Turning Point: Rani Rampal reveals how selection in World Team XI made her believe she was good enough to play for India
In the latest edition of our Turning Point series, India women's hockey team captain Rani Rampal talks about the moment which gave her confidence that she was good enough to play for the country.
Editor's Note: In every athletes' life comes a moment that flips his/her career around. A solitary slice of inspiration, a date with destiny, an important result, a wise word, the proverbial turning point may arrive in any shape or form and end up defining the said athlete. In Turning Point, Firstpost's latest weekly series, we look at some such moments.
Rani Rampal recalls the moment when she was asked by the national women’s hockey coach if she thought she was good enough to play for India.
It was a fairly simple question. Rani was still in her early teens then, but her prodigious talent and promise were very evident even at that stage.
“I said ‘no, I don’t think I am,’” confesses Rani, who was first named among India probables in 2008 and, a year later, at the age of 15, made her debut for India at the FIH Champions Challenge II tournament in Russia.
A decade since, Rani has not just answered that question, she has put any sliver of self-doubt to bed. Self-assured, but not arrogant, Rani’s 11 years as part of the national team have made her a different person.
But what was the turning point in her career?
“I made my entry into the national team (probables) at a very young age in 2008. But in 2010, when I was named in the FIH’s World XI team, that was a turning point for me,” Rani tells Firstpost. “To be picked as one of the top XI players in the world at such a young age. That’s when I started to believe in my potential. That recognition gave me confidence.
— Rani Rampal (@imranirampal) May 8, 2020
“When I had made my debut, I was constantly beset by self-doubt. I didn’t think I could stay in the team because there were a lot of seniors in the team who had been playing for 10-11 years. When the national coach asked me if I could make it to the team, I said no because I didn’t think I could take the place of those seniors. But he assured me that if I worked hard and performed to my potential, I would be in the team.”
Rani has a knack for scoring decisive goals. The Indian team made it to Rio Olympics after 36 years thanks to Rani’s goal against Japan in the FIH Hockey World League which helped them seal fifth position, which was later deemed good enough for a Olympics quota place. Then, she scored the decisive goal against USA as India chased qualification for the Tokyo Olympics.
Over the years, Rani hasn’t just carved a place in the team. As her confidence grew, she was handed the captaincy. From leading the team to victory at the 2017 Women’s Asia Cup after 13 years to guiding them to a silver medal at the 2018 Asian Games, her time at the helm is starting to reap rewards.
“Success gets to your head sometimes,” says Rani as she talks about how she kept herself grounded after she was named in the World XI as a teenager. “You start to believe that you know everything. But I told myself that I have just taken one step in my career.
“As a player, I used to feel that to achieve something you have to perform consistently. I’ve seen a lot of times that players achieve something and then feel that sense of satisfaction. I’ve always told myself that you should not get satisfied with success or recognition achieved at a young age. I have always believed that despite whatever you achieve in life, you should stay down to earth. Only then can I achieve true admiration from fans.”
For younger players coming into the team, Rani has always been a source of inspiration. But as the coronavirus pandemic has put a stop to sporting competitions and raised the level of anxiety across the world, the forward has been a calming influence, especially on youngsters in the team like Lalremsiami.
The team also used the downtime in April to start a fundraising campaign to raise money for those whose livelihoods had taken a hit due to the pandemic.
At the time, Rani had spoken of how her father had told her that if she hadn’t been a hockey player and elevated them out of poverty, they too could have been struggling to get food.
“That broke my heart,” Rani had said at the time. “Everyone in the team has faced so many challenges due to poverty and we know the pain of not getting food. It’s thanks to hockey our lives are comfortable today. But not everyone is this fortunate.”
The team eventually raised over Rs 20 lakh through an 18-day fitness challenge, which it donated to Uday Foundation, a Delhi-based NGO.
“We had never done a fundraising campaign before,” says Rani. “When lockdown initially began, we kept ourselves busy by starting that campaign. The idea was to keep ourselves busy and positive while also helping people in need.”
The pandemic has also meant that the Olympics in Tokyo have been pushed forward by a year.
“When I heard about the Tokyo Olympics getting postponed, it was heartbreaking at first. We worked so hard towards competing at the Olympics, and then when something like this happens it gets difficult to push yourself for one more year. You have to manage your physical and mental conditioning at a very high level to peak at the Olympics."
"Then we started looking at the brighter side, we had another year to improve ourselves,” says Rani, who has been spending her 14-day mandatory quarantine at the SAI campus in Bengaluru reading Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable (written by Tim Grover, who has been a trainer to NBA legend like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Dwyane Wade) and studying for her Masters in English Literature.
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Harmanpreet (26th and 33rd minutes) scored a double for India, while Rupinder Pal Singh (10th) was the other goal-getter for the eight-time former champions, currently ranked fourth in the world, in the Pool A match at the Oi hockey stadium here.