‘As an elite athlete, you can never feel satisfied’, says Parattu Raveendran Sreejesh

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You’ve played 301 games for India. How do you look back at your journey so far?
When I started, I did not even think of 50 games, leave alone 300. You don’t think you can play 100 games for your country and then when it starts to happen you just go with the flow and keep working harder and harder. You want to keep pace and as my last coach said, keep improving. That’s what we need to do as elite athletes. You can never feel satisfied for then it is the end of the road. Every single day is an opportunity to improve. To get better by an iota. That’s what I have tried to do and will keep doing as long as I play. One image that’s etched in memory is that of you sitting on top of the goalpost in Tokyo after winning the bronze medal. At that point not many thought you would still be around for Paris. But here you are. Did you think then you could play another Olympics?
Honestly, no. A lot of people had asked me, ‘what’s next for you, Sree?’. All I said was I did not really know. When you grow older and get more and more experienced, it is always about the next tournament. I don’t think long term. All I do is push myself for the next match or the next tournament. I need to take small steps and if that helps me play on, I am happy. I have the passion for the sport and love turning up for India and taking it one step at a time. So, my next goal is the Asian Games and I will do everything to keep improving and doing my best because it is a very important tournament for us and will help us qualify directly for Paris 2024.

It’s a very important month coming up with the Asian Games and the qualification as the most important goal. Absolutely. But we can’t keep thinking of winning the gold medal and the qualification. If we do that, we will end up putting too much pressure on ourselves and that is never healthy. We need to go out there and enjoy the process and in doing so the results will come. Every Asian team wants to hunt us down because we are the best team at the moment. So, we have set a benchmark for ourselves and now it is on us to stay at the top.

What stood out in the Asian Champions Trophy was that India were able to comeback from a 1-3 deficit. Your thoughts?
Soon after we won the semi-final 5-0 (vs Japan), our coach told us that we were in our comfort zone and what was important was if we could come back and win from difficult situations. He asked us if we believed we were capable of coming back from 0-2 down or 1-3 down. Only then should we be satisfied. I think these words were playing in everyone’s mind. And when we were down 1-3, we looked at the situation as an opportunity. No one had any negative thoughts. We were confident we could make it back. That’s what has happened with this team. Having played the best teams in the world regularly in the Pro League, for example, we now know a comeback is always possible.

Craig Fulton (head coach) has had a good impact on the team in a short time. He comes across as someone who is very clear with his plans.
Like I told you, he wants us to try out new things, come out of our comfort zones. That’s why he said what he did after we won the semi-final comfortably against Japan. He knew it wouldn’t always be the case and wanted us to be ready. And he was right. In the final we were down 1-3. And that’s when his words helped. We were prepared to fight. This is what you need from a coach and I am sure we will do some good things together as a team. India are now ranked three in the world. How do you look at rankings? Do they really matter?
It is more for the fans and federation and everyone else associated with the sport. While it feels good to make it to No. 3, what really matters to us as players is what we do on the pitch. How we perform in the middle is what decides the game. Let me also say that the difference between the top six teams is actually miniscule. Each of them are capable of beating others on a given day. So, it is all about what you do in the middle on a given match day.



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