Meet Indian hockey player Monika, who was recently nominated for the Arjuna Award
Most kids play a variety of sports before they pick a sport that is close to their hearts or one they can perform well at. Indian hockey midfielder Monika was also one who played many sports at her school, Government School, Sector 44 in Chandigarh. However, her decision to take up hockey was not a concentrated effort.
“And one day I just decided to take up hockey,” says the 26-year-midfielder who was recently nominated for the Arjuna Award by Hockey India.
Growing up she played hockey at school and later shifted to Chandigarh Hockey Academy in Sector 18 to hone her skills.
Sharing how she made it to the national team, she says, “It has certainly been a long and tough journey for me.”
Indian hockey player Monika at practice.
She recalls how she would cycle every day from Sector 44 to Sector 18 twice to be able to squeeze in two training sessions in a day. Hailing from a middle-class family, with her father being the sole breadwinner, she remembers that financially also they had to cut corners. She reveals that her father, a police constable, would buy almonds and rock sugar from Delhi because it was cheaper there.
Overcoming these every day struggles, Monika rose through the ranks from school nationals to junior national team and finally made it to the national team in 2013.
The midfielder has 150 caps for India and scored seven goals in international tournaments. She is currently part of the 24-member core team that is preparing for the Olympics next year.
In conversation with HerStory, Monika talks about her journey, Arjuna nomination, learnings from hockeys, the upcoming Olympics and more.
HerStory (HS): How did you feel when you were nominated for the Arjuna Award?
Monica (M): I am extremely honoured to be nominated for the Arjuna Award. The nomination will surely motivate me to perform even better for my team. We produced fantastic results in 2019 and hopefully, we will continue our form once we start playing matches.
HS: When did you know that hockey was going to be your career choice?
M: I gained a lot of confidence when I was part of the winning team at the school nationals held in Chhattisgarh in 2009. Then we won a bronze medal at the junior nationals in 2010 and then clinched a silver medal at the junior nationals in 2012. Being a part of the bronze medal-winning team at the Junior World Cup in 2013 was a big boost for me. As I kept moving up the ranks, I became more and more confident about finding a place in the Indian senior women’s team.
HS: What was your feeling when you made it to the national team?
M: The feeling was absolutely amazing. I can’t put it in words. I have had to work very hard and I am thankful to my family and coaches, who have stood by me throughout my journey in hockey.
HS: How has your family supported you in your journey?
M: I had the full support of my family from the time I started playing hockey. My family ensured that I have all the facilities with which I can pursue the sport. I believed in my ability and fortunately I kept moving from one level to the other. I knew that I had to work very hard to make it to the Indian team and I kept training tirelessly to achieve my goal. I am very lucky that my hard work has paid off.
HS: What do you love about hockey the most?
M: After trying many different sports, I found out that there is always scope to learn something new in hockey. It’s amazing, I will never get bored with hockey. Even today, I learn something new and I am sure the learning process will continue in the coming years. I enjoy the fact that a midfielder needs to have the skills of a forward and defender, and so I really like playing in the midfield region.
Monika in action for India
HS: Playing in big matches like the Asian Games and Olympics, how do you prepare yourself, especially mentally? How do you deal with the pressure?
M: Pressure is something that will always be there in any match we play. I think it all comes down to good preparation before matches. If we train well, then we will be able to execute our skills in a better way, which will help us deal with the pressure. As a team, we focus on the process, and even in big tournaments such as Asian Games and Olympics, we ensure that we are following our process properly.
HS: What was your feeling after the Indian team qualified for the Olympics 2020?
M: We play hockey for such moments. It was just fantastic to see the way our home crowd supported us during the two matches against USA at the FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers 2019. Playing and performing well at the Olympics is every athlete’s dream and so it was very important for us to go past the USA team. We worked very hard before the matches and it was amazing to book a berth at the Tokyo Olympics.
HS: Are there any memorable moments or experiences in hockey that inspire you to keep playing?
M: Qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics in front of our home crowd will certainly be etched in our memories forever. These are the moments that make us understand the beauty of hockey and sports in general. Winning a bronze medal at the 2014 Asian Games was also a special feeling. It certainly was a big boost for me as I was still finding my feet at the international stage.
HS: How did you keep up with hockey during the lockdown?
M: The team’s Scientific Advisor Wayne Lombard ensured that we maintain our fitness in the best possible way during the lockdown. He made some brilliant fitness schedules which we carried out in our rooms. We were certainly missing playing hockey on the pitch, but we did some stickwork drills in our rooms to stay in touch with the game.
HS: Thoughts on Olympics 2020 being cancelled. How do you think the Indian team will do at the 2021 Olympics?
M: It was difficult to digest once I heard the news since our team was playing very well and everything was falling into place. However, the right decision was taken as the entire world is fighting a larger battle at the moment. I feel we can certainly use the extra year to our advantage. If we become a much better side in one year then we can certainly perform well at the quadrennial event.
HS: Can you give us any insights into the preparations for next year’s Olympics?
M: It’s tough to speak about preparations at the moment. We will first have to return to our form and match fitness, before starting full-fledged practice. We will definitely have to play the top teams before going into the Olympics. It’s very important to get a feel of our opponents before the big competition.