Indian women’s hockey team vice-captain and custodian Savita Punia believes India is well equipped to do well at the Tokyo Olympics. She asserts that the team has come a long way, leaving the disappointment of the Rio Olympics behind.
“That was four years ago. The expectations had gotten the better of us. We qualified after a gap of almost three decades and there was a lot at stake for us. We have worked a lot post that debacle and I feel we are better equipped to perform in Tokyo,” she said, in an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda.
But what exactly has changed? Savita Punia explained:
“We are now self-motivated. There is confidence brimming in the camp. We have been continuously working on our footwork, endurance, agility and strengthening exercises apart from a lot of analysis. We have taken up an aggressive brand of hockey and can play one-on-one much better than what we were."
The Haryana-born player asserted that the general fitness in the Indian team has gone up.
“It reflects in the way we are training. Earlier, we used to lose intensity soon after the first two quarters, but now the intensity, speed and strength are sustained till the final whistle. Now, there is no letdown at all. The body doesn’t give up so easily. I am sure it would go a long way in shaping our performance in the Tokyo Olympics,” she said.
Savita Punia credits analytical coach
Giving credit where due, Savita Punia said the arrival of analytical coach Janneke Schopman has had a telling effect on how the team has shaped up.
“She is top-notch. She is an all-rounder and it shows in the way we handle our goalkeeper sessions. I have three extra sessions a week with her. She has a team meeting after every training session and she explains a lot, post training. She involves herself in our training sessions and is a part of our practice sessions as a player.
“There are many small things that make a huge impact. We have targets during our training sessions. We replicate a lot of match situations. Schopman also gives us exercises off the field like breathing exercises and mental exercises,” Savita Punia added.
The team is now in better shape, says Savita Punia
While team India is concentrating on an aggressive brand of hockey, Savita Punia said a lot of learning has happened since the tours to Germany and Argentina. India were outplayed and leaked more goals than they scored, but Punia believes the nightmare is behind them.
“Not just me, any goalkeeper wouldn’t love to be in this position (where the team has leaked more and scored less). We did a lot of analysis. We knew where the mistakes were made. It wasn’t as if the opponents were extra brilliant, mistakes happened with some lackluster defending also. We have now plugged the gaps and we are in a better shape,” Savita Punia explained.
India’s first match at the Tokyo Olympics is against The Netherlands and the goalkeeper is confident of starting on a high.
“Although we haven’t played against Holland as much as we played against Germany, Great Britain or even Argentina (although they are not a part of India’s group), we know how The Netherlands approach their game. We have done a lot of video and classroom analysis on how the teams play, their strengths and weaknesses and have extensively focused on ours as well. We know we have to be at our best and are confident of a good show this time around,” Savita Punia concluded.