India hockey captain PR Sreejesh says it is heartening to see healthy competition for spots in the national team between juniors and seniors. With emphasis given to junior players in this new Olympic cycle, the task is cut out for the senior members of the side.
While the seniors have a responsibility of mentoring the youngsters, they will also need to push equally hard to keep their places in the squad. "It's a fresh beginning and with so many youngsters coming into the core probables, the juniors as well as seniors will really have to push for a spot in the national team," Sreejesh said at the national camp, currently on at the Sports Authority of India centre in Bengaluru.
"The juniors will need to get better and better in their skills and execution, adapt well in the camp and prove themselves that they are worthy of that position and are ready to replace a senior player. For a senior player, he needs to match the fitness and speed the juniors bring to the table.
"While we know that juniors will be the future as we prepare for 2020 Tokyo Olympics, they shouldn't take it for granted that they will make it to the squad. They need to earn it," the talismanic goalkeeper added.
The Indian colts, which won the junior Men's World Cup last year, had a fabulous outing in 2016 and also showcased their potential in the 2017 Hockey India League.
But Sreejesh feels that the standard of game will be entirely different in the senior team. "These six weeks (at the national camp) will be good exposure for them in terms of understanding the system we follow, learn how we strategise, plan and execute.
Though they have seen us train closely as the junior team and we were based in the same campus, I believe being in the system is very different from watching us train," said Sreejesh.
Sreejesh also feels this is a great opportunity for the youngsters to learn from stalwarts like Sardar Singh and SV Sunil. "Senior players like Sardar and Sunil showcase great work ethics and there's a lot the juniors can learn from them. As seniors we also have an added responsibility of mentoring the juniors and making sure they stay on track towards achieving the goals the team has set," he said.
Speaking about the new support staff, Sreejesh said inclusion of two former India players into the fold is a great motivating factor for the team. "Arjun (Halappa) was an attacking center forward and midfielder while Jugraj Singh was a very good defender and dragflick expert.
They understand the passion, the culture of the team and it's great advantage to have them as support staff. I have worked with Hans Streeder (Analytical Coach) earlier in HIL and he is a good strategist.
"He was also there at the Junior World Cup as a part of the Dutch team and he has watched most of our players very closely and understands where they need improvement," he said.
The selection trials for the senior team will be held in the following weeks to pick the final squad for the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup to be held in Ipoh, Malaysia starting April 29. "I feel that will be a great tournament to see where the juniors stand in terms of temperament and performance," Sreejesh concluded.