He was among the earliest to realise the importance of the drag-flick in international hockey. Back in the early 2000s, Len Aiyappa was India’s fastest and most successful drag-flicker, but “attitude problems” with the federation forced him to quit the sport.
The stocky defender, with his trademark bald pate, is now guiding the Malaysian juniors in the art of converting penalty corners. The 34-year-old has been with the team for the past five months, and is the only Indian working with a foreign team for the upcoming junior World Cup.
“They (the Malaysians) asked me to help out their drag-flickers when they came to India for training a few months back. They knew me from my days as a player in the Malaysian league. They were impressed with my work and asked me to train the squad back in Malaysia. I would travel to Kuala Lumpur for a few days every month to conduct special camps on drag-flicking,” Aiyappa told The Hindu on the sidelines of a practice session.
“I have made a few small, but significant changes to their technique and execution — the grip, approach to the ball, the finish and follow-through after a shot. Earlier, they were afraid to approach the ball, but now they are quite confident,” Aiyappa explained.
“The main thing is to ensure they do not repeat the mistakes I made. We never had a specialised drag-flick coach back then. So I am trying to use my experience to improve them,” he added.
Aiyappa is employed with Air India, but doesn’t play for them anymore, having opted for field duty. Besides Malaysia, Aiyappa has also worked with the Spanish and Italian under-21 teams as a drag-flick coach, but has never been considered for the Indian side.
“For the time being, I am with the Malaysians only till the end of this World Cup. I have neither spoken to them about it, nor decided on a full-time job with the senior team, even if there is an offer of an extension. If India wants me and if the situation is fine, then we can talk and see if something works out. But the way things have panned out in the past, I am not really thinking about it right now,” he signed off.