A goalscorer is not necessarily the only hero of the team | By Reena Khokhar

As a young child growing up in Chandigarh, my primary focus was to do well academically and study hard in school. I was not too much into sports as a kid.

Back then, I was more inclined towards watching cartoons at home. At school, there was a round of hockey selection trials which were held and my friends urged to join in although I was not too keen.

After a year or two, when we played a few tournaments, my interest in the game grew and with it came a desire to excel. My dad used to play hockey as a child with whatever paraphernalia that was available including crude sticks at home and also at school.

My father works in the Border Security Force, and I do not get to see him often. He was the one who encouraged my two siblings and me to take up the game initially, and my mother too has been very supportive.

A goalscorer is not necessarily the only hero of the team. As such, I never aimed to be a striker. My coaches probably felt that I was skilled as a defender and that I had the potential to display my best qualities in that position.

My coach, Sjoerd Marijne, calls me an attacking defender as I can play forward as well and I am genuinely excited to play the World Cup as a defender.

My international debut as a senior came about when I was selected for the New Zealand tour in May of last year. New Zealand is a world-class side, and I was a trifle nervous then but equally excited as well. I was apprehensive before the trip, but my coach had told me to concentrate on a select few aspects which he had specified, and doing so, he stressed, would be sufficient.

All the seniors supported me when I joined the camp. Monika and Vandana didi, in particular, were close to me. I could not muster up the courage to open up to the seniormost players in the early days.

Also read: I secretly nursed the desire to be a goalkeeper | By Deep Grace Ekka

Senior players have a far higher degree of skill, and once I joined the team, the challenge was to be mentally tough to integrate myself with them. I would not have been able to handle the transition had it not been for Sjoerd Sir.

He was well acquainted with my temperament and appreciated the fact that it was never going to be easy for me to feel at home in the senior camp. He advised me to focus on the basics and not try to do too much in the beginning.

Most importantly, he asked me not to get stressed out. He had a significant role in helping me feel comfortable in the setup.

It is one thing to have individual talent but quite another to play in a team. A coach needs to recognise what unique skills a player possesses and how to then utilise those skills for the benefit of the team. Sjoerd Sir relies on a variety of techniques to get the best out of every individual player. He does so, sometimes lovingly with affection, and at other times with a bit of anger and firmness but the ultimate aim is always to motivate us.

In my life, as well as in my career thus far, Sjoerd Sir’s role has been monumental.

My proficiency in the English language is better than the other girls, but communication has never been a considerable concern within the team. Whenever Sjoerd Sir passes on instructions, he enacts the same and uses actions to convey his message. Additionally, we have Kumar Sir who helps with translations whenever required.

Every single time the girls are unable to grasp something in English, they say so explicitly, and the instructions are either repeated or translated until they are understood. There is no ambiguity with regards to communication.

Our trainer Wayne Lombard has worked extremely hard with us. We did always possess abundant talent and skill but fell short when it came to strength and fitness. So, we were aware that if we had to compete with the best teams in the world, we had to focus on these aspects too. I think Wayne’s efforts have brought about a massive difference in the level of our play and we are now stronger and fitter than ever before.

I feel our defence is our most prized asset as compared to the midfield or forward-line. There are a few youngsters in the midfield and up front, but all our defenders, apart from me, are highly experienced. It is a beautiful experience for me to play under their guidance.

Both my brother and sister give me loads of feedback after every match I play, and generally, have much to say in the way of banter. They have even commented on how I passed the ball to an opposition player instead of my own and how much difference that made to the game!

Whenever my dad meets me, he always advises me on how to focus before matches and what to eat. He also does not like it when the team loses and always pushes me to perform better.

Also read: Fearlessness is what makes people look up to you | By Rani Rampal

India is playing the World Cup after a long gap, and I have the privilege and the honour of representing the country at such a young age. I must do well and display my worthiness for the team.

My family too has told me very explicitly that since I have been accorded with a golden chance to play in this important tournament, I have to do my utmost. My dad has come to visit me in the camp and has passed on many directives.

Our aim is to reach the semifinal and, as a team, we will make this opportunity count.