The fifth edition of the Annual Hockey India Awards was held in New Delhi on Friday.
Gurbux Singh won the prestigious Hockey India Major Dhyan Chand Lifetime Achievement Award 2022, while Hardik Singh and Savita won the Hockey India Balbir Singh Sr. Award for Player of The Year 2022 awards in the Men and Women categories.
P.R. Sreejesh and Savita earned Rs 5 Lakh each for winning the FIH Goalkeeper of the Year 2021-22 in Men's and Women's categories respectively.
In an exclusive interview, the Indian goalkeeper talks about handling the pressure of being one of India's finest goalkeepers and his experience training young players.
Being one of India's finest produced goalkeepers, how does it feel?
It's a great honour and I always believe it's a result that comes of your dedication, hard work and passion towards the game. When I started my career, I had heard about a lot of goalkeepers... Shankar Lakshmanan was one of the greats and everyone told me, “You should become like him.” I never thought of becoming one of the known goalkeepers in the world. But, this day, the amount of hard work, dedication and sacrifices I had made may have resulted in this.
For such an illustrious career, the amount of hard work you had put in...to be right up there, maintaining your sharpness and work ethic, how difficult has it been?
It's really tough. In a hockey team, there is only one goalkeeper. If you are a player, you are one among 16 or 18, but, when you are the goalkeeper you need to be No.1, if you are No.2, you are out.
For me, it was a great challenge. Every day, you need to fight against yourself, not against anybody else. Because after 2012, after Bharat Chettri dropped from the team, I took that charge and from then onwards, every day has been a challenge to keep up the level high.
The expectation is high every time, how do you cope with that? Do you feel the pressure?
In the initial stage, yes. Because I always felt that people were looking up to me... that I would perform really good and would take the team to greater heights. But, later I realised that it's not a responsibility but that's your duty. When people start believing in you...that is what that 'expectation' is.
So now you don't go in with the previous kind of pressure?
Now...I feel I'm 'there' now. Every day when I step into the field, I just want to do the normal thing. I don't want to do anything exceptional or special.
You also have the added responsibility of grooming youngsters and other goalkeepers. How tough is that?
The first thing is when you teach somebody, it actually helps you to develop your own self. It reminds you about the basics. Whenever I train youngsters I tell them where they lack and it helps me identify my own mistakes; “Sree, you also do the same mistake and it's time for you to rectify it.”
Do the youngsters listen to you?
They do not have another option...(chuckles). Pawan is now 21 and I have been playing since I was 23. So, if I tell him to sit, he would. Definitely, those players have huge respect for me...they are keen to listen to me. That is helping me to help them improve as a goalkeeper.