Rani Rampal: Women's hockey undergoing a positive change in India

The Indian women’s hockey captain Rani Rampal weighs in on the importance of the New Zealand tour before Olympics and the change hockey has undergone in the country.

Rani Rampal has been named as the Athlete of the Year at the World Games and was awarded the Padma Shri.

The Indian women’s hockey team returned from its New Zealand tour with mixed results – two wins and losses each – but the spotlight was on captain Rani Rampal, who was named as the Athlete of the Year at the World Games and awarded the Padma Shri during this period.

Arriving in the early hours of Friday, the team immediately dispersed for a week-long break before reassembling in Bengaluru on the 17th. In an exclusive chat with Sportstar, Rani spoke of the importance of the tour in an Olympic year and how the awards are more a recognition of the sport itself than any individual achievement.

Excerpts:

Q: You played against higher-ranked, physically stronger teams in New Zealand, how important was this tour for the team?

Very important. The team has got a lot of confidence from this tour. Playing against higher-ranked sides, we won and lost two games each but even in the ones we lost, the team performed well. We missed a few chances and our defensive structure was a concern in the early games. We worked on the problem areas and improved in the later games and the result was visible. Even in the game against Great Britain, which we won 1-0, I think we should have scored more. Sometimes you miss out not because you were weak but because the opposition defends well. But then they also got chances to score which we defended well and we should not forget that they are the reigning Olympic champions (New Zealand finished fourth in Rio).

In the last game, even though we won 3-0 against New Zealand, we will look and analyse it when we get back to camp as we will with all the games. I feel we still need to improve a lot. We will see the areas where we can do even better so as to be consistent in our performances.

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Any specific areas you feel that need to be worked on?

I think we need to work on our counter control a lot more. Since we have improved a lot in our fitness, we should use that to our advantage and go for quick counter-attacks. At the same time, we need to concentrate on our counter-control so that when the opposition defends well and attempts counters, we are prepared and are able to control the game.

How important was it playing against stronger teams for the youngsters in the side? What do you tell them on such tours?

We do not have too many big games to prepare for the Olympics but we need to focus on what we have and try to replicate and implement our training plans in matches (the team’s China tour in March has also been cancelled because of the Coronavirus outbreak). Only then can we get the confidence that we can do it and that we can perform well at the Olympics. Our coaches also keep trying new things because every opposition team is constantly observing you and planning accordingly. On this tour also we tried some new things. The good thing is that the entire team has been very quick to adjust, adopt and adapt to the new plans and structure.

As for the youngsters, we only tell them to play without pressure. We assure them that we are not expecting them to play a complicated game or beat half a dozen players and score. What they lack in experience, they can make up for by putting in more effort, get ball possession. We tell them to play simple hockey, pass and receive and leave the complicated stuff to the experienced players.

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How does winning the World Games award or the Padma Shri affect a player in terms of responsibility and mental pressure?

When you get these awards, you definitely feel happy not for the award itself but the fact that your hard work, efforts and struggles have been recognised. Of course, there is added responsibility but for me, it has become a habit so there is nothing new in it. I have been responsible and I have taken that responsibility seriously ever since I made the senior team so it’s not like awards make me more responsible. I know my role and my duty for the team and the country, I cannot ever be irresponsible in the team. Especially with something like the World Games thing, it feels even more special because it recognises women’s hockey as a sport. When the entire world sporting community does so, it feels even better and gives women’s hockey a higher standing.

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Do you believe it will also raise the profile of women’s hockey in India, where it has largely been about the men’s team?

Yes definitely. I dedicate this award to women’s hockey. A lot of people supported me through this, including our Sports Minister, which shows they love the sport and people are now supporting women’s hockey also. I don’t think people vote randomly for anyone, they do so only when they can relate to a sport and the sportsperson. I am proud that women’s hockey is undergoing a positive change in the country and I am part of it.

So, how did you celebrate?

There was no celebration. When the Padma Shri was announced here, it was late night in New Zealand and I had slept off. There were hundreds of messages in the morning but I initially thought they were for Republic Day! Once I realised the truth, it felt good. But we had early morning training and that will always take priority over everything else.

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