Savita Punia, India women's hockey goalkeeper, cited the transformation of the player's mindset as the reason for the revival of Indian hockey in recent times as the team prepares for FIH Hockey Women's Nations Cup.
"Lots of things have changed over the years. Talking about our team, our mindset has been the most significant difference. We play with a positive attitude and compete not only to participate but we have our goals to accomplish. We evaluate our performances to get better," Punia, who is FIH goalkeeper of 2022, told ANI in an exclusive interview.
The stand-in captain opened up about the turnaround of Indian hockey in the past few years and talked about the major shift that has taken place, helping Indian hockey regain some of its old glory.
Punia also mentioned the fitness standards that have improved drastically over the years, which help the players in delivering in demanding situations.
"Fitness has been a very major reason for the change helping players not give up in dire situations. Sports bodies have really taken care of us and invested in hockey. Hockey India and SAI have been helping us with exposure," Punia said.
"Awareness about diet and one's own personal physical fitness shortcomings. Players even take time out on their offs to practice, especially the young players. They know if their fitness is up to the mark only then they will make it to the team," she added.
The goalkeeper heaped praise on the team's coach Sjoerd Marijne and hoped that there will be more positive changes with time.
"Our coach also has high expectations and makes us do the hard yards. Competition is there. No sudden change. We have spent 1.5 years with the coach and will get more results with her in the future," the star hockey player said.
Punia talked about the importance of the upcoming FIH Hockey Women's Nations Cup which could guarantee the team a place in the second season of the FIH Pro League.
"The Nations Cup is very important for us as it does guarantee us a place in the second season of the FIH Pro League. Playing in the last season of the Pro League helped us prepare for Commonwealth, hence important from that perspective. It gives us chance to play top teams and prepare for the 2024 Olympics. Playing top teams bonds the players in the team and helps in improving our performance," the 32-year-old player said.
"Our preparation has been going on really well. The camps after the commonwealth games and the national games both took place with an eye on the Nations Cup," she added.
Ace Indian Hockey goalkeepers PR Sreejesh and Savita Punia were awarded the Goalkeeper of the Year at the FIH Star Awards 2021-2022 for their outstanding performance in important events like the Tokyo Olympic Games, and FIH Hockey Pro League among others.
Sharing her happiness about receiving the award along with veteran goalkeeper Sreejesh, she said, "It definitely feels good to get the award and especially to be in the same league as Shreejesh. He is a senior to me and there was a time when I used to watch him play and think about the things that I wanted to learn from him. To get an award with him is a very good feeling. We have not trained together but whenever our camps would be held together, he would advise me about the training."
The experienced player shared the mantra to keep the team together following her appointment as stand-in captain. She said that maintaining unity keeps the good results coming while pressurizing the young players does not yield desired results.
"Unity and good bond guarantee results, but keeping young players under pressure does not yield results. We as senior players give the younger players freedom. No senior has a guaranteed place, there is competition, and young players are talented. We motivate them as seniors," shared the stand-in captain.
Savita Punia will be leading the side in the Nations Cup as Rani Rampal is still coping with a hamstring injury.
The player did not share any update on Rampal's return and said, "The coach would be able to answer about her."
Punia was ecstatic about BCCI's move to pay identical match fees to men and women cricketers and termed it a necessary step.
"As a female athlete, I was very happy, the same efforts are put in by women athletes. We have seen the time change. Hockey India is passionate about us. They fulfill our requirements," said the player.
She expressed confidence that India will perform well in the FIH Hockey World Cup 2023.
"During this time, sports cannot be predicted. The Indian team is very good and they will perform well."
The Indian Women's hockey team will be playing the FIH Hockey Women's Nations Cup in Valencia, Spain from December 11, 2022 - December 17, 2022.
India has been placed in group B alongside Japan, Canada, and South Africa. (ANI)