How do you spend 14 days alone in a hostel room that is virtually isolated from the rest of the campus that itself is in a secluded area in the outskirts of the city?
The Indian hockey team players are figuring out new ways everyday: learning about some of the all-time great athletes the country has produced, learning about themselves by watching and analysing old videos, polishing their English-language skills, noting down motivational quotes from inspirational books and… washing their own clothes.
The hospitalisation of the six players, including men’s team captain Manpreet Singh, who were infected with Covid-19, has left the others shaken. Psychological counselling has been offered to the players who travelled from their respective hometowns to the National Centre of Excellence in Bengaluru in the middle of the pandemic to report for the national camp. The coaches of the women’s and men’s teams have had to come up with innovative ways to keep spirits high during the mandatory 14-day quarantine inside the centre.
On Tuesday, four pillars of the men’s team combined to talk about a legend of yesteryear. SV Sunil, PR Sreejesh, Kothajit Singh and Birendra Lakra, via a meeting app that’s become a virtual office for most, gave a presentation to their teammates about the life and times of sprint queen PT Usha. Some others spoke about the Milkha Singh path to glory while a few gave a lecture on Dhanraj Pillay’s journey to the pinnacle of Indian hockey.
“The coaches have divided us in four-five groups. Each group was given the task to read up about a legend and make a presentation on that person,” says a player. “Although we have grown up listening to their stories, it was very motivating to learn about their struggles, what kept them going and their motto in life.”
The Bengaluru campus has been home to these players for a major part of the ongoing Olympic cycle. But the new normal at the training camp, as they found out after returning last week, is vastly different.
Each of them had to undergo a rapid Covid test while entering the facility and, unlike before, they are not sharing space. To ensure distancing, every player has been given an individual room where they have been provided a kit comprising a hand sanitiser, face masks and a digital thermometer, among other essentials.
Every four hours, a player says, they have to report their body temperature as well as oxygen levels to the team management. A campus attendant keeps a food tray outside each player’s room, which has to be picked up roughly five minutes after he rings the bell and the containers have to be disposed after the meal. “Another addition to our daily routine is washing clothes. We can’t use the common laundry so each one of us is doing it in our room now,” laughs another player. “When we left the camp in June, we knew we will be quarantined upon returning. So, all of us were mentally prepared for this.”
For a bunch that, in good times and bad, is used to being in a group, living in quarantine presents its own set of challenges. They are finding some obvious ways to keep themselves occupied – women’s team players, for instance, are following a workout routine prepared by the coaching staff that can be done indoors. Sunil, and some other men’s team players, are managing to find space in their rooms to dribble and juggle.
But this alone isn’t enough to pass an entire day. So, an avid reader like Sreejesh has been spending a lot of time pursuing that activity while also noting down some inspiration lines in his diary. The women players, who have grown in stature on and off the field in the last few years, are using this time to further enhance their English language skills.
There is still another week before the players are allowed to step on the field. On Wednesday, the Sports Authority of India said the women’s and men’s teams will restart the camp on August 19. The wait to play competitive hockey, however, is likely to be a lot longer as both teams have no immediate international assignments and domestic hockey is yet to resume. “We can think about playing tournaments later. Right now, it will be nice to just resume training,” a player says.
Till that happens, they will have to endure more e-meetings and find motivation in old videos of themselves as well as legends from other sports.