Indian hockey has enjoyed a rich history, having been one of the strongest teams in the previous century as evidenced by eight Olympic gold medals, a silver and two bronze medals to boot. But the accolades were only received by the men's team.
In fact, the Indian hockey women’s team played in their first Olympics at Moscow 1980 and then had to wait 36 years for their next appearance - at Rio 2016. However, they qualified for another one at the 2020 Olympics and the tide is changing for them.
Forward Navneet Kaur believes the change in the past couple of years is down to how the Indian hockey women team’s attitude.
“Apart from winning important matches, I think there are a lot of other factors that have contributed to this change and one of them being coach Sjoerd Marijne's style of play,” she told Hockey India.
“He likes aggression, he has instilled that belief in us that we are a team that can play with good speed in our attack. Earlier, we feared playing against top teams like Great Britain, New Zealand and Australia. We lacked that match-winning confidence and this was perhaps why many teams even considered us as underdogs.”
Improved fitness paying off
Other than a change in mentality, an area that has worked wonders for the Indian hockey women’s team has been the precise attention they have paid to their fitness drills.
"I also believe our improvement in fitness has been another big factor. Every girl (including newcomers) are aware of the importance of fitness, recovery and diet,” added Navneet Kaur.
“We are currently undergoing a week-long recovery which involves light gym sessions, stretching and swimming pool recovery. Resting well is also emphasised before we resume intense training from next week.”
Qualifying for the 2020 Olympics was a shot in the arm for the Indian hockey women’s team but more importantly, it was the first step in a still unfulfilled dream.
Their last-place finish at Rio 2016 was not indicative of their capabilities and they will be hoping for a medal this time around as the ultimate pay off for their efforts.