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'Don't treat expectations as burden but as...': PR Sreejesh to young players in Indian team ahead of Olympics

Hockey India celebrated the best performers of the year 2023 for men and women with team awards, milestones trophies and individual awards. Along the sidelines, 'Goalkeeper of the Year' PR Sreejesh opened up to India TV ahead of the tour of Australia, Europe and then the big one - the Olympics.

Reported By : Anshul Gupta Written By : Anshul Gupta
New Delhi
Published on: April 01, 2024 16:52 IST
Veteran Indian goalkeeper PR Sreejesh spoke at length on
Image Source : GETTY/INDIA TV Veteran Indian goalkeeper PR Sreejesh spoke at length on Team India's preparations ahead of the Olympics and expectations from the team

It was a starry afternoon in New Delhi at the Annual Hockey India Awards on Sunday, March 31 with the men and women players being awarded for their performances and achievements through the calendar year of 2023. Hardik Singh and Salima Tete walked away with the Hockey India Balbir Singh Sr. Award for the Player of the Year in Men and Women categories respectively while the 1975 World Cup Hero, Ashok Kumar was handed the Lifetime Achievement Award, named after his late father, the legend Major Dhyan Chand. Kumar received a trophy and INR 30 Lakh with a total prize pool of the ceremony being INR 7.56 crore.

Among the individual winners, senior pro PR Sreejesh won the Hockey India Baljit Singh Award for Goalkeeper of the Year, captain Harmanpreet Singh walked away with the Hockey India Pargat Singh Award for Defender of the Year. Hardik Singh won the Hockey India Ajit Pal Singh Award for Midfielder of the Year while Abhishek won the prestigious Hockey India Dhanraj Pillay Award for Forward of the Year, with all of them receiving a trophy and INR 5 Lakh.

On the sidelines of the event, PR Sreejesh, one of the several awardees, spoke to India TV about the team's preparations ahead of the big season featuring the Paris Olympics, how personal recognitions act as a motivating factor and managing expectations.

India are set to embark on the tour of Australia, which will feature five Test matches, followed by four matches in Belgium, four in England and then a tour of Europe which will feature games against the Netherlands and then the Olympics. While the focus will remain Olympics and the team would want to better the Bronze medal they won in Tokyo, each series will have its significance.

"The off-season was really good. The last three weeks we were in Bhubaneshwar, we trained really hard, the climate was a bit different too but still I think we managed to train really good. It was the preparation week for us and our focus was on strength and getting our bodies in shape. You can see, we feel stronger and fitter," Sreejesh said.

However, Sreejesh wasn't putting pressure on himself or the team to win at all costs in Australia because they have a long season ahead and the players can't be putting pressure on themselves with the Olympics in the back of the mind. "It's a thing of just going there and learn from there. It's not about going and conquering [Australia]. You go there to learn and to perform."

2023 began on a difficult note for the Indian men's hockey team having finished 9th in the FIH Hockey World Cup in January. A change of coach saw Craig Fulton, former South African international, take the charge and not just the results changed but also the planning and the preparations which ended up in the team achieving his first goal as a head coach, winning the Asian Games and securing an automatic qualification for the Olympics.

So, now there are expectations from the team. However, Sreejesh urged that expectations shouldn't be treated as a burden but as a positive challenge and the 35-year-old also revealed his advice to the youngsters in the team about managing the same.

"Why expectations? Because of performances. So take it as a positive challenge. Don't take it as a burden that everyone is expecting us to win, so we have to win. No, why is there an expectation because we are winning. Why are we winning, because we are putting in the hard work and everyone is performing extremely well. So, just focus on the performance.

"I just tell the youngsters, 'Don't think about it. Don't allow the outside pressure to get to you. Just focus on your game and just play the game better," Sreejesh added.

Sreejesh may not be getting any younger and India have already started preparing the goalkeepers for the future with Krishna Bahadur Pathak, Suraj Karkera and Pawan Malik being the frontrunners. The 35-year-old himself admitted that it's not just 'Sreejesh', there are a few quality goalkeepers in line for the team but the ageless Indian wall is still winning the awards and performing at a level that would make youngsters quiver.

On being awarded the 'Goalkeeper of the Year' award, Sreejesh said, "Every recognition is a great push. It acts as a great motivating factor. How do I explain, it's like a supporting system! Like to make a child happy, you give them sweets. So it's like, 'you are doing well, take best goalkeeper'. So I am happy. This is a motivation for us as players and also a push to do well in the future.

India Tv - PR Sreejesh after being awarded Goalkeeper of the Year

Image Source : HOCKEY INDIAPR Sreejesh after being awarded Goalkeeper of the Year

"It's also a reminder of your responsibility because you are being rewarded for your good performance, so it's expected for us to maintain the level of performance. So, it's a great responsibility and motivation to keep performing and help make the team win," he added.

India are drawn in Pool B for Paris 2024 in what is being called a group of death as it features defending champions Belgium, Australia, Belgium, New Zealand, Argentina and Ireland. Sreejesh was quite pragmatic in his assessment of the group as he admitted that Belgium and Australia are strong teams but only those two can't be their sole focus given there are three more teams to be played and their first goal will be the quarter-finals.

Hockey India League to return in 2025

At the event, the Hockey Federation General Secretary Bhola Nath Singh announced that the Hockey India League (HIL) will return after eight years in January 2025. The league will be under Hockey India but will also be managed by a separate entity. HIL will see eight teams in the men's competition and six in women's with all 14 sides being different and allocated to different cities in India, most of whom have already been finalised. The player auction will take place later this once the Olympics are done.


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