Mentor Sreejesh revelling in the mutual process of learning

"It is not just the youngsters who are learning. I am here for myself, to learn new things and improve my own game as well. It's not charity, I am doing it for selfish reasons," he laughs, then adds, "when I explain or demonstrate something to them, I also understand it better myself," Sreejesh said.

The India captain may be one of the best goalkeepers in world hockey today but he would rather spend time on the field, sharing knowledge with his younger team-mates.   -  pti

The mentor-mentee relationship in sports is a complex one. There aren't any tangible benefits to the mentor and, most of the times, they are not at the forefront of success when it finally comes around to the mentee. It is even more unusual for an active player in his prime to voluntarily turn mentor to his juniors.

For Parattu Raveendran Sreejesh, however, it's just another role that he loves to play, regardless of the reward. The India captain may be one of the best goalkeepers in world hockey today but he would rather spend time on the field, sharing knowledge with his younger team-mates. Undergoing rehabilitation after a series of injuries ruled him out of the Australia tour recently, Sreejesh has taken up the responsibility of guiding Vikas Dahiya and Krishan Pathak at the ongoing Junior World Cup here.

“I had spoken about it with the coach (Roelant Oltmans) earlier also. Now I was free and the chance came up, so he asked me and I was all ready to jump in. But right now, at this stage, you can only polish the rough edges, you cannot and should not try to bring in any drastic changes. The technique cannot be altered in the middle of a tournament, you can only give motivation,” Sreejesh says.

The juniors had trained under South African Dave Staniforth for three weeks as part of their preparation for the World Cup before Sreejesh joined them at the camp in Bangalore. With Staniforth gone back, Sreejesh has turned into a temporary goalkeeping coach for the side. And the prankster of the national side is quite earnest about his new job.

“They take my word seriously because they can relate to what I say, they realise that I am talking from experience, having been in similar situations as them. I talk to them mainly about preparing themselves mentally for the match and how to control the negative or positive moments. You can’t make a couple of saves and be on a high. You need to keep your mind stable for the entire match,” he explains.

Focused on the job

During India's training sessions here, Sreejesh is seen completely involved in every aspect of goalkeeping. Whether it is playing individual attention to the 'keeper's skills and movement, observing the performances from behind the goal or even turning striker challenging him to a one-on-one, Sreejesh is all over the ground.

In fact, with the team divided into groups, he is perhaps the only one who doesn't take a break, alternating between various groups, keeping an eye on both Dahiya and Pathak.

“See, goalkeeping is very different from everything else in hockey. More than technical, it’s about the mental part. In the entire 70 minutes, you can get the ball a dozen times or get it only twice or thrice. If a goalkeeper concedes early, he may not get another chance for 15 minutes or more. What will he think during that period? He may dwell on the goal and curse himself for allowing an early goal. Or he can think about bouncing back from it. That's what I am trying to do here,” he further says.

The sharing of knowledge is something that he learnt from Adrian D'Souza, former India goalkeeper who was also counted among the best for a long time and was known to rush out while keeping. Sreejesh considers D'Souza like an elder brother and says that the latter was never stingy with his knowledge and that he was only trying to give back what he got.

“It is not just the youngsters who are learning. I am here for myself, to learn new things and improve my own game as well. It's not charity, I am doing it for selfish reasons,” he laughs, then adds, “when I explain or demonstrate something to them, I also understand it better myself. I see where I might be doing a mistake, what I need to work on. It is a mutual learning process.”

'Patience is the key'

At the same time, he insists there is time for both Dahiya and Pathak to make the leap to the big league. While Sreejesh is still going strong, deputy Akash Chikte has impressed the team management with both his skills and composure in crunch games including the Asian Champions Trophy final against Pakistan. Besides them, Abhinav Pandey is also part of the senior camp.

“My Dutch trainer (Martijn Drijver) taught me the phrase 'water on duck'. When water falls on a duck, it doesn’t stay there, it just flows away. Just like that, after conceding a goal, you shouldn’t let it bother you and prepare for the next moment. I share these things with juniors. But it takes time."

“Pandey and Akash are with me, the juniors might too join us. But it’s all about experience. Junior and senior level hockey is very different. The pressure, atmosphere – apart from events like the World Cup right now, juniors are not under too much spotlight. The importance given to seniors is very different, even Test matches are very important.

“I didn’t make it to the senior team after just a handful of tournaments. I waited a lot. You can’t feel good about yourself by making just a couple of saves, nor should you be demotivated after conceding a couple of goals. I tell them you can’t achieve everything overnight. Patience is the key,” he signs off.