Imphal (Manipur): The Junior Indian Women's Hockey Team were preparing for the 2020
Women's Hockey Junior Asia Cup, which was to begin on April 6, 2020 in Kakamigahara,
Japan, when Covid-19 pandemic halted the team's quest to achieve a berth for the
Junior Women's World Cup by winning the continental championship.
"We were in the national coaching camp since first week of March and we were very
focused on performing well at the Junior Asia Cup, which would have got us direct
qualification into the FIH Junior World Cup 2021 to be held in South Africa. But the
Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown halted our preparations," said Suman
Devi Thoudam, who successfully led the Indian Junior Women's Hockey team in the
Cantor Fitzgerald U21 International 4-Nations Tournament and the Belarus Tour last
Instrumental in the team's winning performance at the 3-Nations Tournament in
Australia held in December last year, Suman added, "We had shaped up well as a team
and with some good performances last year, we were quite confident of a good show in
the Junior Asia Cup in Japan."
With the National Camp for Junior Women ending on 19 March, Suman's compatriots
left for home however she decided to stay back in SAI, Bengaluru where the Senior
Core Probables Group were housed. "My tickets were booked for 22 March but due to
the Janta Curfew I couldn't travel. Though my tickets were rebooked for 24 March, I
decided to stay back in SAI because I felt it was safer there and there was a lot of
uncertainty at the time," she said.
On asked how a young player like her faced the challenges of staying indoors during the
nation-wide lockdown, she said, "At first, I was scared and felt that there was so much
uncertainty. Myself and three others who were going through rehab due to their injury
were the only ones from the Junior Team who had stayed back in SAI during this period
(lockdown) and it probably would have been difficult if not for the constant support from
senior players and Wayne Lombard (Scientific Advisor). I focused on core strengthening
workouts which could be done indoors and some conditioning work which Wayne used
to give us. Also, he would tell us that it's important to improve our immunity and stay fit
to fight this pandemic which made us motivated through this period," Suman added.
Returning home after three months on 19 June, Suman was in institutional quarantine
for 14 days as per State rules in Manipur and will further remain in home quarantine for
another 14 days. "The institutional quarantine in Imphal was quite comfortable. There
were about 7 students who were in quarantine along with myself and the facilities
including the food, everything was good. Also the volunteers there were mostly from my
home club where I began playing hockey, so they were quite helpful too. Now, I just look
forward to spending time with my family," she said.
Suman began hockey at Seyo Club in 2010 due to the insistence of her father Thoudam
Anand Singh who works as a carpenter in Imphal. Despite financial constraints, he
always encouraged his daughter to make her own mark in the sport. In 2014, she was
picked by the Madhya Pradesh Hockey Academy where she further honed her skills as a
player. Her first call-up for the Junior National Camp came in 2016 after which there
has been no looking back for this young defender. "My father has been the biggest
influence in my life. He has been extremely supportive and wherever I play in Manipur,
he comes to watch me. At first, I never liked hockey but I was quick to make friends at
the Seyo Club and when they said if I go regularly for practice, I would be given a stick
and a ball for myself, I was motivated to continue. Getting my own stick was like the
biggest incentive for me at that time," she recalled.
While the Junior team awaits to receive a call-up to return to SAI Centre Bangalore,
Suman is confident her team can bounce back after this setback in their preparations.
"There is a lot of openness in the team where we discuss our strengths and
weaknesses and each of us have improved individually as well as a team over these
past years. When we are called back, we will refocus on our goal to do well at the Junior
Asia Cup," she concluded.