Rani Rampal: ‘The focus is on fitness’

"We have all worked so hard to reach here and achieve this spot; it makes no sense losing it all because of a lack of focus," says Rani Rampal.

Rani Rampal scores during an Olympic Qualifiers match between India and Canada at National Stadium in New Delhi.   -  S. Subramanium

Treating every game at the Olympics as another match and not getting psyched by the occasion is Indian women’s hockey team’s plan for Rio, according to Rani Rampal.

“It’s the first Olympics for all of us, and obviously, we all want to experience that feeling. However, we are not exerting too much pressure on ourselves because that invariably leads to mistakes,” she says.

Excerpts:

Question: What exactly is the feeling in the team now?

Answer: Right now, everyone is very excited about the Olympics. It’s the first (Olympics) for all of us, and obviously, we all want to experience that feeling. However, we are not exerting too much pressure on ourselves because that invariably leads to mistakes.

 

So, is the team treating the Olympics as just another tournament?

Well, that’s actually not possible! I know what the Olympics mean, it is the biggest sporting extravaganza in the world, and so you need a lot more focus on your game. You have to be focussed in any tournament, sure, but Olympics means you need to be more prepared and alert. But what we are trying is to treat every game as another match, and not get psyched by the tag of Olympics.

In any other tournament, you only have hockey players. In Rio, there will be superstars from every field. Are you looking forward to meeting them, or are you nervous?

We are glad to have a coach (Neil Hawgood) who has been there. He has told us not to get distracted by anyone or anything. Olympics come once every four years, but for us, it has come for the first time. The coach told us, ‘I have been there; I know what happens there and what can happen to the best of sides. But you all are very young and (have) no experience of the big event, so it is easy to be distracted. Be aware of it; don’t forget your game, what your duties are.’

Dhanraj sir also said the same thing the other day. He said, ‘There will be big stars and athletes around, but don’t think you are any less. You are also representing your country like everyone else, so focus on what you have gone there to do.’

We have all worked so hard to reach here and achieve this spot; it makes no sense losing it all because of a lack of focus.

How are your personal form, fitness and preparation?

My form is good, touchwood! So is my fitness. I have been working on it for a while now and after struggling for almost a year, things are much better now. I just hope to stay fit and play the best hockey of my career in Rio.

My preparations are also going good. As a senior player, there are more responsibilities and I know I have to perform better than ever before. It is also important to make sure that the youngsters in the team are taken along in the process, to maintain a balance in the team because no senior or junior can do anything without team support. Also, the better we, as seniors, perform, the easier it is to inspire the youngsters and expect them to do well.

At 21, you are among the senior-most players in the side. How do you handle that pressure and responsibility?

Experience bahut kuch sikha deta hai (experience teaches you a lot). I made my debut at a very young age (15 years), so I have played a lot. At times, maturity comes with age, but things that happen to you over the years also teach you a lot. When you become a senior player at a young age, you also need to learn how to handle the seniority, and the responsibility that comes with it. Pressure is always there, because you always feel you have to step up more than the others do, perform better than the rest and set a good example for the youngsters to follow and learn from.

Is there something you do to achieve that?

No. I always tell myself to stay calm and not hurry with anything, because that leads to more errors. It takes a lot of patience to do so, and at this age, you understand that I am, after all, only 21, so it is not easy. But time ke sath sab aa jata hai; time sab sikha deta hai (It all falls in place with time; time teaches you a lot). I have learnt how to stay calm. Sometimes we commit blunders on the field and then get hyper, but after a while, you realise that if we, as seniors, react like this then how can we expect the youngsters to stay in control?

Will the absence of Ritu Rani affect the team?

She is a very good player and has been with us for a long time. So yes, her absence will have an effect. But we have to cover up and do more to fill up the gap left by her absence, and the players are doing well to do that. I am sure it will all be sorted out by the time the Games start.

In these last few days before the Games, what is the team concentrating on?

Sabse zyada dhyan apni fitness maintain karne pe hai (Maximum attention is on maintaining our fitness). There cannot be any drastic change of planning at this stage, but our attempt is to get better at what we do. For example, penalty corner conversions — even if we get one PC or one scoring chance, we have to try to convert. We can’t be losing or winning by huge margins at the Olympics. Even a single goal can make a difference.