As a 10-year-old accompanying his father to their wheat fields, all Harmanpreet Singh wanted to learn was how to “ride a tractor.” His father obliged and within an year, the youngster became adept at farming — from sowing the crops to reaping them. Farming interested him. A few years later, the move to a private hockey academy in Jalandhar — at the insistence of his father’s friend — brought about a change in the boy’s fortunes.
Asked by the coach about his preferred playing position, Harmanpreet pointed to the scoring circle and said he wanted to become a striker. Just a few months into his hockey training, he was asked to shift to the defence, and learn drag-flicking, something he was not keen on initially. “I was reluctant, but it all happened for the good,” says the 19-year-old Harmanpreet, who is now considered among the most talented players in Indian hockey.
A few weeks ago, the teenager did the country proud scoring 15 goals in India’s title triumph at the Junior Asia Cup in Malaysia — including four goals in the 6-2 win over Pakistan in the final — to mark his presence among the fast-rising stars. As the youngster returned home to a warm welcome, he could not thank his parents enough as they had initiated him into hockey.
“I never planned to take up hockey since no one in my family was associated with the game. Somehow, it happened and gave my life a new direction. I belong to a small village, Timmowal, near Amritsar. We are a close-knit family and my father is a farmer. As a kid, I used to go to the fields and do all the work along with him. I was good at studies too, but hockey was not on my mind. Now, I owe everything to the sport,” he says.
Drag-flicking today is a key component in modern hockey. Almost all teams who possess a lethal drag-flicker have a high success rate internationally, and even though Harmanpreet is yet to break into the senior side, he understands the importance of his special skill. “Yes, almost everyone expects goals to come off penalty corners. I do not think of it as extra pressure. In fact, the team mates and coach’s belief in you makes one do better. I remember my first match with the Junior India team last year in Malaysia. I could not score in the first two matches and was feeling a little low. But my coach Harendra Singh said he believed in me. Since that day, I have been scoring regularly,” says the drag-flicker.
Harmanpreet also recalls the time when he was not keen on becoming a drag-flicker, “I began playing as a forward and after one year, the coaches wanted me to try my hand at defence. Soon, the senior players asked me to learn drag-flicking as I was a little heavy and drag-flicking requires power,” the youngster recalls with a laugh, adding, “It helped me and my career as I would never have taken this decision on my own.”
Today, Harmanpreet is reckoned as the one for the future and at the age of 19, is a role model for many. Every time he comes home, he meets a young fan who took up hockey after watching Harmanpreet’s exploits on TV. “It is things like these that make you feel proud. You realise that you have taken the right decision and it adds to the responsibility. People look up to us and it is nice. At the same time, it makes my parents happy and that gives me immense satisfaction,” says the teenager, who is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree at a Jalandhar college.
Much like youngsters of his age, Harmanpreet is keen on the latest gadgets and likes to spend time watching movies and hanging out with friends. From his first earning, he bought an i-Phone and gave the rest of the money to his parents. “I did not know what to do with it,” he says with simplicity, adding, “So I kept what I needed and gave the rest to my folks.”
Ask him about his growing female fan following, and he blushes. “I get some messages on Facebook and I like reading them but that’s all. I cannot pay attention to all this at this stage! I would rather work more on my hockey.”