Imphal (Manipur): The Junior Indian Women's Hockey Team were preparing for the 2020 Women's Hockey Junior Asia Cup, which was to begin on April 6, 2020 in Kakamigahara, Japan, when Covid-19 pandemic halted the team's quest to achieve a berth for the Junior Women's World Cup by winning the continental championship.
"We were in the national coaching camp since first week of March and we were very focused on performing well at the Junior Asia Cup, which would have got us direct qualification into the FIH Junior World Cup 2021 to be held in South Africa. But the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown halted our preparations," said Suman Devi Thoudam, who successfully led the Indian Junior Women's Hockey team in the Cantor Fitzgerald U21 International 4-Nations Tournament and the Belarus Tour last year.
Instrumental in the team's winning performance at the 3-Nations Tournament in Australia held in December last year, Suman added, "We had shaped up well as a team and with some good performances last year, we were quite confident of a good show in the Junior Asia Cup in Japan."
With the National Camp for Junior Women ending on 19 March, Suman's compatriots left for home however she decided to stay back in SAI, Bengaluru where the Senior Core Probables Group were housed. "My tickets were booked for 22 March but due to the Janta Curfew I couldn't travel. Though my tickets were rebooked for 24 March, I decided to stay back in SAI because I felt it was safer there and there was a lot of uncertainty at the time," she said.
On asked how a young player like her faced the challenges of staying indoors during the nation-wide lockdown, she said, "At first, I was scared and felt that there was so much uncertainty. Myself and three others who were going through rehab due to their injury were the only ones from the Junior Team who had stayed back in SAI during this period (lockdown) and it probably would have been difficult if not for the constant support from senior players and Wayne Lombard (Scientific Advisor). I focused on core strengthening workouts which could be done indoors and some conditioning work which Wayne used to give us. Also, he would tell us that it's important to improve our immunity and stay fit to fight this pandemic which made us motivated through this period," Suman added.
Returning home after three months on 19 June, Suman was in institutional quarantine for 14 days as per State rules in Manipur and will further remain in home quarantine for another 14 days. "The institutional quarantine in Imphal was quite comfortable. There were about 7 students who were in quarantine along with myself and the facilities including the food, everything was good. Also the volunteers there were mostly from my home club where I began playing hockey, so they were quite helpful too. Now, I just look forward to spending time with my family," she said.
Suman began hockey at Seyo Club in 2010 due to the insistence of her father Thoudam Anand Singh who works as a carpenter in Imphal. Despite financial constraints, he always encouraged his daughter to make her own mark in the sport. In 2014, she was picked by the Madhya Pradesh Hockey Academy where she further honed her skills as a player. Her first call-up for the Junior National Camp came in 2016 after which there has been no looking back for this young defender. "My father has been the biggest influence in my life. He has been extremely supportive and wherever I play in Manipur, he comes to watch me. At first, I never liked hockey but I was quick to make friends at the Seyo Club and when they said if I go regularly for practice, I would be given a stick and a ball for myself, I was motivated to continue. Getting my own stick was like the biggest incentive for me at that time," she recalled.
While the Junior team awaits to receive a call-up to return to SAI Centre Bangalore, Suman is confident her team can bounce back after this setback in their preparations. "There is a lot of openness in the team where we discuss our strengths and weaknesses and each of us have improved individually as well as a team over these past years. When we are called back, we will refocus on our goal to do well at the Junior Asia Cup," she concluded.
Courtesy: Hockey India