Maninder Singh is currently the captain of the Bengal Warriors team, who won Pro Kabaddi title in the year 2019. However, his journey to becoming the skipper of a title-winning team from a small village was a long and inspiring one. In conversation with Kabaddi Adda, Maninder tells us his entire journey to making it in the first team of Jaipur Pink Panthers.
Q: Are you the only sportsperson from your family?
Maninder: My father, Gurdeep Singh, used to play circle Kabaddi. He had played for the U-17 and U-19 teams in the Nationals. He used to play for the State as well as the village teams. I have two sisters and I am the only son.
Q: How did your interest in Kabaddi arise?
Maninder: I grew up watching circle Kabaddi as that was more famous in our village. There used to be tournaments which I used to go and watch regularly. I started playing Kabaddi in school and that's where my interest took a hike. My friends also encouraged me to play Kabaddi. After playing circle Kabaddi for a while, I shifted to national-style Kabaddi. I played for the U-19 team at the age of 18.
Q: How did you learn Kabaddi?
Maninder: We had an Arjuna Awardee coach, Hardeep Singh, coming to our village to see the practicing players and upskill us. He used to share some important tips that I need to focus on to improve my skills. He considered me like his own son and started guiding me at every step.
When I started going to college, the then Punjab Police coach Paramjeet Singh selected me for the State Police team. That got me fully into Kabaddi and I used to play tournaments for them. I met Rann Singh there and we started practicing together. He was our senior at the time but he made sure that we stay true to each other. Rann Singh used to help me a lot in improving my skills. I used to nag him to get more and more knowledge about the game. We played together in tournaments, started winning tournaments and we became close friends.
Q: When did you play your first National tournament?
Maninder: I played first in the year 2009-10 from Punjab.
Q: Do you remember your first tournament where you gained success?
Maninder: While playing for India Bulls, we came third in a tournament one year. However, in the following two years, we won back to back thanks to a lot of practice.
During the first Pro Kabaddi, many players got selected for some team but I did not get a place in the pool. During a tournament in Madhya Pradesh, where I was representing Punjab Police, players were selected for Pro Kabaddi. The organizers were announcing the name of each player and telling everyone how they were selected for Pro Kabaddi and praising them. That felt like a bee sting as we did not have any players from Punjab Police in Pro Kabaddi.
Later in the tournament, in a match where we demolished a strong team where all seven members a part of some franchise in PKL. We went on to win the tournament and made a name for ourselves. I got a call from Jaipur Pink Panthers after the tournament asking to take a trial for their team. Eventually, I got selected and that was when I thought that Kabaddi is what I will be doing for a living. My coach and teammates of Punjab Police were delighted to know that I was called for the trials and after the selection, their joy went to the sky.
Q: How did you prepare yourself for the trials?
Maninder: I was generally a person who used to be with my team always while traveling for the tournaments. It was the first time I was going alone and meeting Kabaddi experts. I had no contacts there and also the pressure was quite a lot to perform well and get selected.
After an overnight journey, I had one thing in mind that is I was fit and I had to perform. Fortunately, my trails went smoothly and I got selected.