On the brighter side, the 25-year-old has found more preparation time. He said: “The delay is a blessing in disguise. We can use the time until next year to be a much improved side.”
Playing hockey since the age of six, the Jalandhar player has never spent so much time indoors. Asked if it was depressing, the forward replied: “Not at all. I am with teammates and the team’s morale is good. We understand the seriousness of the situation and the decisions that have been taken (lockdown and restrictions) are in the best interest of everyone.”
Locked inside the SAI centre to be safe from the Covid-19 virus, Mandeep watches short clips, reads and uses videoconferencing to take English lessons from Heide, wife of team analyst, Chris Ciriello. The forward said: “We are working on our communication skills as a team or individually. We have started to read more, which is the best thing to do now. I have picked some good books and joined the distance communications class of Heide, who is a teacher in Australia. The course is going on well, and I am happy with my progress.”
Looking at the need to observe social distancing and stay indoors at well, team’s scientific adviser, Robin Arkell, has come up with the idea of individual training. “Robin has been a good influence on the team. Since he took over as scientific adviser, he has made individual fitness training schedules for us to follow inside the hostel. The physical routines include stretching, jogging, core exercises, and stepping,” said Mandeep, Hockey India’s ‘Dhanraj Pillay Forward of the Year’ in 2019.
The team might not be having combined sessions or meeting because of strict guidelines but Mandeep says the lockdown has brought the players closer. “The team bonding is even more amazing now,” he said. “We get the chance to know each other better off the field, and discover our non-sporting aspects. It will help us when we get back on the field.”
On his understanding with fellow forwards S V Sunil, Ramandeep Singh and Akashdeep Singh, Mandeep said: “We have played together for a few years now and learnt from each other. We share a good bonding, which reflects in our coordination on the field. We understand each other’s game and our collective objectives, and we enjoy the healthy competition within the team.”
Mandeep had two dreams since his Surjit Hockey Academy (SHA) days in Jalandhar. One to play with his idol, Sardar Singh, and the other, to win an Olympic medal. He got to play with Sardar and is now looking at the Olympics. Mandeep said: “I never imagined I would play more than 150 international matches. I was lucky to be in the team that lifted the Junior World Cup in 2016. But winning the Olympics medal for the country is my ultimate goal. If we give our 100% in the tournament, the goal is achievable.”