Rajendra Prasad Mohapatra

As the anticipation and excitement goes up for the upcoming 2024 Paris Olympics, the Indian men’s hockey team goalkeeper PR Sreejesh engaged in a conversation with Bengaluru Torpedoes head coach David Lee about the pressures of an Olympic year, on the sidelines of the third season of Prime Volleyball League. 

Sreejesh, who is regarded as arguably the best goalkeeper in the world, has already represented India at the Olympics thrice so far, and was a key figure in leading the nation to a bronze medal in the Tokyo Olympics 2020. Lee, who is regarded as one of the best players in the modern-day volleyball, also represented USA thrice at the Olympics, and led his side to a gold and a bronze medal.

While discussing how athletes can develop mental strength during competitions at an early age, Sreejesh opened up on his struggles as a young goalkeeper. “Goalkeeping is a mental game. Being a player, we understand how we want to get involved in a match. But being a goalkeeper, I just stand behind and my game is in my head,” Sreejesh said.

“As a young player, my negative feelings used to dominate my positive feelings, and that would lead me to concede goals. Now, with my experience, things have changed for me, and I allow positive thoughts to dominate,” he added.

Lee opened up on how correct coaching methods and modules can help young athletes grow and produce better results. “We grew up in a positive environment. We did not have coaches who are telling us ‘we are not good enough’. They were more interested in how much effort we are putting out. We are going to make mistakes. It’s just a part of the game. What is important is we have to push through and try to adapt,” Lee said.

“You can get short-term results out of negative atmosphere. But I don’t think those methods are sustainable for a long period of time,” he added.

As an expert in handling pressure, Lee further advised that the youngsters should stay away from the negative comments on social media ahead of the Olympics and try to take the tournament as just another day in their sporting career, despite the massive scale of the event.

“It definitely helps to have a few Olympics under your belt. You should approach it as any other tournament. Trust what you do day-in and day-out and do not put this massive weight, although it is the pinnacle of sports. It would be crazy to not understand the scale, and it gets very difficult to focus with all the media. But you cannot get too involved. It is better to just turn off and focus on the team,” he advised.

Sreejesh, who has been guarding the goalpost for over a decade now for India, further opened up on how he deals with the criticism that comes with the role of a goalkeeper. “It is a thankless job at times because if I made 10 saves and concede one goal, everyone will remember that one mistake. But I have accepted that and I have moved on with that. And this profession has helped me in my personal life on how to deal with pressure and criticism, as well,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sreejesh praised Prime Volleyball League powered for providing a platform for youngsters to showcase their skills and recalled his experience of playing in the ‘Hockey India League’.

“I was always very curious to see how the top overseas players are playing and how they train and behave. Earlier, I never used to care about my diet, preparations, or proteins. I was a good listener, but never took an initiative in meetings. But the league helped me in learning from the overseas player and helped me improve in all these aspects of my game. Now, players like you are helping our young volleyball talent with this league.”

David Lee said that he hopes the volleyball league will help in developing India into a major player at the Olympics in the sport in the future and gave a few insights into his training methods with the Bengaluru franchise.

“I talk a lot about deliberate training and practicing with positive mindset to improve, not just to get sweaty and smash the ball around in training. The intention-focused training was lacking before. I also tell players to find a role model to emulate at the top of the level, and watch their videos. If they can make you one or two percent better, it will go a long way,” he signed off.
 

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