India’s leading hockey forward, Akashdeep Singh, admits that it’s been a very “difficult period” for sportspersons and staying away from hockey had been really tough for him during these long periods of self-isolation. Akashdeep, 25, spoke to TOI at length explaining how he’s channelizing all his positive energies to keep the boredom and negativity away, while preferring to work on his communication skills and personality development during the lockdown period. Excerpts from the interview…
How are you coping with the lockdown period? What changes has it brought to your lifestyle?
This is a very difficult period for all of us, but we are trying to stay positive. Luckily, we are at the Sports Authority of India‘s (SAI) campus in Bengaluru, so we have been able to use all the facilities. I am mostly trying to exercise as much as I can to maintain my fitness. The trainers give us a fitness plan every day and all of us follow it. There has not been a huge change in my lifestyle apart from staying away from hockey on the pitch. Hopefully, we will be up and running soon.
How have you been utilizing your time since hockey is no longer happening?
We have got some time to reflect on our game. Usually, we are playing match after match so we don’t have enough time to analyze which aspects we can improve on. I have been watching a lot of footage from our previous matches and noting down all the aspects that I need to work on. Otherwise, I watch a few shows on Netflix and listen to music. I carry out some stickwork drills in the room as well. It helps to stay in touch with hockey. I speak to my family regularly as well. We stay connected as much as we can.
During this lockdown period, one can’t do much. So, have you taken to reading or writing, or improving your communication skills during this phase?
Our team’s analytical coach Chris Ciriello’s wife has been taking English classes over video conference for us once a week. She has suggested a few books for us to read which are part of our assignments. It’s a great time to work on our communication skills right now. We travel around the world for many tournaments and being good at speaking English comes in very handy. In general, as well, communication skills help one become more confident and it will reflect on an athlete’s performance on the field as well. We are all taking the English classes very seriously.
This is also a time when a player can actually look to do certain things which the time generally doesn’t allow him to do during normal, busy hockey playing days. Are you utilizing this time to work on your personality?
Of course, apart from working on my personality, I have also taken the time to reflect on how I have carried myself so far. Being part of the Indian hockey team is a huge privilege and honour and it’s a job that comes with a lot of responsibility. We meet many important people while we are playing hockey and therefore it’s very important to have a good personality. I am looking to improve myself in every aspect every day. The English classes have certainly helped me to understand ways to communicate with one another which I think results in a better personality.
What are you watching currently on Netflix or Amazon Prime or other web platforms to keep yourself busy? What have you just completed watching?
I have watched many shows on Netflix and on television as well. However, our schedule at the SAI campus in Bengaluru is quite jam-packed so I don’t spend that much time on Netflix. I keep jumping from one show to the other. I have re-watched some old movies as well. There are a host of old Hindi movies which I really like. So, I keep going back to them from time to time.
Staying put at one place and not being able to meet your fellow players or play hockey could be mentally very challenging. Do you also feel the same that mentally it’s been tough time for players?
I wouldn’t say a feeling of frustration has crept in. The entire squad is here in Bengaluru, so it’s great to be with the team. However, we are following social distancing, so we are not spending time with each other like we used to. Staying away from hockey has been really tough because hockey is life for me. But there is a bigger cause at the moment, and we understand the precautions we have to take. All of us are trying to stay positive and keeping busy with various activities. This phase will pass and all of us can freely go outside once the situation is resolved.
How do you ensure that you remain mentally stronger during this period?
I think physical fitness plays a huge role in staying mentally strong. The more exercise one does, the more mentally stronger one gets. That’s why fitness plays a huge role in my life. We have so many activities during the course of the day which also helps in a big way. We know that this phase will be over soon, so we are just focusing on the present and taking each day at a time. I ensure that boredom doesn’t set in during the day, so I don’t give negative thoughts a chance to enter. Positive thinking is key during this difficult time.
You must be making a lot of video and WhatsApp calls back home in Tarn Taran to speak to your parents and loved ones. Hope everything’s fine over there?
Yes, I have been doing a lot of video calls with my family. They are all well by the grace of God. I don’t get that emotional as I have stayed away from my family for a long time now. So, I am used to it. I try to help them and give them advice in any way I can. Living with my family during this period would have been great, but I am enjoying my time with the team as well. I have been able to maintain my focus because I am in a great environment at the SAI campus. So, there are pros and cons in every situation.
How have your parents been managing in Tarn Taran? Hope they are healthy and fine…
My family is absolutely fine. They are following the news regularly and ensuring that they are taking all the precautions. They know how to deal with situations as all of them are very strong individuals. I gain strength from them during this tough phase. Luckily, the internet has bridged the gap between far locations and I really like staying connected throughout the day. I look forward to speaking with my family every day.
Staying fit during this period is a big challenge, so how are you managing the fitness part?
We do a lot of core exercises in our rooms. We do on-the-spot running with bands, crunches, sit-ups, push-ups and so on. All of us ensure that we are not exercising in huge groups. We mostly carry out our training regime in groups of two. Sometimes, I go for individual runs around the campus as well. So, it’s not been that difficult to stay fit during this period. We have to ensure that we maintain our fitness as we have to be absolutely ready to go on the pitch once everything is alright.
How coaches and support staff have been helping you to maintain optimum fitness level?
We follow the fitness schedule given by our scientific advisor Robin Arkell. He has ensured that we are exercising at the best of our capabilities. Robin makes amazing training plans without much use of gym equipment. He knows which set of exercises will yield the best results. Our coaches and the rest of the support staff have been very helpful during this period. They are doing a wonderful job of helping us stay motivated.
Lastly, do you believe that the lockdown has brought the players closer and the team bonding is even stronger given you people aren’t meeting each other too often?
We have been a close unit for many years, and I am sure that is reflecting on our results on the field as well. However, we are maintaining a safe distance at the moment, so we don’t spend a lot of time with each other.