Feel the need for mental conditioning coaches during big tournaments: Manpreet
Manpreet Singh, the former Indian hockey captain, spoke in detail about the side's World Cup heartbreak, its resurgence in the Pro League and the year ahead.
There was a deafening silence at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar; a sense of utter disbelief hit the Indian fans, as their side was knocked out of the Hockey World Cup with a penalty shootout loss to New Zealand in the Crossovers. For Indian players, it was a nightmare; an early elimination from a home world cup is a hard pill to swallow. The further resignation of Graham Reid – the celebrated hockey coach who steered Indian men's team to Olympic bronze in 2021 – came as a setback in an action-packed year for the hockey team.
Justifiably, it was down to senior players – former captain Manpreet Singh among them – to uplift the spirits of a desolate team and navigate them towards resurgence. And so they did, as the team enjoyed a triumphant return in the FIH Pro League, where it beat the likes of Australia and Germany in the home leg. On May 26, India – currently at the top of the table – will resume the Pro League campaign as they take on World Cup runners-up Belgium in their opening game of the European leg.
Ahead of the Pro League return, Manpreet sat with Hindustan Times as he reflected on the change in Indian coaching setup, the World Cup heartbreak, and targets for this year:
How have your meetings with Craig Fulton been so far?
It was very good to talk to him. He has a lot of ideas, and we talked a lot. He shared some ideas, and his philosophy is quite similar to what we are already following. He has great knowledge about teams, and we are quite excited to work with him.
Do you think it will be difficult adjusting to the new tactics from the coach?
To be honest, I don't feel that. We are already playing with the structure he was working at with Belgium. He himself said that he does not want to bring many changes. He is quite focussed on defence, he wants our defence to be strong so we can create more chances ahead. The players will not have many difficulties adopting his ideas. We are already used to many of his ideas.
Did you get time to sit, look back, and analyse where things went wrong at the World Cup earlier this year?
Our matches were quite good, to be honest. We did great in the Pool phase as well. We created a lot of chances against New Zealand, but unfortunately, we gave that game away. We made defensive errors and allowed them to make a comeback. There were small errors and we don't want to point them out now, since we have already talked about them internally. But we made a good comeback in the Pro League and take confidence from that.
Since you’ve captained the side for so long… do you think captaincy puts extra pressure on a player? Harmanpreet’s performances were quite a concern in the WC...
I don't feel that. On the field, everyone's performances matter. Sometimes, some players perform good and some lag behind. On the field, everyone is a captain. Harman alone can't do much, everyone has to contribute. Harman can't defend and he can't score goals alone. Everyone has a role to play.
For example, I'm the first rusher. If Amit is not available, it is my responsibility. We are a team, and seniors like me, Harman, and Sreejesh have collective responsibility. We try to help each other. Obviously, Harman has to keep everyone together as captain, but everyone has their own key areas.
Did senior members like you, Sreejesh and others have a talk with Harmanpreet on his performances?
We don't blame anyone. Harman played good, we can say he didn't convert his PCs but he played really good. He was crucial to our defence. See, no one makes mistakes knowingly. We have each other's back. We are with each other at all times, and don't want to point out a single individual. We win as a team and lose as a team.
Since you talked about PC conversion… why exactly do you think India – as well as others – are having such low conversion rates of late? PCs used to be the best opportunity for sides to score goals at one point…
Whenever there are big events, every team comes with proper homework. Harmanpreet is the best drag-flicker in the world, so everyone is focussed on him. There is a lot of emphasis on video analysis these days. Before the game against England, we studied them really well, and that is why we were able to save so many of their PCs. So, we need to have knowledge about how other teams attack, because only then we will be able to defend efficiently. But we are trying to find ways to tackle that issue when it comes to attacking.
You made a strong comeback in the Pro League. How important was that?
Quite. World Cup was quite big for us, so it was important for us to bounce back. We had to move on. There are many important tournaments for us this year. We have the Champions Trophy, and the Asian Games, which will help us qualify for the Paris Olympics. So, it was quite important that we get back to rhythm. We had a long talk in the training camp after the World Cup, and we knew that we cannot sulk over what happened and focus on the future. We defeated teams like Germany and Australia, and beating them gave us a lot of confidence. The coming matches are also very important for us.
The duo of you and Graham Reid led India to historic bronze. Did it come as a shock when he decided to step down?
We were surprised when he told us about the resignation. But we respected his decision, he wanted to give time to his family and he had his personal reasons. We created a lot of good memories, with Olympics obviously being the most memorable.
After the World Cup exit, Reid talked about the need for mental conditioning coach. Do you agree?
You do need that sometimes. Because when you go to big tournaments, you often have that mental pressure because of the grand stage, and playing in front of big crowds. So, you need to be mentally strong. The new coach talked about that, actually. He insisted that players need to be mentally strong. The players can be physically fit, but you must keep your mind strong, so you do not crumble under pressure in tough games. And we will work on it over the future.