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Process is the Key—Sitting Down with Tushar Khandker

Since its introduction to the country, Indians have displayed marvellous skill in the sport of hockey. Be it Dhyanchand’s goals against Germany for British India in 1936, or Roop Singh’s performances in 1932. Hockey, the national game of India, resides in every citizen’s heart. For every hockey lover out there, Tushar Khandker is a well-known personality—a spectacular sportsperson who carries the spirit of sportsmanship even in the way he speaks. He led the Indian Hockey team to their first medal in eight years by scoring the only goal against South Korea—winning the bronze medal in the 2010 Asia Cup. Tushar Khandker talked to the students of Manipal in a talk-show “Connect” arranged over a video call on Instagram Live by the Conclave Committee of MIT Tech Tatva.

What does competition mean to you?

There are times when you win, and then there are times when you lose. When you have healthy competition, you get to learn a lot. In my case, it was my brother. who gave me a healthy competition growing up. When you lose, you learn from yourself.

What were your feelings when you donned the blue jersey for India for the very first time, which is the dream of every sportsperson in India?

I debuted for India in the year 2003. My debut was at a very young age and I did not understand much of the surroundings, but it felt good. I was representing India, after all. I think it was the sense of honour that I carry till date.

The goal against South Korea in the 2010 Asia Cup brought us the bronze after an eight-year drought. Is there any anecdote from that glorious victory that you would like to share with us?

Our team was playing well in the 2010 Asia Cup tournament and had won against some great teams. The momentum was great, and we didn’t want to stop. However, it still is a game, and sometimes you lose. We reached the semis and lost to Malaysia. There was a sense of gloom that surrounded us after the defeat. However, when we entered the field for the third-place playoffs, we thought it was just another game of our lives. The reason is, when you play, others look up to you. I scored the goal, but I never considered it my as my individual goal. It was my team’s goal. It was India’s goal. When you play with that blue jersey, there are 130 crore Indians shouting at you, cheering you because you carry their hopes. They look up to you because they cannot play for the country, and you can. So, yes, the goal was scored from my stick, but I don the blue jersey for my country and her people. So, it was India’s goal, not only mine.

So, yes, I was happy to score the goal, but it wasn’t my goal. It was India’s goal. It was the goal scored by those 130 crore Indians cheering for us.

Tushar Khandker versus South Korea in the Asia Cup 2010 third-place playoffs. 

With your venture into the international circuit, many hopes were ushering you to take Indian hockey forward. How did you deal with all of that?

I have been playing the game since the age of ten. At that young age, you don’t really know much. All I knew was that your process is your key and you have to give your best on the field. You have to practice and train and put your efforts on the field. And then when you grow as a player, you definitely feel the pressure at some point. Like I said earlier, there are 130 crore Indians cheering for you. That will definitely put you under pressure. But, if your process has been right all along, that pressure will only boost you as a player. Sometimes, some amount of pressure is really great for your game.

The hockey circuit in India is growing owing to these marvels. Why do you think hockey does not get more participation?

I feel it is because hockey as a sport, needs your body, mind, and skills, all clubbed together. In other sports, you don’t necessarily need all three of them clubbed together all the time. If you try, you will know. So maybe, this is the reason.

That being said, we know you come from a family of hockey veterans. So, you must have had an early exposure to this game. Growing up, who were your role models?

See, your role models keep changing while growing up. I used to go with my father to his practice sessions. So, he became my first role model. At first, it was like “Papa is playing, so I will start playing.” As I started playing, others became my role models. I was lucky to play on-field with my role model and inspiration, Dhanaraj Pillay. I got to meet other great players while playing in various circuits. Somehow, they became my competitors and role models too. So, I do not have one such role model, I have many that I look up to.

Was there ever a point in your life when you considered some other career path before you became passionate about hockey?

Never actually! I grew up in a household where hockey is loved. There was always some sort of sport going on. Be it cricket or hockey. My brother and I would always be competing with each other. Also, I was always passionate about hockey from the very start. It was always hockey and the process. The process is the key—always. If you get that right, everything starts to fall in line. All throughout my life, my goal was to enjoy the game and I did. The pressure and other factors came in a lot later. However, your process is crucial and I think I gave my best and I still try to.

Speaking of process, this lockdown has put the training of most players in a forced hiatus, mostly, the young players. What is your message for them?

It depends on the age groups. if you are someone in your 20s, you don’t have to worry about your fitness as much as a player in his 30s should. However, if you are a player, you have to look after your fitness no matter what. During March and April, I was doing core workouts. Now, I go for runs to increase my stamina. So yes, whatever suits you but, you have to keep going.

My message to all the young players out there is that you should invest in your process. The better the process, even better the result. You can worry about the result, but that is never in your hands—what lies in your hands is the process. So, keep working and striving towards achieving your dreams. All the Best!

Image Credits: Tushar Khandker on Instagram

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