As the Indian men’s hockey team touched based in Jakarta for the 2018 Asian Games a few days ago, a special message awaited the players and the six members of the support staff including coach Harendra Singh.

Skipper Sreejesh PR, whose heroics had led India to the gold at the 2014 edition in Incheon, penned down a personal message to each of his players, reminding them of the importance of these Games and how as a team “they can achieve greatness.”

In a special letter to his 17 team mates, Sreejesh stressed on words like “team”, “success”, “putting self before country”, “standing together as a unit” asking them to “touch the pinnacle of success in Jakarta”.

“Sreejesh knows how to bring out the best in each player and in this message, he has highlighted our strong points and also emphasized on team work and its importance,” says a player who doesn’t want to be named.

India had stamped their authority at the 2014 Asian Games when they defeated Pakistan in the final on penalties, bringing home the gold after 16 years. Since then, India’s hockey has been on the upward graph and they are currently ranked World No. 5 much above their other opponents in Asia.

Now, they are eyeing to defend their title — something they have never managed before — and Sreejesh & Co. know it’s a possibility.

Take responsibility

In a letter, a few of which were seen by this correspondent, Sreejesh writes, “I take this opportunity to congratulate you for being part of the national team which is all geared up to touch the pinnacle of success in Jakarta.

“Every experience is an opportunity to learn and grow and I hope you will be rich in experience and richer in your ambitions after the Asian Games.”

The skipper further asks his players to step up and assume greater responsibility. While former captain Sardar Singh has been told how he as one of the most senior most members of the team can be a guiding force, experienced striker S.V. Sunil has been reminded how this could be his last Asian Games and thus he could make it “a special one” and the “one that he would be able to remember for a long time”.

The young ones have been told that they are “special to the team’s plan” and “this could be a first step to greatness” as they look to establish themselves in international hockey.

“Teams are more innovative, effective and productive when everyone contributes. So it’s critical that each individual plays a well defined role. When a team outgrows individual performance, excellence becomes a reality,” Sreejesh wrote.

The seniors have been motivated to take up more responsibility and guide the young ones, while the younger lot has been asked to step up and make sure they leave the Games on a high.

“Yes, I got a letter too from Sreejesh,” said coach Harendra. “It is good when you have a captain who motivates the team and binds them together. We call it one team, one dream and we have to do every little bit to make sure they stay together.

“Having the meals together, activation, recovery sessions, yoga, meditation, these off field things, all this is a part of the larger build up and every small step adds up to something big.”

In the letter to Harendra, the captain writes, “I, as the captain of your team make a promise to live your signature statement — we will be playing the Asian Games not to participate but to win it.”

Men's hockey coach Harendra Singh poses in a skirt and a rooster hat at the Athletes' Village in Jakarta. The "punishment" is part of the team's build-up activities here.

Fun, games and punishment!

But if one is assuming that the men’s hockey team is all work and no play, make no mistake. They have their own unique ways of keeping things light and doing fun activities to make sure the players bond well off the field as well.

One would remember Australian cricketer Shane Warne’s distinctive methods for his Indian Premier League team Rajasthan Royals, which he captained and coached for several years. Warne had a special doll named “Pinky”, which he used to present to any player who was late for the team bus or a meeting! The player had to keep “Pinky” with him 24x7 as part of this fun punishment.

The hockey team here too has an Australian in analytical coach Chris Ciriello who came up with the idea of wearing a skirt and a rooster hat, if a player erred in similar areas!

Any hockey player coming late for practice or meals, forgetting something behind in his room or waking up late is made to wear a rooster hat and a skirt for 24 hours and the “punishment” has to be continued even while traveling in the team bus, having meals in the dining area, at meetings and even during flights! Of course, they are exempted from this during training and match hours.

Midfielder Manpreet Singh it is understood has “worn the rooster hat” for the most number of times so far, while young strikers Mandeep Singh and Simranjeet Singh are also repeat offenders!

Harendra says it helps keep the atmosphere calm.

“These are high pressure tournaments and such things give us all a reason to laugh and take off the steam. I too haven’t been spared and got the rooster hat and the skirt on the very first day of our arrival in Jakarta.

“It is to tell them that we are all together in this, be it a coach or a player and together we win and lose it. It helps build team camaraderie,” he says.