There are, technically, no holidays at the Panposh Sports Hostel. The training, broken by an occasional wiseass quip from someone and display of special skills before returning to working out as a team, is the norm every day – even on rest days. And the kids at Panposh Sports Hostel wouldn’t have it any other way.
In November last year, 18 boys and girls each from here left Indian shores for the first time ever and came back with an experience no amount of backbreaking hostel training could have given. The group, representing Odisha in Under-17 boys and Under-14 girls at the first National Hockey Development Program international tournament in Malaysia, faced foreign club and school teams from Malaysia and Japan.
It was in line with the way change has gradually come to the nursery of Odia hockey - the alma mater for almost everyone from the state who has made an international mark: from Dilip Tirkey and Lazarus Barla to the Tirkey brothers, Ignace and Prabodh, to Amit Rohidas, to Shilanand Lakra and Sudeep Chirmako.
While they did not return with a medal, the boys were more than satisfied. “ First time tha, seekhne ko bahut mila doosra teams se, bahar jake adjust karna bhi (It was our first time. We learned a lot from other teams, learned how to adapt to alien conditions),” explained Abhishek Kispotta, captain of that side. Not that the hall of fame the hostel – less than three kilometres from the swanky all-new state-of-the-art Birsa Munda International Stadium – boasts is any less informative. But the experience opened the boys to a whole new world in hockey.
The sports hostel itself has changed over years since it first began to groom the unlimited hockey talent in its backyard. A decade ago, it had only one turf and basic accommodation and facilities, situated way out of Rourkela. Now, it is a part of the city with 199 trainees – 51 girls – with two new turfs, comfortable lodging, trained coaches with former India coach BJ Cariappa leading the charge and support staff including conditioning expert and trainer. He also has the likes of Barla and Praful Tirkey – brother to Prabodh and Ignace – assisting him.
“The plans are big. We are hoping to get a pool and a projector room for video trainings soon which will further help these kids along with non-hockey skills to make them more confident going ahead,” Cariappa said.
The player profile has also changed. While majority still come from the adjoining Sundergarh district, there are also a few from elsewhere – Gajapati, Dhenkenal and Ganjam. And not everyone wants to be a defender. While Dilip and Rohidas are icons, Shilanand Lakra and Amandeep Lakra, part of the national team at senior and junior levels, are strikers, and they are the latest role models.
“ Goal karna achha lagta hai par hum to sab kisi bhi position me khel sakte hain. Sab defender bhi hain striker bhi midfielder bhi (we like to score goals, but all of us can play in any position),” said Russell Kerketta, the designated star of the bunch, with a laugh. “ Goalkeeper kit different hota hai but woh bhi kar lenge karne ko mila toh (goalkeeper kit is different, but we can do that also if needed),” chipped in Binit Xalxo, member of the team that went to Malaysia.
It is this ease of communication that is most heartening for Cariappa. The general perception of Odia players being quiet, diffident and not vocal enough to be leaders is gradually changing. “We have always been a coach-driven sport and then expect our players to suddenly take on-field decisions in a crunch. I want them to think and decide for themselves. Even if they make a wrong call, they will learn from it. We are here to guide them, not feed them,” he asserts.
The ongoing World Cup in Rourkela is a golden opportunity for the kids to watch the best in action. They take notes at the stadium and then discuss back at the hostel. “ Paper pen nahi leke jane dete. But mind me study karte hain. Achha lagta hai, seekhne ko milta hai (we don’t carry pen and paper with us; study them closely. It is a nice experience),” is the general verdict.
Having produced players by the dozen, Panposh, it is evident, wants more. It is now preparing to produce leaders.
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