It was from his U-19 days at the AIFF Centre in Goa that Pritam Kotal developed the habit of scribbling down every practice session in his personal diary.
“I started it as I wanted to minimise my mistakes – not just the practise sessions, but also the matches I played,” Kotal opened up during a live chat with AIFF TV. “In fact, I still have the habit of jotting it down. And why not?”
“It is a simple exercise but an effective one. Everyone makes mistakes on the field and to minimise our mistakes, we need to train hard. After every training session, I take notes. Before heading to the field on the next day I check on the points so that I don’t repeat it again. There’s no rocket science behind this, but this helps me always. I follow it even today,” he smiled.
Were you aware that Sachin Tendulkar had started doing this – jotting down every dismissal of his since he was a kid?
“No, I wasn’t aware of it. Did he also do it?” Kotal quipped. “All my intent was to minimise my mistakes,” he reiterated.
“I was a defensive midfielder initially but coach Colm Toal switched me to the right wing-back position. The approaches of both positions are entirely different. It was a tough phase for me to get accustomed to the new position. That’s when my notebook helped me a lot.”
“Before heading to the training ground, I used to run through my mistakes from the previous training session. As a defensive midfielder, I did not focus on attacking. But as a wing-back, I’m supposed to contribute to the attacking system too. I had to learn about timings, positioning during defence and a lot and my notes helped me immensely during those struggling days,” Kotal admitted.
‘Meditation Kotal’ or ‘Train Kotal?’
Kotal’s penchant for meditation has earned him the nickname of ‘Meditation Kotal’ in the National Team, and his obsession for training has also simultaneously earned him the nickname of ‘Train Kotal,’ which the defender, with a laugh, didn’t deny.
In fact, it was Sandesh Jhingan who first spotted Kotal sitting in front of a candle flame and staring at it without almost a blink as part of his meditation schedule.
“Meditation has helped me a lot,” he added. “I have been staring at the candle flame for long – ever since my U-19 days. Football is all about focus and concentration. As a defender, I can’t afford to lose my concentration even for a second. Here comes the role of meditation which has helped me stay calm and composed even during a tough face-off or a not-so-well training session. I would suggest every young footballer practice meditation to improve the concentration level,” Kotal explained. “I do it even today.”
He also walked down memory lane to admit that his teammates had once caught him training with the ball inside his room. “I had locked the room but they somehow sneaked in, and caught me training with the ball,” he smiled.
‘Loss to Bahrain was a new beginning for us’
“Honestly I was not a naturally talented player and I’m not ashamed of admitting this. I knew I had to overcome my shortcomings through hardcore training and sheer practice regimes. We were scheduled to go to an exposure trip to China before the AFC Qualifiers which were due in two years. I was desperate and wanted to get into the first XI at any cost.”
“So even during the off-days, I used to train inside the room to go a notch up. It was something which came naturally to me.”
Kotal has so far represented India in 36 International matches and 10 age-group Internationals. And though he admitted that the loss to Bahrain in the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 was heartbreaking, he also labelled is as a “new beginning.”
“We have grown stronger since that day. Life for a footballer is full of such moments. It was a lesson learnt, and it marked a new beginning for all of us. It was so near yet so far. That has taught the Blue Tigers how to improve, when to improve. And we are improving with every given day.”