“Olympics is like a pressure cooker,” says PR Sreejesh, ahead of Paris 2024

PR Sreejesh and Craig Fulton
PR Sreejesh and Craig Fulton (PC: The Hockey India)

The Indian hockey team travels to Switzerland for a three-week camp before the much-awaited Paris Olympics as a part of the preparation. After their success in the Tokyo Olympics, expectations are really high this time around. In this ‘Trailblazers’ episode, coach Craig Fulton and goalkeeper PR Sreejesh open up about their preparation, their ways of handling and much more ahead of the Paris Olympics in an exclusive chat with RevSportz Editor-in-chief Boria Majumdar.

Boria: Paris will be pressure, how are you looking at it?

Fulton: Fortunately, we still got a bit of time. It is an exciting time to be honest and it is a slightly reduced squad. We have a pool that we are preparing for and more focused. We can worry about a lot of other things but right now, it is about us. We are getting as fit as possible physically, mentally, and technically ahead of the event.    

Boria: Paddy Upton and Mike Horn to join the team. Your thoughts?

Fulton: We are looking forward to having both Paddy and Mike Horn in Switzerland and that will be before our training in Holland. That is before we enter Paris.

Boria: Sree, Olympic Games are very different. Whole country will keep an eye, you have been there, done that. Tokyo was such a high, thoughts on that?

Sreejesh: See, we cannot compare Tokyo and Paris because Tokyo was all about us and support staff. There were no fans, no cheers. But this time, people will ask us to win the medal. The Olympics comes with a lot of pressure. It is like a pressure cooker; you get pressure from everywhere. So, how we handle that and play our best game will be the key. I think that the team is in good shape and as the coach mentioned, we are looking forward to the preparations ahead of Paris.

Boria: Coach, how do you deal with pressure?

Fulton: I want to reframe that from pressure to focus and that what we need to do more right now in order to get consistency. We have a job on hand and pressure comes only from expectation. But the expectation is from ourselves, that is more important. The expectation is way too big as media will like to pump up us, saying India will win blah blah blah and if we focus on that rather than what we should be doing, then it will be a mismatch and we will underperform. So, it is important for us to be humble, keep working hard. We have not done or won anything yet.

Boria: Your speciality in attention to details even if we win or lose. Thoughts on that?

Fulton: Before playing the final, we have to play eight matches and you may have not played well in all those matches. But you have to find a way to win those games. First, we have to look to finishing top four in the group. Post pool stage, we have to be ready to play anyone. There is a lot of attention to detail and we are still improving. But obviously, one moment at a time!

For the Latest Sports News: Click Here


Boria: Sree, after Tokyo the expectation has risen. How do you look at that, the support for hockey, the stardom?

Sreejesh: Look it is a journey, not an overnight success. We as players know how hard it was after what happened in 2008, 2012, 2016, and then the Tokyo. So, after Tokyo, hockey started to get hyped in India, everyone started to follow and more sponsors came. Importantly, the experience that we got in Tokyo and even in this squad, almost 12-13 players are here from that squad.

The other 15 young players are here and they are now taking note of that pressure and how those players managed. It is all about the details and this Olympics is not going to be that smooth. We cannot think that we will win every match, ups and downs will be here and there. The best part about this team is the mix of experienced and young players and the main focus is on ourselves. All players have combined well so far and that makes us one of the strongest and fittest teams in this upcoming Olympics.

Boria: How important is it to be mentally and physically fit and to be focused till the last minute of action?

Fulton: I think, you have to drive your skill level and fitness level under pressure. Hockey is a dynamic game and one of the hardest games to play. Playing eight games back-to-back is not easy. You really need to put in hard work and there is no other way. Conditions are given and the top four teams at the end of the tournament will be well-conditioned.

Boria: Sree, after Tokyo, we did not know as I asked you ‘do you imagine yourself in Paris?’ and now, you are in Paris, thoughts on that!

Sreejesh: See, for the team, the dream is to perform really well in Paris and as coach mentioned. Nobody knows what is going to happen next. Nobody knows whether this team will be there as some new players will come, some old players will go. So, the focus has to be clear and it is not about what is after Paris. It is what we are doing now, to stay in the present. For me, it is not about what is there after Paris, it is all about how and what I can give during Paris.

Boria: Coach, how do you manage the relaxation part? Are there any cheat days for these players after all these intense training sessions?

Fulton: You have to have a balance as to what these boys do. You have to enjoy each other’s company and get prepared for the competitions. The balance is there and from the mental perspective, working with Paddy has helped to focus on realistic approaches.

Sreejesh (Source: Sreejesh/X)

Boria:  Sree, how does it happen? Tell me about that.

Sreejesh: See, most of the times, players are in their own zone. Enjoying each other’s company and going out to have a cup of coffee is more than enough. Sometimes, going out and talking with each other helps a lot also. This is something very important for us. Just by sharing to someone, you can be relieved from something which has been inside you and was irritating you. Open talks and team activities always help us and, in this team, players talk and that helps us to bond well. Both on and off the field, experience with the players is very wide now and that will help us to bring out the best version of ourselves.

Boria: One and half years now, thoughts on Craig as the bond between a coach and a captain play a huge role!

Sreejesh: As a coach, Craig has achieved a lot. First being as a player and then, getting into coaching, he has assisted a lot of teams, worked with Ireland and Belgium, Olympic qualifications, the World Cup, European championship, and these are collective efforts. To be a coach, you have to change your mentality and then, taking all these experiences with a proper understanding of your players. As coach, he knows how to handle pressure and as a team, it has been a journey. That is helping us and is the best part.

Boria: Is India the most difficult assignment of your life?

Fulton: No, it is not the difficult but full of diversity of talent, different languages, and cultures. I am not saying it is easy but as a mix, it is beautiful and the support has been fantastic. We are trying to do our best and for me, my aim is to make them fly at the highest level based on their own abilities, identities. This tournament is going to be a huge one and who knows how it is going to go, maybe a solid start and then a strong finish for the quarters or a poor start and then a fantastic run till the final game. By qualifying for the Olympics, we ticked that box and we are here now, getting better. From an India perspective, back your team.

Also Read: Netravalkar shares his feelings on how he missed playing for India but clicked for the USA in World Cup