The coronavirus pandemic has brought life to a standstill across the world. Especially in the Kabaddi world, a sport defined by contact between people, things are taking a break from the usual tours. The athletes are bound by the rules of isolation, just like the rest of us, but Kabaddi Adda has been speaking to the athletes, staying at their homes or academies, on their changed routines, with competitions on hold and plenty of time on hand.
Defender, Indian Railways, Indian Women's Kabaddi team
Ritu Negi, the Indian Kabaddi star defender who has done wonders in the world of women’s Kabaddi was in conversation with Kabaddi Adda and was a little shy to start, but got comfortable as the conversation went forward, just as she often does into the important phases of a match:
KA: What has your daily routine been like during this lockdown?
Ritu: During this lock down, I have been spending a lot of time with my family which is a great feeling because we athletes do not get much free time like this under normal circumstances. I'm also spending time helping with cleaning and other domestic work in the house.
KA: What does your training and workout schedule look like?
Ritu: I do Stretching and simpler fitness-related workouts inside the home and also take up some specific muscle strengthening exercises like Sit-ups, push up, skipping and crunches to keep myself in good shape.
KA: If you have to advise aspiring Kabaddi players on what kind of workouts they can do during this lockdown period, what would that be?
Ritu: Don’t let your home be a limitation but whatever workout you do plan to do, make sure it's at home as there are ways to train in limited spaces too. Here are a few basics you can do from your home that will keep you working hard:
KA: How are you spending time with family? Is there any new hobby that you have taken up?
Ritu: We actually spend most of our time watching tv, now that they are telecasting two epic shows, Ramayan and Mahabharat, we sit together and enjoy these two shows. We also play matches on our Carrom Board whenever we are not watching TV, which has been a lot of fun & competitive too.
KA: Who else in your family are/were into sports?
Ritu: My dad, Bhawan Singh Negi has played state level Kabaddi during his younger days, and due to fewer opportunities and no real platform back then, he had to stop playing. He is now a PT teacher at a school nearby so it’s nice that he can impart some of that wisdom from when he played sport too.
KA: How did you get attached to Kabaddi, how did it all begin and can you take us through your journey?
Ritu: During my time at school, few of the senior girls from school used to play Kabaddi and I used to get fascinated just watching them and that is how I initially got attracted to Kabaddi and there has been no looking back ever since. When I was in 10th Standard, my coach from school took me for a selection trial in SAI Bilaspur where I got selected and I trained there for 9 years. During this time, I played both Junior and Senior Nationals and picked up two Gold medals in the Junior Nationals for SAI and 5 Bronze medals in the senior nationals for Himachal Pradesh. In 2011, I then captained the Indian Junior team and won a Gold medal which was a special feeling and in 2014 I joined the Indian Railways.
KA: How did you make it to the Indian junior team? and as a captain how did you handle all the pressure and expectations?
Ritu: I played the Junior Nationals in 2011 at Chhattisgarh, post which I got picked for the Junior Indian team camp where 30 girls were part of that and finally it came down to 12 in which I was picked as the captain. Yes, there was a lot of pressure as a captain and also it was my first tournament for India and I was feeling a bit nervous like everyone does, but credit goes to all the coaches. A special mention also to Rambir Singh Kokhar sir who was the coach then for the Junior Indian team and he helped me get through the pressure and perform to my potential and eventually we won the gold. That was a special feeling!
KA: Is there a player within the sport that you look up to as an Inspiration?
Ritu: Pooja Thakur from Himachal Pradesh is my Inspiration. She was the captain of the Junior Indian team in 2009 at the Junior Asian Championships and she has always been someone I look up to.
KA: What are your views on the Kabaddi ecosystem in Himachal Pradesh?
Ritu: Himachal Pradesh generally has good infrastructure for sports. There are 5 sports hostels in the state where players can stay and practice. Himachal is very good at sports, especially Kabaddi and has always been producing strong Kabaddi talents like Ajay Thakur, Baldev Singh, Vishal Baradwaj and Pooja Thakur. There are a total of 9 players from Himachal who have played at the international level, 5 women and 4 men.
KA: How did you manage the balance between Studies and Sports?
Ritu: In the sports hostel, my mornings and evenings were dedicated to my practice and during the day, we used to attend school/college so this was the routine and the balance we found to study and also focus on sport. At home, my parents were particular about studies at the start but as I started playing a higher level of Kabaddi, they also started to believe that studies is not the only thing and understood that sport could also offer me a career path to success.
KA: Do you remember any particular purchase you made from your prize money from your younger days?
Ritu: During my early days, I used to get some prize money for the best player of the tournament and for winning a tournament, so with that money, I purchased a showcase for my home to display all my trophies back then and also for any future trophies I might get my hands on.
KA: How did you make it to the Indian Railways team and can you explain the process behind this?
Ritu: A few senior coaches watched me at an A Grade tournament, were impressed with the skills that I was able to display and my performances and directly offered me a job in the Indian Railways. To then secure the job, I had to clear the selection trail, which I eventually did, to make it to the South Central Railway (SCR) team.
In my first Inter railways tournament, SCR were the champions which was always the case historically in Inter Railways tournaments. I was then picked for the next camp and from there was selected for the Indian Railways team for the Senior Nationals in my first year on the job.
KA: Can you take us through about the schedule before big tournaments like Senior Nationals etc?
Ritu: Ahead of the Senior Nationals, there is usually a 1 month pre-tournament camp, where 32-35 girls participate and our coach Banani Saha ma’am trains us intensively, post which there is a final trial for the Senior Nationals team, from which the final 12 players are selected. Every day is split into different types of “skills”practice and then a focus on fitness too, all of which is conducted by Coach Banani Saha, who is also the Indian women's team coach.
KA: How did you make it to the Indian Senior team?
Ritu: In 2017 I got picked for the Indian team camp for the Asian championship but did not make it to the final 12. It was a 20 day camp and it was also my first Indian team camp. In 2018, I then made it to the camp for the Asian Games and was selected in the final 12 for the Indian team and that was honestly a dream come true for me.
KA: Can you tell us about the feeling of playing for India in a prestigious tournament like The Asian Games?
Ritu: It’s a wonderful experience representing your country in the Asian Games, but in 2018 the tournament result unfortunately did not go our way. We actually played very well throughout the tournament but we couldn’t get over the line in the final. That was a very disappointing feeling, given that we had an amazing record of winning Gold in every Asian Games until that point.
KA: When you go for International tournaments and interact with players from other countries, how much do you learn from them?
Ritu: We all know the Indian Kabaddi team is the best in any international tournament but this doesn’t take away anything from the other teams as they have been improving at a very rapid pace. 2018 was an indication and they also show so much confidence when they play against us and put up a very strong fight whenever they are on the mat. That confidence and the will to push even as underdogs sometimes are some lessons we always take away from them.
KA: How do you prepare yourself before a big game in International tournaments and what goes on in your mind when you are on the mat for the game?
Ritu: We have team meetings before the game where our coaches talk about how to go about the game. We also sit together in meetings and study opponent’s movements and their gameplay by watching their videos and we work on our game plan accordingly.
Answering the second question, when we go on the mat for any game, the thing that goes in all our heads is that all of us have worked so hard to be at this position and our coaches have put in so much hard work to get here, so our only priority is winning the game for our country or team.
Rapid Fire Round with Ritu Negi
- Favorite Indian Kabaddi Player: Ajay Thakur
- Favorite Foreign Kabaddi Player: Fazel Athrachelli
- Best Friend in the Kabaddi circuit: Pinky Roy
- Any other sport other than Kabaddi: Volley Ball which is the Recreational game we play during camps for Indian Railways
- Hobby: Listening to Punjabi Songs and Phadi songs and watching Kabaddi videos of myself playing
If not Kabaddi which other sport you would have pursued?: It has always been Kabaddi and nothing else.
Favorite Movie: Dangal
Favorite Actor and Actress: Salman Khan and Kangana Rannut
Favorite Vehicle: KTM Bike