Flying to India in September 2017, Claude Bolton had responsibilities on his shoulders. Appointed as the Technical Director of India Rush Soccer Club, the Canadian was in charge of long-term development of academies and youth programming. However, things took a turn the next year when the club was offered a place in the final round of Indian Women’s League.
‘’Mr Dennis Fernandes (CEO, India Rush SC) hadn’t planned to push a women’s team in 2018; he’d thought of doing it in a two-to-three year period. But when the opportunity came, he realized he could combine it with the women’s empowerment programme and push the team forward. However, when approached, it was informed to me that I would have a short period to work with the team which was absolutely fine with me,’’ Bolton tells Goal.
Having coached for nearly 20 years now, Bolton earlier plied his trade at Guyana Football Federation as a Technical Director and also took over their women’s football team. Under him, the side moved up 58 places in the world rankings, to be cemented on the 84th spot then.
Finding similarities between the Indian and Guyanese culture, Bolton recalls, ‘’Things are almost identical apart from the size of the population. Guyana’s majority of the population is Indian and the black community. Also, the one sport there is cricket, so the foundation and cultures were very similar. The one difference is although the population size, countries like Guyana hope for their diaspora to come back as they don’t have that kind of (huge) population.’’
With six months of his Indian stint, the India Rush head coach believes that the coaching in India needs a revamp. Often instructed about the drills, the kids aren’t allowed to express themselves in training. Claude thinks the reason behind this traces back to colonization, which he believes, hasn’t fully left the country.
‘’Our people were always told what to do instead of acting on their own. I think there is a still a residue of that left. In both Guyana and India, I’ve noticed that players aren’t granted freedom. The residues of colonization are still young in India and also in the Caribbean. We are still getting our way out of that.
Grassroot football should be about allowing freedom. Courses shouldn’t be about what to coach, they should be about how to coach. If I only give them (the kids) drills, that is not going to give them any practice at making decisions,’’ he explains.
In the aim of churning out talent from every nook and corner of the country, several grassroots programmes have been introduced by the Indian FA. However, the lack of communication between the coaches and the youngsters is stunting the growth, reveals Claude. ‘’It can’t be just participation anymore; the numbers aren’t a proof that the game will grow. You need to find quality in the instructions. Until coaches talk to players as people and understand the development of the individual is more important than the development of football, we are hitting a stumbling block.’’
When asked how he aims to contribute towards India’s progress in women’s football, Bolton shares his plan. ‘’My attempt is to help influence one at a time, but it’s two-fold. If I can help ignite a flame even if in just one player in India, that will breed.
"Instead of only giving the players plans on paper, I bring them on the field, stand next to them, show them by example and try to get ideas from them. From a coaching point of view, education is essential but not by sitting in a chair and teaching them,’’ he adds.
However, Indians are afraid to make mistakes and this fear is developed right from the early stages of education, he describes. ‘’People here are not willing to make mistakes. Only those have experienced things in the past, are open to it. Also, at the education level, the consequences of mistakes are stiff which is why you hear such dire stories of kids being belittled. That does not make the whole of Indian culture but the fact that it still exists, it is permeating other parts of the society.’’
Engaged in IWL for the first time, Bolton was stunned at the level of competition. The UEFA ‘B’ License holder has faith in the Indian women’s national side to achieve greater heights than their male counterparts. ‘’I think the hidden secret of Indian football is women’s football. My peers, and people from different administrations in CONCACAF and FIFA didn’t expect the competitive nature nor the raw talent of the women. For years we have had the men’s game that has potential, and I believe it is true, but the women’s game has greater potential.
"If I was coaching in any country, I would be pleased for any Indian player to join my team, that’s how much I have enjoyed it. If the women’s team was run like the men’s team, what a national team they could put together! I cannot say enough about the potential and competitive nature of these women," he comments.
Although India Rush had a shaky start to the tournament, Bolton has his confidence intact as the side’s aim is to learn and implement a regiment. Being the only male and foreign head coach this season, Bolton looks forward to the journey as a learning experience. ‘’Men have always been involved in the game and now it’s women’s turn to step up for their dreams. I don’t believe that only women should coach women and I also do not believe that only men should coach men.
"I hope I can step up to the level of the successful female coaches in India and attain their success in getting the messages passed to the players. The pressure isn’t to be a role model, it is instead of being able to do what the great women have done in Indian football,’’ he concludes.