PR Sreejesh is glad to be back home and even though there is no update on what the future holds for hockey, the India goalkeeper is not complaining as, at least, there are no mental demons to fight.
The two-time Olympian said that his near two-month-stay at the Sports Authority of India’s south centre in Bengaluru owing to the Covid-19 lockdown was beginning to weaken his and several other players’ mind and he took to reading motivational books to keep himself going.
“It was really tough as our lifestyle changed completely. The main thing was to strike a balance in your thoughts. My father is a heart patient and I have two kids – daughter who is 6 and a son who is 3. So, I was more worried about their health since the two are in high risk age groups,” Sreejesh told PTI from his home in Kochi, where he landed last week.
Sreejesh, 32, admitted it was tough to keep away negative thoughts during the time but he stayed afloat mentally by reading American Olympian tri-athlete Joanna Zeiger’s ‘The Champions Mindset – An Athlete’s Guide to Mental Toughness’.
“On one side I was feeling homesick and on the other I didn’t want to put them at risk by going home because there were chances of contracting the virus while travelling,” he recalled. “So I got involved in reading for peace. I read a lot during the lockdown, from fiction, non-fiction to motivational books. This helped me to think differently. The Champions Mindset is a book that I read again.”
Zeiger was the 2008 Ironman 70.3 world champion and represented the United States at the 2000 Summer Olympics in triathlon. The book talks about mental toughness and comebacks of athletes in professional sports.
The Indian men’s and women’s hockey teams were stuck at the SAI South Centre in Bengaluru since March 25 when the government announced the nationwide lockdown to control the COVID-19 pandemic. But on last Friday, the “homesick” players were allowed to leave the facility after being granted a month’s break.
Though he is back at home, Sreejesh still has some time before he can play with his kids or roam around freely as he is currently serving a 14-day home quarantine as per the guidelines of Kerala government.
“I am really happy to be back home but I am still confined in a room in the first floor of my house. My family members are all staying downstairs and I am under home quarantine upstairs,” said the 32-year-old. “Though I can see my children but I can’t touch them and it’s really frustrating.”
India’s number one goalkeeper said despite being at a safe place in Bengaluru, the players needed a month’s break as they were feeling mentally fragile after being away from home for such a long time.
“We were in the best and safest place. Though we were under lockdown but still we could roam around inside the campus in small groups. But we never had such a lengthy camp and it started to affect the players. Everyone started to miss their families,” Sreejesh said.
“At one point we were unable to take that. It was the same routine from morning till night and we started to feel mentally weaker. The break will do a world of good to the players. We will return fresh both mentally and physically. Our minds will be free and eager to work harder.”
With uncertainty hanging over resumption of hockey, he said the team is missing competitive action. Sreejesh, who will be featuring in his third Olympics at Tokyo, is desperate to finish his career with an Olympic medal.
“Tokyo can be my last Olympics but I always prefer to keep small targets. Obviously, a medal at the Olympics is the ultimate goal,” said Sreejesh, who played in the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Games. “It is always better to play one Olympics and return with a medal than play in three and return empty-handed.”