With the FIH Hockey Junior World Cup now a week away, the 21-year-old hockey sensation Harjeet Singh gears up to lead the Indians at the biggest hockey carnival of 2016, starting December 8.
In an exclusive interview with thestatesman.com, a tired yet spirited hockey wizard spoke about the preparations and initial struggles in the field of Indian hockey.
“Preparations are going well. We are working on those areas where we need to improve. Training and drills are on full swing and we have put our full focus on the World Cup,” the Indian skipper said.
It was in 2001 that India won the World Cup. Despite his young age, Harjeet dreams big. He dreams of bringing back the glory to the nation that gave him everything.
“India has given us everything, so we should bring back the glory (winning the World Cup for the second time),” he said.
Born and brought up in Tarn Taran, a small district in Punjab, Harjeet wasn’t from a wealthy background. He has now built his house with the money he was awarded by Hockey India last year, for the Upcoming Player of the Year.
Harjeet’s success story wasn’t scripted overnight as he has established his name after a long uphill struggle.
“In my village, coaches and players were like elder brothers to me. Everyone I met in my initial days of hockey helped me. Financial conditions weren't too well and my family used to tell me to stop playing hockey as they couldn't see my future in it. However, they supported later when they saw my potential,” the player said.
The lighthearted midfielder possesses plenty of experience to his name as he featured in the senior national squad for the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup and Champions Trophy, where India ended with Silver medal both the times.
Harjeet looks forward to use his leanings from the senior team’s experience with the junior team now.
“Both the tours were fruitful for me. I got to know what sort of fitness level is required to compete in world hockey. Whatever experience I got there, I'll try to bring in here in the junior team.”
“Playing alongside experienced players in the senior squad, I learned a set of captaincy skills like how team bonding works and how we take the whole team forward,” Harjeet added.
So far so good, the midfielder has achieved a lot in the year so far, from appearance in senior team to winning the Upcoming Player of the Year award by Hockey India.
“It feels euphoric. It has boosted my confidence to do better and better for my country. Awards and accolades do motivate and even the family feels proud of it. With achievements, we set our goals further to work hard and reach other milestones in the path.”
After the junior World Cup, the senior World Cup is scheduled to happen in 2018, followed by Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Keeping that in mind, this junior World Cup will be crucial for all the young colts playing at this stage.
Talking about the head coach Herendra Singh and high performance director Roelant Oltmans, who mentors the senior national team as well, Harjeet said the two are a great combination.
“Herendra-Oltmans make a great combination together. Drills that they design, based on their experience and vision, help us getting the best out of ourselves,” he said.
Harjeet revealed it takes a long 45-minute journey for the team to reach the hotel after warm-up, that too when they are tired.
“To refresh ourselves, we play music and have a gala time in bus with other fun activities,” he said.
Sixteen teams will feature in the 10-day-long tournament that will be held in Lucknow. India will face Canada in their first pool match.