Indian captain Sardar Singh, now playing for Delhi Waveriders in the ongoing Indian Hockey League in the city, shares with Y.B. SARANGI the target he has set for himself, the team, the sport

Hailing from a small village near Sirsa (Haryana), Sardar learnt his early lessons in the sport from a nursery of hockey run by Sikh sect Namdharis at Sri Jeevan Nagar. On showing his potential, he was transferred to Sri Bhaini Sahib, near Ludhiana, for further grooming. His first big exposure came in the Premier Hockey League (PHL) in 2005 and five years later he found himself placed among the top-11 in the world and then among the best five.

“Whatever I am today is because of our Guruji Jagjit Singh and Thakur Uday Singh. Because of their initiative, 17-18 international players have emerged from our village. There were two Olympians before me. Current international players such as Malak Singh, Gurmail Singh belong to my place. Many of these players have got good jobs because of hockey.

“I am grateful to my family, especially my mother, who supported me through the difficult times in the early days,” he adds.

Humble beginning

Sardar, brother of international Didar Singh, says even though he has come a long way from his humble background, his passion for the sport and the lure of wearing Indian colours remain intact.

“As a youngster I used to watch great players like Jamie Dwyer and Teun de Nooijer on TV with huge admiration. I am lucky to play with them today. Winning a Commonwealth Games medal (silver) after beating England in a close semi-final clash in front of home crowd is the most memorable moment so far, Sardar says, “There is nothing like playing for the country. I still get goose bumps when the National anthem is played before a match.”

Sardar, with all sincerity, is on the path of self-improvement. It always spurs him to give his best.

“Everyone says you are a good player. But I feel I am yet to reach my peak. Sometimes, when I am alone in my room, I feel I am not good enough. I am not satisfied with my performance. I wish to become the (FIH) Player of the Year. I want to play for the country for a long time and continue my association with the sport even beyond it.”

Whenever he plays a match, he watches its footage on his I-pad and tries to figure out his flaws. “Sometimes, I spend sleepless nights thinking about a particular mistake. I think I should not have committed such a mistake after playing so much hockey and doing so much training.”

Commitment to the sport is an inherent part of Sardar’s persona and managing his fitness, like any other elite sportsperson, is an essential requirement of this trait. The 27-year-old is aware of the fact that he is racing towards his 30s and changing his habits according to the demands of the body.

“When you are in your early 20s, you can afford to train hard and party hard. But when you become older, recovery becomes slower. If I have to play well, I have to have some control over myself....Back to back matches and too much of travelling take their toll on the body. But I try to cope with all this and maintain myself.”

Magic touch of HIL

Sardar feels HIL has done a world of good to the younger Indian players. “The HIL provides a good opportunity to play matches with top internationals and learn from them. Earlier, we used to fear the stronger teams and bigger players. Now we see them from very close and get to know about them. In the last edition, once I saw a rookie player, Mandeep Singh, sharing a joke with a stalwart, Floris Evers (both play for Ranchi Rhinos)!”

He also points out, “Look at the way we beat Germany in the Hockey World League. We gain a lot of confidence from HIL and it gives us some talented players for the national team.”

The present may not be perfect, but Sardar is hopeful about the future of the national side. “We have some good players and the younger players are keen to learn and improve. With more and more experience they will become better. The current coach (Terry Walsh from Australia) is one of the best in the business and High Performance Director Roelant Oltmans is providing some useful inputs,” he underlines.

Goals for future

Sardar has his target ready for the team. “Our target is to win the Asian Games gold and do well in the Commonwealth Games, besides finishing 5th or 6th in the World Cup this year.”

Academy dreams

On the hockey field or off it, Sardar charms you with his humility. With equal ease, he reveals his big plans in the coming years.“Recently, I played for Dutch Club Blomendaal and saw how good their system was. I want to establish a residential school-cum academy in Haryana. I am planning to spot talented kids from rural areas of the country and put them in the academy. I have to learn advanced coaching methods and implement those here. Inviting top coaches to the academy to train the kids is also part of my plans.

Coach too

Besides, he wants to make a difference as a coach. “I want to see Indian hockey regain its days of glory,” he signs off.