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

I belong to a small village in Sundargarh district in Odisha, and I didn’t know much about hockey in the early days. As a child, I pretty much participated in every available sport at the school level and felt happy whenever I won a prize.

We had a round of hockey selection trials during the course after which I was picked and sent to a hostel in Sundargarh. In 2007, I joined the SAI hostel at Bhopal and started playing at the State level. Three years later, at the age of 16, I first played the Senior Nationals in Sonepat.

It was in 2011 that I played in the National Games at Ranchi. The same year, I was selected for the junior national camp following which we travelled to Bangkok for the Junior Asia Cup, and that was an excellent experience for me.

After playing a couple of tournaments, I was selected for the senior camp. From then, until now, I have been a regular member of the senior national team.

I started out as a defender although I must admit I secretly nursed the desire to be a goalkeeper. My brother was in the same hostel as me, and he played as a goalkeeper. My uncle was also my coach, but he did not allow me to pursue my wish to be a goalkeeper. So, I had no choice but to continue as a defender.

To be a good defender, it is essential to have the ability to clear or hit the ball out of the 16-yard-line. When the opposition advances with a full press, it is crucial to first intercept cleanly and then use a long hard hit to release the pressure.

Sunita (Lakra) has skills which include a good slap shot and hit which are absolute essentials to be a capable defender. We both have an excellent understanding and are complement each other well which helps release the pressure when the opposition players enter our circle.

We share the SAI campus with several others, some of whom are into athletics and others who play volleyball and a few other sports as well. Some of the athletes here have disabilities and yet are undeterred by it. Missing a hand or a leg does not hinder their resolve to train hard and pursue their goals.

In sharp contrast, and with the grace of God, we have the good fortune of being equipped with hands and legs that are functional. I always tell myself, if they can do so well, why can’t I? Watching them is an exhilarating experience for me as it drives me to push harder.

To be a good defender, it is very important to have the ability to clear or hit the ball out of the 16-yard-line. When the opposition advances with a full press, it is important to first intercept cleanly and then use a long hard hit to release the pressure.

We stayed at Bhopal earlier, and we did like it there, but here in Bangalore, the facilities are much better. I always feel inspired by the manner in which other athletes train and that somehow spurs me on to work harder.

A lot has changed over the last couple of years. I cannot pinpoint what it is, but we are a lot more confident and motivated now than ever before. I feel, now we play more as a team and motivate each other more as well. There has been a marked improvement in the way we practice and play.

In the past, we used to throw our sticks at the ball in our circle and concede easy Penalty corners. Now, we are careful and time our tackles carefully. Most teams do not score many field goals so if we do not concede PCs it puts a lot of pressure on the opposition.

Winning bronze in the Junior World Cup in Germany in 2013 was special…

…and it will always be. We were just starting off at such a high level and winning that tournament was indeed memorable. We received a very warm welcome at home after returning from Germany.

Our performance in the Commonwealth Games at Gold Coast was also outstanding, and I will always cherish the moments there. We did lose in the semifinal, but the team put forth a stupendous display. Being honest, it was a revelation for us. When we first watched the videos, we marvelled at our performance with a sense of disbelief.

We now tell each other that we can raise our game when we want to. In the past, we never thought we could, and a certain self-belief was missing, but now our confidence is sky high.

My father always supported me in my quest to pursue hockey as a career and my brother too was in the same hostel, so I never encountered any opposition when it came to playing hockey. The circumstances, at home, however, were complicated and for that reason, I am truly indebted to my parents for getting me thus far.

When we first watched the videos (of the Commonwealth Games), we marveled at our own performance with a sense of disbelief.

We never had lines supplying power in our village in the past, but now things have improved. We do have electricity and a main road as well, but there are no proper roads near our homes still.

We are entirely focused on the World Cup.

The best teams in the world will be in London, but our sights are set firmly on the semifinal. The World Cup will also be a great learning experience for us, and we will implement the same in the Asian Games which follows immediately after.

Our aim for the Asian Games is gold, and I am confident we will succeed in our objective.


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