New Delhi, June 29 (IANS) Coming from a family that was far too familiar with hockey, Mandeep Mor's first choice was surprisingly not hockey. It was boxing.
"Though my cousin Pardeep Mor played for the Indian team, and my uncles had also played hockey at the national level, to my family's surprise I preferred to pursue boxing," said Mandeep, who captained the Indian junior men's hockey team at the Sultan of Johor Cup last year.
Born in Narwana, a small hamlet in Jind district, Haryana, Mandeep's association with hockey began when he went to watch his brother train.
"When I watched Pardeep practice, and saw other kids playing hockey, I thought it was a fun sport and decided to take the plunge," he said.
In 2010, Mandeep joined the Chandigarh Hockey Academy in Sector 42 which was home to several top Indian hockey players, including India's experienced dragflicker Rupinder Pal Singh.
"When I joined the Chandigarh Academy, my coach Alpinder Singh told me I have the potential to become a good dragflicker and he helped me hone my skills," recalled Mandeep.
It was during his days in Chandigarh that he would often get to meet and watch the likes of former India skipper Sandeep Singh, experienced India dragflicker Rupinder Pal Singh and also watched the star-studded Hockey India League from the stands like any other aspiring player awaiting to don the India jersey.
"I used to be thrilled to meet Sandeep bhai in the Chandigarh Stadium. He was by hero, my biggest inspiration and I loved the way he scored through dragflicks. He would come to use the gym and train there. His words. 'focus on your dragflicks, work hard and you will find glory' continues to motivate me," said Mandeep.
He further said that early lessons in dragflick from Rupinder as well as Gurjinder, both from the Chandigarh Academy who had the experience of playing for India, helped him understand the nuances involved in international hockey.
"Gurjinder bhai and Bob paaji (Rupinder) would help me a lot and teach me basics and always motivated me to do well. I even got to train with Bob paaji which was a great high for me back in those days," added Mandeep.
Selected to train in Sports Authority of India, Sonipat in 2014 after notable performance in U-14 and U-17 National Championships, he made quick strides and received a call-up for junior India national camp in 2017.
The following year, Mandeep also got to debut for the senior India Team in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup and was also part of the senior India core probables for the 2018 World Cup.
"When I got to play in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, I was under pressure because it was my first tournament with the senior team which also had Sardar Singh. But he was very reassuring and told me to focus on my basics and not to feel burdened by the pressure of playing for India on a big stage. The experience definitely helped me a lot and I will continue to work hard to earn senior team jersey again," he said.
With the junior India national coaching camp ending in March, Mandeep is forced to do some basic workouts in his hometown where he is currently based.