Indian men's hockey captain Manpreet Singh is gearing up for his third Olympic appearance at the national camp in Bengaluru.
The Coronavirus pandemic played spoilsport in 2020 as many tournaments were cancelled. But the hockey squad has been training since the government permitted it.
"It has been a challenging period for sports across the globe. But we are very fortunate to have the support of Hockey India and SAI, who ensured the entire team is housed on one campus (in Bangalore). We had all the assistance needed to stay fit and, more importantly, there was - and still is - much focus on mental health," Singh told The Telegraph.
The hockey team returned to Bengaluru on January 5, after a three-week break to resume preparations in a bio-secure environment with the Tokyo Olympics in sight. Singh being a senior member is doing his best to keep the squad motivated in these challenging times.
"It was important to keep the younger players in good spirits. I chat with them on a regular basis, I check on how their families are doing, tell them that in case they require anything, they can ask without hesitation. The best way to bond is over PlayStation. That is when we get together, lighten the mood and have a good time.
"I think the only thing that has changed is we are not allowed to leave the campus on weekends. We play cricket on off days or a round of snooker or learn a new sport. SAI also sometimes organises a movie night."
But Singh does not believe that the lack of competitive action is a cause of worry. The Indian contingent was supposed to tour South Africa but due to an increase in the number of Coronavirus cases the tour was cancelled.
"While exposure ahead of the Olympics is important, we understand there are several challenges with many travel restrictions, quarantine requirements etc. We know the Federation is in touch with several top hockey-playing nations to work out a tour. In the meantime, we are focused on our fitness and improving our game in all aspects. We create small match scenarios among ourselves to see the level of play. I believe under the current situation, we are doing everything we can to be best prepared."
The Indian team is slated to compete at the Asian Champions Trophy in Dhaka from March 11, followed by the away leg of the FIIH Pro League against Argentina in April.
India finished 2020 with their highest-ever ranking of fourth and Singh believes that Graham Reid's methods in training are helping the team achieve success.
"He is a brilliant guy with decades of coaching experience. He has inculcated that ‘team comes first’ attitude among all players.
"Regular international competition, round-the-year camps and the federation’s emphasis on strengthening the core group of players helped us reach the fourth spot. A systematic and scientific approach in our training and competitions over the last decade has helped us," stated the 28-year-old.