Manjusha Kanwar & Naveli Singh, IOCL &

Never let success get to your head and never let failure get to your heart!

Ask any Indian about the most memorable sporting moments of the recent times and India’s historic Bronze medal win in the Men’s Hockey at the Tokyo Olympics is going to be on the top of the list. And this has been possible because of the incredible Indian Men’s Hockey team.

In what was the most important game for the Indian men’s hockey team in over four decades, our very own Simranjeet Singh scored twice to help India beat Germany 5-4 and win their first Olympic medal in 41 years.

Simranjeet singh represents the new generation of Indian hockey players that know what it takes to succeed at the highest level. He was part of India’s junior hockey team that won the World Cup in 2016 and the Men’s Champions Trophy in 2018.

The promising young hockey forward opens his heart to the readers of HR Vista, in conversation with Manjusha Kanwar and Naveli Singh.

Q: Simranjeet, it’s a complete honor to be interacting you today! First things first, tell us how are you feeling? I know you would have been asked this question a thousand times. But we would still like to know how are you really feeling after the Olympic win?

S: I am elated. Since the time I have landed in Delhi, the number of celebratory functions that I have attended is more than the number of functions I have attended in my entire life. After this tournament and especially with the medal win, the amount of love that I have received is unbelievable. I had only heard about this kind of love and regard for hockey, but this is the first time that I saw it and felt it.

Q: I can completely understand the feeling. You and the entire team has regenerated the love for hockey in this country. As a fan, watching the sport has also been exceptional!

Was this feat of being at the top an easy one to accomplish or were there some challenges that you faced?

S: As the saying goes, the bigger the dream, the harder grind. Our team faced its own set of challenges om our path to victory.

Before the pandemic hit, we were training at a camp in Bangalore. When it was announced that the Olympic has been cancelled due to Covid, we were already at the peak of our training and had put in a lot of efforts. We were very disheartened because there was a lot of uncertainty about the fate of Olympics and other scheduled tournaments.

With the entire nation in lockdown, our training camps were also suspended. We were not allowed to use the grounds and were asked to isolate in our rooms. The paucity of space in our rooms didn’t allow much of hockey practice but tried to make the most of what we had. We followed the schedule set by our coaches which majorly including workout confined to our rooms. We had virtual meetings about the game since we couldn’t go to each other’s rooms. To be away from our families, isolated in our rooms, not being able to even practice hockey on grounds, it turned out to be a very difficult time for all of us. We couldn’t even meet our teammates living in rooms next to us. A lot of things were going through our minds. But we did not lose hope and did what we could to keep ourselves physically and mentally fit. Irrespective of the rumors going around the team firmly kept the belief that Olympics would happen, and we are going to Tokyo to win.

We started practicing on grounds when the conditions started improving. Sports Authority of India also helped us a lot. We got a a tour to Belgium and Holland right before the Olympics, which greatly buttressed our preparation. We could analyze our own team’s standing with respect to other teams. As you know our Olympic semi-final was with Belgium and the Bronze medal match was with Germany. Our recent encounters with both the teams helped us understand the structures in which these teams played, the strategies they follow, their strengths and weakness. In our Bronze medal match with Germany, we implemented a lot of our learnings from our previous match, which finally helped us win.

After returning from Belgium, we continued with our camp till we finally received the confirmation news about Olympics.

Q: The way you have won this battle and came out physically and mentally stronger is really a lesson for all.

Tell us Simranjeet, were there sacrifices that you had to make in your journey?

S: Emotions of any player are attached to their family. I left my parents’ home when I was in Class V to train in Punjab and came home during breaks. But in those 1.5 years at Bangalore camp, we had to stay away from our families for a very long time and that too isolated in our rooms. So, a point comes that you are at the verge of breakdown. We knew that if we go back to our homes in between, the team’s practice routine would be disrupted. We realized that to represent Indian at such a major event, we must be ready to overcome any challenge that comes our way. So, we worked hard to overcome those emotions and concentrate on our games. I feel that the strength that you achieve once you are past such a difficult phase is unparalleled. Those 1.5 years were also very instrumental in building the team’s mutual understanding. By the end of the lockdown, the team had become a family.

Q: So, when finally, the news came that Olympics is happening, the team would have breathed a sigh of relief. What happened next?

S: We were indeed relieved that the Olympics were happening. But I still had my share of Ups and Downs before reaching Tokyo. When the initial list of 16-member squad was announced for the Tokyo Olympics, my name was not in the main list. I was a part of the reserved list.

I was disheartened at first. Every player feels that they deserve to get selected. I also felt that my name should have been in the main list. My coach understood my disappointment and counseled me saying that in any circumstance, the team’s interest has to be the priority. When I tried putting myself in the Coach’s shoes, I accepted the situation in a better way. I understood that it was a tough call for him to select only 16 players out of 33 and that I should support him in the decision. I put my complete trust in him. I was still holding out hope that I would still be going to the Olympics and that I might get a chance to play.

Q: Then how did you end up becoming a part of the main squad? How did things change for you?

S: Actually, the International Olympic Committee changed the rule and countries were asked to pick an extended 18 members squad for the Olympic due to prevailing conditions. With few days remaining for our departure, the coach called us one night into a huddle and told that the 17th and 18th number players were also going to be in the main list of players. It was a huge surprise for me. Kind of unbelievable. Only when my teammates started congratulating me, did I realize that something good has happened. I felt extremely positive at that time.

Q: That’s amazing! Hardwork pays in surprising ways! I think Covid had both a positive and negative effect on your journey?

S: I agree, the harder you work, the luckier you seem to get. I think when you suffer a lot to reach a stage, and when you finally achieve your dream, you tend to forget the unpleasant phase. This is what has happened with me as well. All our struggles during the time of Covid were forgotten the moment we achieved this feat.

Q: How was your experience at the Olympic village? There were very strict protocols this time. Were they beneficial for you or did they hinder your game in any way?

S: When we were leaving for the Olympic, we had a meeting in which people with prior Olympics experience were asked to share about the kind of distractions that one should be wary of. Our seniors told us that at a platform like Olympics, there are plenty of avenues that can take you away from your goal. From availability of multiple cuisines in dining area to gaming centres, shopping malls, sightseeing, medal celebrations by co-sportspersons, the list of distractions was long. We had to be focused and we had to be extremely disciplined.

When we reached there, we found out that the Olympic committee had strict protocols in place due to the pandemic situation. In addition to wearing mandatory masks and maintaining social distance, nobody could leave the Olympic village. Secondly since it was extremely hot, our coach had instructed us to remain indoors during the peak hours of 9am to 4pm so that we don’t exhaust our bodies.

So, all the protocols were indeed very beneficial for us.

In addition to the rules imposed on us, we as a team also decided to avoid any kind of distractions till the end of the tournament irrespective of the results. A sportsperson is nothing if not disciplined.

Q. Simranjeet you have shared so many episodes of your life with us. In the recent times, you have undergone so many ups and downs. From the heartbreak of missing out on the team to starting a pressure game for India at the Olympics, you stood on the pitch having gone through a series of emotions in a span of few days. How do you deal with these different kinds of pressure and how do you maintain your mental peace?

S: My mantra is to live in the present as much as possible. I try to not brood over the past or anticipate about the future. I do believe in planning, but I am flexible enough to mould myself as per the situation at hand. I have a strong belief in the Almighty and that helps understand that there are things beyond my control. For example, when Covid happened and we were away from our families for a long time, I tried to focus on the bigger picture. I kept my balance knowing the fact that the situation was beyond anybody’s control. I concentrated on the things that I could do and that was practice hard. I am an optimist by nature. So, with the belief that the turn of events that have occurred are God’s will, I just kept moving forward.

M: To achieve this level of mental strength at such a young age is exceptional. Who is your support system, both on and off the field?

S: My coaches and my teammates are the people I discuss my On-field issues with. If I have to discuss anything off-field I reach out to my family. I am blessed to be surrounded with a great people who have been with me through thick and thin.

Q: In addition to your mental strength, you are also known to be one of the most skilled players in the team. I am sure there would be several split-second decisions that you have to make on field. How do you keep yourself ahead of the game?

S: Hockey is like a 24 X7 obsession for me. So, whenever I am not playing, I like to watch a lot of sports videos. One learns a lot through observation also. Through these videos, I try to observe different players and the strategies that they follow during the game. I try to keep myself in their place and visualize what would I have done in this situation or what could have been done better. This frequent analysis of different game situations stays with me and helps me a lot during the actual game. So even when I am not playing the game, I am continuously thinking about it.

Q: You know I have interacted with a lot of senior hockey players and whenever I ask anybody about you, the response is surprisingly the same. Everybody tells me that Simranjeet is dependable, focused, obedient, well planned and a great team player. What do you have to say about this? How do you manage so many qualities and remain so humble and grounded?

S: S: I met with a terrible accident during 8th standard. I had to undergo knee surgery and was on bed rest. I had to be away from hockey for a very long time. That was the duration when I learnt a lot. I developed a reading habit and a lot of it was self-help content. I tried to figure out the qualities required for a team sport like hockey and tried to inculcate those qualities. As time passed, I kept those learnings close to me.

Then in 2014 my then coach Harendra Singh sir helped me a lot in this area. That was also the year when I had started playing International Hockey in the junior category. Harendra Sir taught us that these qualities are indispensable to become a complete player. I just whole heartedly followed my coach’s instructions. I kept instilling the qualities that were beneficial for the team and parted ways with the ones which were not.

When I joined Indian Oil, I had a lot of examples in front of me. I always tried to learn from the senior players at IOCL and continue to learn from them. I tried to emulate their qualities. Like Deepak Thakur Paji, Devesh Chauhan Paji and Prabjot paji are very well planned. They all are great team players. I look up to them not just for their hockey skills but also how they carry themselves, the way they stepped up for their teams and scored goals during difficult times. They all are an inspiration for me.

Q: We feel so proud that our fellow IOCian has achieved this incredible feat!

How do you feel being a part of a PSU in general and IOCL in particular? What are your sentiments for the corporation?

S: It’s really an honor for me to be associated with PSPB and to be a part of the Indian Oil family. Indian Oil has a major role to play in the fact that we have been able to secure a podium finish in Tokyo Olympics. I would like to explain it further. Players like us stay in camps for long periods of 12-14 months. During this time when we are away, Indian Oil takes extremely good care of our families not just financially but in all possible aspects. With a reputed and secure job to take care of you, the focus remains just on the game and we don’t have to worry about a thing. It also makes me feel more confident and gives me a clear mindset during my trainings and tournaments. What Indian Oil is doing for us and our families, gives us the motivation and push to strive for the best in our game.

M: We hope that you keep striving for better and bring many more medals for the nation.

You know Simranjeet, when we discussed about your exceptional qualities, we see all necessary leadership qualities in you. There are many other such examples. Our previous Sports Minister Mr. Rajyavardhan Rathore was an Olympic Medalist. Do you think sports persons can be good leaders?

S: I agree Ma’am. Sportspersons can become very good leaders because sportspersons are by nature fair and helpful. They are very positive and give their 100% for the task at hand. They generally do not believe in adopting shortcuts. Most of the sportspersons have seen both failure and success in their lives. The quality of fortitude further makes them fit for a leadership role. They know how to not take success to mind and failure to their hearts.

M: Simranjeet, what is your idea of Leadership?Is there a message that you would like to give to aspiring leaders in various fields?

S: I believe to lead in any field, you must leave your self-interest behind and put the interest of your people first. If you wish to be a Leader, you must be completely selfless.

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