Manpreet Singh, captain of the Indian hockey team thinks the expectations of winning an Olympics medal rubs off on the team in a rather positive way. India, once a superpower in hockey has won eight Olympic gold medals with their last top-place finish arriving in 1980. Since, India has waited 40 years for a 12th medal-finish. Also Read - New Delhi World Cup Decisive For Tokyo Olympics Qualification: ISSF

With the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics, the Indian men’s hockey team has received a one-year buffer zone and make further improvements. They booked their place at the Olympics at the FIH qualifiers in November with a 7-1 win over Russia and are coming off impressive performances against Netherlands whom they beat 5-2 and Belgium, who narrowly beat them 3-2 in penalties. Irrespective of whether India’s four-decade long wait comes to an end next year, Manpreet is glad that to use that as a motivation and not pressure. Also Read - Hockey | COVID-19 Experience Made me Mentally Stronger, Says India Men's Captain Manpreet Singh

“It always works as a motivation and I believe sometimes, pressure is a good thing, it helps bring out the best in a player. As a team, we like to take one tournament at a time and focus on the areas which we think needs improvement. The past one year, we have constantly worked on our shortcomings and have tried to improve as a team,” Manpreet, who led India to Asia Cup victory in 2017, told Khaleej Times. Also Read - Hockey | Systematic Approach And Two-way Communication Key to Rise in World Rankings: SV Sunil

“The result of our hard work paid off when we did well against the top three teams in the world (Belgium, Australia and the Netherlands). For now, we just want to stay focused on maintaining our fitness and be ready to go once the circumstances permit us to resume high-intensity hockey.”

The men’s hockey team continues to be the SAI centre in Bengaluru as the nation continues to remain under a lockdown, and with chances of it extending, so does the players’ wait to go back home. Away from the turf, Manpreet reveals that the team is bonding, crediting head coach Graham Reid’s contribution towards the improvement of the side.

“We were in the middle of a high-intensity National Coaching Camp in Sports Authority of India, Bengaluru, when the news of the Olympics being postponed was told to us by our coach. After the initial disappointment about the postponement, the team felt like there was a silver lining to it,” he said.

“We have improved as a team since Graham took over as chief coach and it gives us another 15 months to work together under his guidance for the Olympics. We believe we can improve our play and also this gives time for some of the youngsters who have shown a lot of promise to get used to the demands of hockey at this level.”

The Indian team is trying different styles of hockey, maintaining international tempo while playing internal contests. While India’s FIH Pro Hockey League away ties have been cancelled amid the outbreak, players are focused on training and awaiting instructions from Hockey India.

“Though the nation-wide lockdown was announced the very next day of Olympics postponement, and hockey training was suspended, the coaching staff has ensured we continue to maintain our fitness levels by designing a customised training program which involves a lot of indoor body-weight training and individual runs,” Manpreet said.

“We have been fortunate to spend our days during lockdown here at the SAI Campus which has ensured several safety measures to ensure we have a healthy environment. So, in that sense I think we are in a better place to restart training when situation permits and the Olympics postponement has not changed our objective which is to win a medal in Tokyo.”

Manpreet highlights the role of the coaching staff who have ensured that players do not miss a beat even during lockdown and self-isolation. The captain stressed on the importance of looking at the brighter side of things and utilise this time to relax, calm down and detox from everyday routine.

“Since we have been training through the year and have constantly been in competition, we are using this time to de-train, rest our bodies and mind. We have all been given individual training charts that includes distance-running and indoor bodyweight exercises for strength training,” he explained.

“We carry out these exercises independently and report back about the same to the coaching staff via video meeting, though we are all based out of the same campus we are following social distancing.”