Tell us something about your journey from the early days to being one of the most important players of the Indian hockey team?

It has been a fantastic journey for me over the years. My hometown Shahbad is known for hockey and after seeing a lot of players from there represent the Indian team, I decided I wanted to play the sport. Initially, it was tough, as my father was a cart-puller. However, my family was always supportive, and they provided me with the best. It was not just a dream, but hockey became a platform for me through which I could help my family.  I am very thankful to my first coach Baldev Sir because it is due to his hard work and training that I have reached such a stage in my hockey career and in life.

Being the captain of the Indian hockey team, how do you make sure players peak at the right time for a tournament?

It is not about how the individual players are peaking in the tournament, it is more about how the entire team is collectively rising. Our focus is always to make sure that we are all working hard on the training ground and keeping ourselves focused when we play a tournament. However, recovery and time-off also play a huge role in making sure that you are ready for the battle. Our support staff, led by Chief Coach Sjoerd Marijne, helps all the players in understanding their roles and playing out different scenarios on the training pitch so we understand each other and are ready to use the same tactics on the field during a match.

As a sportsperson who is young and has been in the limelight since the age of 15, how do you handle criticism on social media?

It has obviously been a long time and when you come into the national team at such a young age, you are a bit sceptical about everything. But as you grow into your career, you speak to fellow players, coaches, and then you gradually understand the do’s and don’t’s. We have to keep improving every single day, be it on the field or off it, so when it comes to social media, it is best to take it in your stride, and improve yourself to make sure that there is no negative criticism.

Tell us about your greatest achievement and the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced in your career so far.

My greatest achievement would be the 2010 Women’s World Cup held in Rosario, Argentina. Even though our team could only finish 9th in the tournament, it was one of the best tournaments for me personally. I won the Best Young Player of the Tournament in that World Cup, which was an amazing feeling, and I was also the top goal-scorer of the tournament. The biggest challenge over the years has been to maintain that consistency in our performances from match to match. Hockey is a sport where a match can turn around in a matter of minutes, and to avoid being on the receiving end, you have to perform consistently.

Who’s your inspiration in the field of hockey?

Indian hockey’s iconic legend, Sardar Singh has been my inspiration, and I have been fortunate enough to have learned a lot from him.

India created history as they won the Women’s Asia Cup in 2017 after 13 years. Where do you see the sport is heading in the future?

I feel the level of women’s hockey has been on the rise especially since 2016. We also qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, and it was a huge achievement because we had made it to the Olympics after 36 years. Since then, we haven’t looked back, we broke into the top-10 teams in the world by winning various international accolades including the Women’s Asia Cup in 2017. Another huge achievement was winning the Silver Medal at last year’s Asian Games, and under the guidance of our coaches, I believe that we will qualify for next year’s Tokyo Olympic Games, and will keep heading in the right direction when it comes to women’s hockey in India.

What habits and practices have you inculcated that positively impact your professional athletic performance?

It is extremely important for all professional athletes to inculcate certain habits and practices in their day-to-day life in order to maintain consistency in performance. I always focus on staying positive about everything. As the saying goes, change is the only constant, and I think it applies to athletes perfectly because we need to keep evolving to maintain our performances across a number of years.

If you could share one message with aspiring athletes, what would it be?

I think the best message for any youngster is that they should keep working hard towards their goals. You also need to make sure that you’re preparing yourself in the best way possible and respecting your body in the sense that you provide it with proper care and rest after a gruelling session.

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