Savita Punia Exclusive: “We deserve to go to the Olympics”

Savita Punia
Savita Punia (Source: Hockey India)

India’s women’s hockey team start their campaign for Paris 2024 Olympic qualification in Ranchi from January 13. Vandana Katariya, one of the team’s most experienced stars, is injured, but with passionate support expected from the home crowd in Ranchi, India are confident of taking one of the three spots up for grabs. In this episode of Backstage with Boria, Savita Punia, the team captain talks of expectations, preparation and the phone call to her father that gave her the belief to play her first match at the Olympics.

Boria: Welcome Savita Punia! How are the preparations and how are you dealing with the pressure?

Savita: Thank you, sir! Definitely, pressure is there. I will not deny that, but there is no such bigger event than this for us right now. In our team, there are some players who have experienced playing in Olympics while some players do not have that experience. So, we have to keep that balance in the team and those players are looking eager to showcase their potential in the Olympics.

We deserve to go to the Olympics after what we have achieved in the last two-three years. But all the other teams that have come here will give their best and our preparations are going well. Few days back, we went to Spain and had good matches against Belgium, Spain, Germany, and Ireland. Performances were good also, and now it is a do-or-die situation. We must look to give our best in this tournament.   

Boria: How much are you going to miss Vandana [Katariya]? Packed fan support will be there in Ranchi. How much will that be important and helpful to you?

Savita: Vandana is an experienced player. Along with her, there are more 2-3 senior players who are not in the squad this time around. We are going to miss them. But, as replacements, players have come and we have trained with the full core group. They might have been lacking that experience but as a player, they are going to help us. Coach has provided us all the possible training so far that she could have done. We are ready and excited for the tournament. It is going to happen in Ranchi and that is why, girls are more eager to play.

Few times back, we played the Asian Champions Trophy here and we received more support than our imagination. In 2011, I played the National Games here and that time, I was telling my father that the stadium was full. The same feeling, we got in the Asian Champions Trophy and people are looking excited again this time around.  I still remember that it was the semi-final of the Asian Champions Trophy against Korea. We did not perform well in one quarter. But the way the crowd supported us, we made the comeback and got back into the rhythm. Hopefully, we will get the same positive support in this tournament also.   

Boria: How much does the team benefit with the arrival of a mental-conditioning coach?

Savita: Obviously, it has helped us so far. We were well prepared in the Asian Games and hopes were high that we would qualify for the Olympics. Somehow, we failed to do so and after that, the morale was so down that we did not think about returning home with a bronze medal. But, when the Asian Champions Trophy happened in Jharkhand, we thought that we can not let that go out of our hands. The best thing is that our mental conditioning trainer, Peter, came and everybody benefited. We were working on this thing for a long time since Janneke [Schopman, the coach] came in. With the arrival of Peter, Janneke also was helped, along with all the girls. Just by talking to him, players get confident and motivated. Many times, we deny pressure as we think that how my teammates, fans will react if I take pressure despite being the part of the team for a long time. But pressure is normal and you must play the game along with it. You have to accept that.

For the Latest Sports News: Click Here


Boria: Now, you are the skipper! So, being a senior player and captain, how do you manage youngsters in order to deal with pressure?

Savita: I have been playing hockey for almost 15 years, and hence have a lot of experience. It also took me a lot of time to understand that you can not deny the pressure. So, I share my own experience with them. When I was about to play my first match at the Olympics, I was so nervous. I had to play hockey only, but still, there were so much negative thoughts. Very few people actually know this. I called my father and said that I am not ready to play today, am getting fears. So, father said that you just have to play the same hockey that you trained yesterday.

So, believe in yourself and whatever the results, we are with you. That time, within the team, I was feeling kind of lonely and we were not so connected with each other. So, I decided to call father as I took so much pressure that day that I was thinking whether I should go out from that room or not. Had the chat and I literally cried. These kind of stories, I share with my teammates. I tell youngsters that you cannot control the thoughts, so let those come in but definitely, talk about it. Everybody goes through this, even top-class athletes. The more openly you talk about this, it helps.

Boria: Germany is a bit higher but the other teams, we have beaten. So, the hopes are realistic that we can qualify for the Olympics. How much do you believe that?

Savita: There is no doubt. Today, the team we have, we have to be there. We played a practice match against Germany and played a series also with them a while ago. So, now, we know that we can compete with them. But, in this tournament, we will think one match at a time because USA, New Zealand, Italy have the same chance to go to the Olympics as us. So, they will also come hard but as a team, we have to play, support each other based on our strengths, and keep the main focus. We strongly believe that we deserve to be in the top three in this tournament.

Boria: Physically and mentally, whoever is part of the team, everybody fit and ready?

Savita: Yes sir, definitely!


Also Read: Janneke Schopman Exclusive: “Crowd support in Ranchi will boost us”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *