How a Kerala flood victim motivated the Indian men's hockey team

Sreejesh, inspired by a video in which a septuagenarian showed confidence in regaining everything she lost during the Kerala floods, motivated the team to regroup for the bronze medal match against Pakistan.

India hockey captain Sreejesh (second from left) and Sardar Singh seen former hockey players Dhanraj Pillay,Dilip Tirkey and Sandeep Singh at the jersey launch event in Mumbai on Friday. The World Cup will be held in Bhubaneswar in November.   -  Vivek Bendre

The world came crashing when India lost to Malaysia in the semifinals of the Asian Games. Even as the fans and experts were dissecting India's unexpected loss, the team captain, P.R. Sreejesh, took inspiration from a Kerala flood victim and tried regrouping the team ahead of the third-place play-off against Pakistan.

“It was difficult to come to terms with the defeat and the mood in the camp was down. I suddenly came across a video on social media, where a lady —in her 70s — was stuck in the floods of Kerala and had lost everything. But even then, she said that she would regain everything the flood had snatched from her,” Sreejesh said on Friday.

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“That was something that motivated me a lot. I told the team that if she can think of bouncing back, why can’t we?”

That helped the side rejuvenate. “I told them that Khali haat ghar jana hai ya kuchh leke? (Do you want to go home empty-handed?) This was not the right time to think about the past and sulk. It was important to come out of the phase. It is easy to criticize the players, but we played well even in the bronze match and we won. It showed we were good enough,” Sreejesh said.

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Setbacks aren’t new in Indian hockey, but then, Sreejesh believes that it is important to take things in the stride and move on. He also remembers how a foreign coach—whose name was not revealed—had told him that the Indian players are more like ‘grand mom’s children’, who always complain. “He felt we were complaining about everything and we had excuses ready for each little thing. He advised us to change the mentality and develop the skills. That’s something we tried doing,” Sreejesh said.

While he agrees that it is often difficult to shrug off a loss, Sreejesh also points out that it is up to the individual players to keep the motivation level higher. “As a senior player, I need to take care of myself. But we are a team and it is our job to cover each other’s mistakes. But what happens when five or six players fail? We need to be prepared for every situation,” the goalkeeper said.