Exclusive: 'Trying to stay positive and keep our spirits up' - PR Sreejesh reflects on life in lockdown, postponement of Tokyo Olympics, and much more

Written By: Digvijay Singh Deo WION Web Team
New Delhi, Delhi, India Published: Apr 16, 2020, 08:24 PM(IST)

Exclusive | PR Sreejesh in conversation with WION Photograph:( AFP )

Story highlights

The goalkeeper of Indian men's hockey team, PR Sreejesh, in an exclusive interview with WION's Sports Editor, Digvijay Singh Deo, opened up about a lot of things ranging from lockdown in SAI campus in Bengaluru, training while maintaining social distancing, postponement of the Tokyo Olympics, the emergence of young talents in Indian hockey, and much more.

The COVID-19 pandemic has wiped out the entire sporting calendar. While the year 2020 was supposed to be an extremely hectic year in the world of sports, the dreaded virus has left the fans and sportspersons with absolutely no live action at all. Hockey is one of the sports to have taken a body blow from the coronavirus pandemic. After the extension of the lockdown till May 3 by the Indian government, Hockey India decided to postpone all its national championships indefinitely. In the international circuit, there will be no matches for the Indian team until the month of June, as of now. 

The goalkeeper of Indian men's hockey team, PR Sreejesh, in an exclusive interview with WION's Sports Editor, Digvijay Singh Deo, opened up about a lot of things ranging from lockdown in SAI campus in Bengaluru, training while maintaining social distancing, postponement of the Tokyo Olympics, the emergence of young talents in Indian hockey, and much more.

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Digvijay Singh Deo: Now normally Sreejesh is a very jovial person but the lockdown is no laughing matter.  Hopefully no dampening of spirits within the Indian team…

Sreejesh: We are still trying to keep our spirits up, unfortunately, certain things are not in our control. We are just trying to stay positive and focus on the things that make us happy.

DSD: You are in Bengaluru inside the Sports Authority of India campus. I am told that the officials there very strictly enforced social distancing back in the second week of March itself and no outsiders were allowed to enter the campus…

Sreejesh: This was a great initiative from SAI we started our camp here on March 1, so we've been here for over six weeks. The gates of the campus were closed in March itself, and they didn't allow any outsiders to enter and no person from the campus could leave the premises as well. It is perfect for us to be able to stay here during the lockdown. I believe we are completely safe and secure here inside the campus.

Exclusive: 'Trying to stay positive and keep our spirits up' - PR Sreejesh reflects on life in lockdown, postponement of Tokyo Olympics, and much more

DSD: Now what is your routine and that of your team especially when we all have to follow social distancing…
 
Sreejesh: As we all know the Olympics have been postponed and no international events are coming up in the near future, but still we are focussing on our fitness and strength. We are following the safety guidelines that have been issued by the government. So our staff here has prepared individual training schedules for players. We go in groups of 2 or 3 to run on the track.

We can't use the gym, but we are undergoing individual weight training sessions in whatever space we can. Our focus right now is on maintaining our fitness levels that we have built up over the last few years. We are not doing any hockey training at the moment because of the social distancing rules, but we are continuing to work hard on our fitness levels.

DSD: You come from Kerala and there have been a lot of positive cases there. Your family is there so are you in touch with them daily?

Sreejesh: Yes, the safety of my family was my first concern when the crisis started. My father is over 60 yeas old and he is a heart patient, so it is extremely important for him to be safe and remain inside the house with my mother. I have told them not to leave the house unless it is for something urgent. I have two children who are less than six years old, so being away from them is tough, but I read the situation in Kerala is improving. The government, medical professionals and the people of the state are doing a commendable job in limiting the spread of the virus.

DSD: Now in the last month we have seen the global sporting calendar wiped out. The Olympics which was the dream of everyone associated with Indian hockey too was postponed. How did the team and especially you react to that news?

Sreejesh: The first reaction was that of disappointment because for the last year we were preparing for the 2020 Olympics scheduled in July and August. We sealed our place in the games in November last year and since then we were in a good run of form, we started the FIH Pro League on a positive note as well.

But like I said before the postponement is something that is not in our control. Now we have another year to improve our game, work on our weaknesses and further sharpen our strengths. In terms of mental preparedness as well, we have to accept the fact that the games have been pushed back. But I'm sure if we maintain our focus and intensity levels, we will continue to challenge the world's top teams as we have been doing recently.

DSD: The Olympics need a lot of detailed planning and coaches spend a lot of time trying to ensure the team peaks right during the Olympics. The way we were playing sort of showed we had momentum behind us.how do you start from scratch again now with the games now 15 months away.

Sreejesh: Yes that's correct if you see our results in the last few months, we have been steadily improving. Our performances in the pro league were particularly encouraging. But then the whole scenario changed because of the coronavirus crisis. Now there is even uncertainty whether the games will be held in 2021 as well. But this is not in our control, we can only ensure that whenever the games happen, we are fully prepared for the competition. We have to maintain our mental and physical state throughout these 15 months. There will also be changes in the tactics and the performance levels of our competitors.

Exclusive: 'Trying to stay positive and keep our spirits up' - PR Sreejesh reflects on life in lockdown, postponement of Tokyo Olympics, and much more

New players might come in and they might undertake a new style of play. But overall, I think our momentum heading into the games was halted which means we have to re-calibrate. Once we know the schedule for the next competitive match, then only we will able to get our rhythm back. We have enough time to work on our basics and get our campaign back on track. In terms of fitness levels, I feel our trainer is good enough to ensure that we make up for the time that we have lost in the gym and in the field. So I believe we will regain our fitness levels once the lockdown is over.

DSD: We have seen this year during the FIH Pro League how younger players were coming into the team and gelling well with the experienced lot including you and Manpreet. Now seniors like you know how to deal with adversity having spent so much time in the game. How crucial a role do you see for yourself, Manpreet, Kothajit and Rupinderpal in guiding these young players through this period of uncertainty.

Sreejesh: Yes that is true, but even for us senior players this is a completely new experience. I have been out of international competitions only once in my life for an extended period of time of about 6-7 months, which was due to an injury. But my advice to young players would be to focus on the basics and maintain your fitness levels. But I would also encourage them not to stress about the ongoing situation. This would be a great time for them to learn a new skill, apart from sport. They can read books and gain other interests, which will, in turn, develop their personalities not just as sportspersons but as human beings.

This might even help in their growth as a player because they will have a new outlook on life when they step on the field. So during the lockdown, there is no point on dwelling on the things that we are not able to do, but instead, make the best of what we have and use this period to sharpen our brain and work on our physical fitness. If the players remain positive and keep themselves occupied in some form, I'm sure the players will benefit and we will hit the ground running when we return to the field.

DSD: So the lockdown we know is continuing till May 3rd, the Pro League matches are off till may end and across the world, with various flight restrictions and quarantine measures in place there is a possibility that we see no sporting action before July end ..that is around 4-5 months at-least without top-flight action…how do you maintain the intensity levels in a time like this?

Sreejesh: I think this is the time when we need to take our foot off the pedal because it is impossible to remain in peak fitness for 365 days in a year. We, of course, need to retain our basic levels of fitness and be mentally prepared to return to action. As a team, this is the time we are using to unwind. We are doing a sort of post-mortem on our past matches and analysing areas in which we can improve. As athletes, we are involved in international events for a majority of the year, so it can get difficult to deal with such a lockdown, but all we can do is wait and make do with what we have. Once the schedule is out, then hopefully we will get enough time to prepare and regain our fitness levels.

Exclusive: 'Trying to stay positive and keep our spirits up' - PR Sreejesh reflects on life in lockdown, postponement of Tokyo Olympics, and much more

DSD: Obviously sport is not a priority at the moment but how important will sport be when the world slowly limps back to normal. Do you think that this period without sport anywhere will actually make everyone appreciate the value of a sportsperson even more, we sort of take things for granted but not anymore.

Sreejesh: It is so strange in a way because people have so much free time at home to watch sport, but there is no action anywhere in the world. But sports has the power to take people's mind off from the doom and gloom of daily life and lift the spirit of everyone. People might cherish sports more after the lockdown since they are desperate for some action and there is none available at the moment. So sportspersons might be respected more after the lockdown in terms of the 'value' that they add to society.

DSD: Are you in touch with fellow internationals from other teams across the world…do you compare notes with what is happening in their daily lives?

Sreejesh: Yes, luckily because of social media I am able to connect with a number of international players. All of the player I've spoken to are finding it hard to deal with these unprecedented times. In Europe, the restrictions are extremely strict and it is difficult to function. But the important thing is that they are receiving all the essential services. Most prominent hockey players are working out at home and putting out content on social media. Young players can learn from the work ethic of these stars.it also sends out a message on the importance of staying healthy in these tough times.

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