field Hockey Canada. He continued to talk about his appreciation for the FIH's recognition. He said this selection was obviously due to the achievements of the team - players and staff - that have made it successful.
Now it's time for the head coach of the Canadian national men's team to move on to Sydney. Virjee reflects on the importance of remembering what hockey is all about: "Please note that this is a team game and we all succeed or fail together. The athletes, administration, staff and coach all play a part." Virjee continued: "We must recognize and appreciate everyone's effort. I would not be successful as a coach without the hard work of everyone around me and particularly the players. We have all made huge sacrifices as amateurs to represent our country at the highest level. And I really appreciate the athletes and staff who have put their personal pride aside and believe in my philosophy and made a commitment to our team."
Born in Nairobi, Kenya, Virjee became interested in hockey at a young age while in school and then played for a club in Nairobi. Usually playing at midfield, he had good skills as a defender and a passer.
Virjee started coaching in Vancouver, with a club team to help out initially and then developed a keen interest. He has been the head coach of the Canadian men's national team since January 1994. His previous appointment was as the junior national coach from 1988 to 1991. Virjee also served as the team manager for Canada at the 1983 Pan American Games in Caracas and at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
Since he took over the coaching reins, the men's team has been steadily improving.
Virjee considers his team's eighth place finish at the 1998 World Cup as a significant milestone for Canadian hockey. "It is the best result so far," he said. Winning the Pan American Games in 1999 and qualifying for the Sydney Olympic Games is also a very important milestone for Canada. Along the way, the team has achieved significant results against some of the best teams in the world. "Building the Canadian team to world class level has been an accomplishment," says the head coach.
Canada recently played two four- nation tournaments in Australia, winning the first one and beating Australia 4-0 in the process and placing third in the other. "A 4-0 victory over Australia must have brought a lot of cheer and confidence to Virjee and his team. No more will other teams take them for granted and consider them minnows," said Cedric D'Souza, the former Indian national coach and TV station ESPN Asia's hockey analyst. " Any team playing this Canadian side will sure have a hard battle on their hands and will count themselves fortunate if they manage to squeeze out a victory. Which makes them strong contenders for the Olympics in Sydney."
Virjee is a great student of the game with excellent game knowledge. A great tactician of the modern game, he does not go into a tournament without studying the scouting reports on the opponents prepared by his staff. One can always notice Virjee or his assistant coaches keenly watching other teams in action and after that a game plan is prepared which the team follows in a disciplined manner with very little, if any deviation from it.
"I have known Virjee for a little over four years now and one must pay rich tributes to him for the manner in which he has moulded the team to what it is today - a tactical, fit and fighting unit," says Cedric D'Souza. "Virjee is an affable, thorough gentleman, with sound tactical and excellent game sense. He has the uncanny knack of motivating his team to limits way beyond the normal thresholds."
"Shiaz is a very dedicated, hard-working, detail oriented coach," echoes Edwin Fernandes, Field Hockey Canada's Vice President of High Performance. "He spends a lot of time preparing the team and that's why he and the team are successful."
To Virjee, coaching is art and science - and above all an ability to deal with athletes. He likes a player that is willing to try new things in order to get better. His motto is "Don't give me excuses, find a way to get it done."
Virjee likes to admire coaches who build teams, inspire athletes, gain respect among their peers and athletes and leave a legacy for the sport. He considers among his mentors Jurgen Lankau, pioneer of Canadian field hockey, and Wim Van Heumen, national coach of Holland in the early 80's.
Virjee follows a number of sports such as soccer, basketball, ice hockey, and American football and says, "each one of them offers certain ideas that one can use in our sport. These sports and others provide ideas about play making, attacking play, set plays and teamwork." There are several coaches from other sports that Virjee has a high regard for and one of them is Glen Sather who used to coach the Edmonton Oilers (ice hockey). "He was a tough, shrewd coach and achieved a lot of success by building winning teams with a low payroll," says Virjee. Another one is Phil Jackson who coached the Chicago Bulls (basketball) for a number of years. "Again, he built a very successful winning team... mind you, it did not hurt to have one of the best players in the game on his team," continued the field hockey coach.
When asked about the rule changes in the sport, Shiaz Virjee had this to say: "Some rule changes have been quite good such as no offside but we cannot keep changing the rules all the time... soccer, basketball, ice-hockey, etc... do not change rules every year or two. We seem to be working hard to change rules to tweak the game so that we have more field goals, less penalty corner goals, less whistles, no bully, less players in defence (current thinking - not a rule change yet) etc... etc... Perhaps it's time to consider the impact of these rule changes for the majority of the players in the world that are playing non-elite hockey".
"We should spend time looking at rules to make the game safer rather than worrying about number of goals being scored. Ice-hockey or soccer do not have a lot of goals scored in every game. We should not change the essence of hockey, otherwise it will be difficult to go to a game a few years from now and understand it or recognize it. Already there are spectators and media people who find it hard to understand the "foot rule", "obstruction", etc... What we need is not new rules but clarification and simplification of the rules so that everyone understands them. For example, why can't the umpire indicate how much time a player is going to be penalized when he gets a yellow card? He can hold up the fingers to indicate five minutes or seven or ten minutes. The judge or reserve umpire can control that issue from the sideline. Or why doesn't the reserve umpire handle the substitutions so that there are no illegal changes? Both of these are done in other sports. Of course, at the local level the umpire would have to handle it."
A computer systems specialist by profession, Virjee has to do quite a juggling act when it comes to family time, his job at BC Hydro and coaching. "It is very hard... Fortunately, my wife, Diane, knows what the sacrifices are about because of her association with the women's national team in the early 80s," Virjee says. "It is difficult to miss out on moments involving my son Arif."
Virjee is hoping to get some very good results in Sydney and has high expectations of the team. Cedric D'Souza, who has been following Canada's progress agrees, "I can safely predict with a degree of confidence that Canada will probably be a top six finisher in Sydney, and, in the process, ensure themselves a direct entry to the next Champions Trophy."