New Delhi: The Coal India Hockey India League is largely known to be a platform that provides youngsters a golden opportunity to wield their skill against the best in world hockey. However, for 21-year-old Armaan Qureshi, who was an integral part of the dynamic team that won the Uttar Pradesh Hockey Junior World Cup Men Lucknow 2016, the Coal India HIL was a lot more than just a chance to play against the best. For him, the League was all about getting stronger mentally and tactically. “In the 2014 and 2015 editions I was part of the Delhi Waveriders team. But I could not come up with significant performance,” recalls Qureshi born in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh.

“Most of my teammates from the junior squad had played many matches in the League and had done well for themselves. I wanted to prove myself too but the real turning point came in 2016 when I was picked for Jaypee Punjab Warriors,” he admits.

Playing alongside team Captain Sardar Singh, Australian great Mark Knowles, Simon Orchard and Chris Ciriello and India forward SV Sunil not only helped him learn to cope under pressure but it made him believe that he has it in him to achieve greater success in hockey. This opportunity with Jaypee Warriors also helped him share a special bond with the team coach Barry Dancer. “He played a crucial role in reviving my game during the last edition of Coal India HIL. Not having played too many matches in the previous editions, I was looking for a break but it could have either gone good or bad for me. But our Coach Barry Dancer ensured I stayed on top of my game, especially mentally,” Armaan says.

Dancer, a former international field hockey player and Coach from Australia, would have one-on-one sessions with the Jaypee Punjab Warriors’ team members and this helped Armaan the most. “He helped me understand my strengths. He made me believe in my game. The junior team had won the Junior Men’s Asia Cup and Sultan of Johor Cup just before the Coal India HIL, and everyone wanted to do well in Coal India HIL. But since I hadn’t got enough chances earlier, I was low on confidence," admits Qureshi.

But Dancer ensured the young forward peaked at the right time. "While Mark Knowles and other foreign players taught me how to soak up the pressure and yet remain calm, Barry would constantly remind me that I was good. He made me play in all the matches of the League and just before the Semi Final, he had asked me, ‘Are you ready for your big game?’ and I had said yes. I remember he told me that I had played amazing in the entire League. It boosted my confidence and I ended up scoring in both Semi Final and the Final which we won,” stated Armaan, who was bought by Jaypee Punjab Warriors for USD 4,500. "People started to recognise me and my game after the 2016 Coal India HIL," he says.

“In many ways, I feel the Coal India HIL was a turning point in my career and that confidence I was able to carry right through the year which resulted in us winning the Junior World Cup,” concluded Armaan who scored a fine goal against England that helped India virtually seal the Quarter Final berth in the Uttar Pradesh Hockey Junior World Cup Men Lucknow 2016.

Armaan will be joined by Varun Kumar, Ajit Kumar Pandey from the junior team in the defending champions Jaypee Punjab Warriors camp in January 2017.