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Young Champ

Mridula

Meet Mridula Thomas, one of the most bankable young hockey stars in Victoria’s under 12 state sport team.
Mridula Thomas is just back from Perth after playing at the National Hockey Championship conducted by School Sport Australia. She represented Victoria which bagged the bronze medal. “It was my first national and I was actually very nervous but I did pretty well, it was cool,” says the 12-year old. The other highlight of the games was her meeting Jamie Dwyer, a man named the world’s best hockey player five times. “Jamie congratulated me and it was exciting that all the national players came to watch us,” she gushes. If the excitement is any indication, it is that Mridula has her sights set really high.
Mridula was introduced to hockey at the age of nine. “I discovered the sport through a programme in my school. I played it and I liked it and said ‘oh I am pretty good and enjoyed playing it’.” She started playing once a week and when she was 10 she got more serious and more regular putting in seven hours a week, training on the field and practising at home.
It also helped that her father Shabu Thomas used to coach the under-10s. Shabu, himself a hockey player, says coming from India which has a strong hockey tradition, it was an interest he kept alive when he migrated to Australia. Back in Chennai, India, “everyone was playing cricket and because you don’t get enough chance to play cricket, you pick up an alternative sport,” he laughs.
Mridula started playing at the Waverly Hockey Club, which is close to her house. Gradually she forayed into bigger matches. So far, she has played in about 50 club and zonal matches. After state selection, she played for the national matches this year.
A lot of big efforts are required to reach this stage. Last year, Mridula did not get beyond the first round to get into the Australian Victorian team which was conducted by School Sport Victoria (SSV), the peak body for School Sport in Victoria. “There are about three rounds where they test you on basic skills such as dribbling, hitting and then it gets harder and harder,” explains Mridula.
But the disappointment resulted in a bigger determination to make it the next year. True enough, this year she passed all the three rounds. “I couldn’t believe it as there were a lot of people. By the end round they had 20 left out of which 14 were selected. We had only had six training sessions to put all the team together and practice. Some of them were coming from rural Victoria.”
In the national School Sport Australia 12 Years & Under Championship meet in Perth this August, the state Victorian team of which Mridula is a part of won the bronze medal, the gold and silver were bagged by Queensland and News South Wales respectively.
But Mridula was happy with her performance as she ran the length of the ground with her natural athletic ability. Having been a long jump champion in her age group before she went to Year 7, she represented the division for Caulfield and stood fourth jumping close to 4 metres. With her good speed, she is known as one of the fastest in her team. Shabu says his daughter was selected for her speed and stick skills, and high forward on wing. “She did her role very well. She supported the goal scoring and saved a few goals,” he notes of her debut national game.
“My feedback was pretty good,” says Mridula, modestly adding, “In my club matches I stand out but in this one they did say I put good pressure to the opponents. But everyone is a stand out player here so it was difficult to stand out here I guess.”
Shabu, who has keep a hawk’s eye on his daughter’s growth as a player, says Mridula has absorbed well from other good players. “She has learnt resilience too. Victoria lost two matches (in the nationals) which they could have won had they played differently as a team but different players have different weaknesses and strengths and their ups and downs.”
Now Mridula is gearing up for there more club games to finish this year before the summer programme of indoor playing takes over. Moving forward, the plan is to play for Hockey Victoria which has under 13, 14, & 15. A challenge will be vying for the ‘under her age group’ in the zonal category next year. Victoria is divided into 10 zones and Mridula is eligible to apply under the eastern Hotshot zones.
Unsurprisingly, the practice sessions are a rigour. “We do really intense drills; we have five rotations and full on for each drill compared to club practice. I also do athletic training at my school.” Having seen how the how the Australian women hockey team train in Perth, she realises there is no end to hard work despite reaching the top.
She is grateful that she enjoys the support of her school which is otherwise very strict with studies. “I enjoy sports more but I love maths for some reason. It’s my favourite subject.” She won the top academic award for Year 6 in her previous school Malvern Valley Primary, and wrote the scholarship exam for PLC. That’s how she got into this prestigious school this year.
Interestingly, Mridula says she has to also keep a watch on her diet and avoid fries and chocolates in between the games. Her mother Lakshmi says there is a stereotyped impression that vegetarians may not be strong. “But her diet is supplemented by proteins such as lentils and she is very strong in the field.” Obviously it boils down to technique, notes Shabu.
Both her parents drive and inspire her to do better. But it is her father as a coach who helps her develop her game. “Most parents pick up the mistake. The fact that I know and understand hockey is good but even if I didn’t know I would have observed it. I don’t want other people to be discouraged and think that you need to know hockey to pick up the flaws,” says Shabu, who has taken a year’s break from coaching.
“My dad is always telling me that he is watching me and he takes these photos to show me where I went wrong etc.. My friends think I am lucky to have him as my coach, so when you go in there is someone to see where and what you are doing wrong. The coaches generally look at the whole team,” says Mridula, who studies at the Presbyterian Ladies’ College, Melbourne.
Interestingly, Shabu says he is not pushing her daughter to become a national player or a top player of the country. “That is not the end game. This is a sport one can play for life compared to footy, for instance. The idea is not to just play and get national selection; you can still play as a hobby and as an outlet to be physically active. I would encourage parents to let their child play any sport. It’s a sport that they can also play socially.”
Shabu wants to encourage parents of young girls to let them play hockey. “I have tried to spread the word that it is a game that is well supported. We from India have a strong hockey tradition which we can keep alive here by getting our kids to play hockey. It is a sport which helps them to play for life and keeps them physically active.”
Australia gives the unique opportunity to premier league hockey matches for free. And Victoria has one. “Their matches are visually spectacular to watch and the event is free, we have this opportunity to watch high quality match for free, so why not take advantage?” he observes.
As for Mridula, it is a journey filled with learning experience. How she shapes up depends on how she takes it and wants to learn, reflects her father. Going by the way she is going, he is pretty proud of this young champ!

Mridula Thomas is just back from Perth after playing at the National Hockey Championship conducted by School Sport Australia. She represented Victoria which bagged the bronze medal. “It was my first national and I was actually very nervous but I did pretty well, it was cool,” says the 12-year old. The other highlight of the games was her meeting Jamie Dwyer, a man named the world’s best hockey player five times. “Jamie congratulated me and it was exciting that all the national players came to watch us,” she gushes. If the excitement is any indication, it is that Mridula has her sights set really high.
Mridula was introduced to hockey at the age of nine. “I discovered the sport through a programme in my school. I played it and I liked it and said ‘oh I am pretty good and enjoyed playing it’.” She started playing once a week and when she was 10 she got more serious and more regular putting in seven hours a week, training on the field and practising at home.
It also helped that her father Shabu Thomas used to coach the under-10s. Shabu, himself a hockey player, says coming from India which has a strong hockey tradition, it was an interest he kept alive when he migrated to Australia. Back in Chennai, India, “everyone was playing cricket and because you don’t get enough chance to play cricket, you pick up an alternative sport,” he laughs.
Mridula started playing at the Waverly Hockey Club, which is close to her house. Gradually she forayed into bigger matches. So far, she has played in about 50 club and zonal matches. After state selection, she played for the national matches this year.
A lot of big efforts are required to reach this stage. Last year, Mridula did not get beyond the first round to get into the Australian Victorian team which was conducted by School Sport Victoria (SSV), the peak body for School Sport in Victoria. “There are about three rounds where they test you on basic skills such as dribbling, hitting and then it gets harder and harder,” explains Mridula.
But the disappointment resulted in a bigger determination to make it the next year. True enough, this year she passed all the three rounds. “I couldn’t believe it as there were a lot of people. By the end round they had 20 left out of which 14 were selected. We had only had six training sessions to put all the team together and practice. Some of them were coming from rural Victoria.”
In the national School Sport Australia 12 Years & Under Championship meet in Perth this August, the state Victorian team of which Mridula is a part of won the bronze medal, the gold and silver were bagged by Queensland and News South Wales respectively.
But Mridula was happy with her performance as she ran the length of the ground with her natural athletic ability.  Having been a long jump champion in her age group before she went to Year 7, she represented the division for Caulfield and stood fourth jumping close to 4 metres. With her good speed, she is known as one of the fastest in her team. Shabu says his daughter was selected for her speed and stick skills, and high forward on wing. “She did her role very well. She supported the goal scoring and saved a few goals,” he notes of her debut national game.
“My feedback was pretty good,” says Mridula, modestly adding, “In my club matches I stand out but in this one they did say I put good pressure to the opponents. But everyone is a stand out player here so it was difficult to stand out here I guess.”
Shabu, who has keep a hawk’s eye on his daughter’s growth as a player, says Mridula has absorbed well from other good players. “She has learnt resilience too. Victoria lost two matches (in the nationals) which they could have won had they played differently as a team but different players have different weaknesses and strengths and their ups and downs.”
Now Mridula is gearing up for there more club games to finish this year before the summer programme of indoor playing takes over. Moving forward, the plan is to play for Hockey Victoria which has under 13, 14, & 15. A challenge will be vying for the ‘under her age group’ in the zonal category next year. Victoria is divided into 10 zones and Mridula is eligible to apply under the eastern Hotshot zones.
Unsurprisingly, the practice sessions are a rigour. “We do really intense drills; we have five rotations and full on for each drill compared to club practice. I also do athletic training at my school.” Having seen how the how the Australian women hockey team train in Perth, she realises there is no end to hard work despite reaching the top.
She is grateful that she enjoys the support of her school which is otherwise very strict with studies. “I enjoy sports more but I love maths for some reason. It’s my favourite subject.” She won the top academic award for Year 6 in her previous school Malvern Valley Primary, and wrote the scholarship exam for PLC. That’s how she got into this prestigious school this year.
Interestingly, Mridula says she has to also keep a watch on her diet and avoid fries and chocolates in between the games. Her mother Lakshmi says there is a stereotyped impression that vegetarians may not be strong. “But her diet is supplemented by proteins such as lentils and she is very strong in the field.” Obviously it boils down to technique, notes Shabu.
Both her parents drive and inspire her to do better. But it is her father as a coach who helps her develop her game. “Most parents pick up the mistake. The fact that I know and understand hockey is good but even if I didn’t know I would have observed it. I don’t want other people to be discouraged and think that you need to know hockey to pick up the flaws,” says Shabu, who has taken a year’s break from coaching.
“My dad is always telling me that he is watching me and he takes these photos to show me where I went wrong etc.. My friends think I am lucky to have him as my coach, so when you go in there is someone to see where and what you are doing wrong. The coaches generally look at the whole team,” says Mridula, who studies at the Presbyterian Ladies’ College, Melbourne.
Interestingly, Shabu says he is not pushing her daughter to become a national player or a top player of the country. “That is not the end game.  This is a sport one can play for life compared to footy, for instance. The idea is not to just play and get national selection; you can still play as a hobby and as an outlet to be physically active. I would encourage parents to let their child play any sport. It’s a sport that they can also play socially.”
Shabu wants to encourage parents of young girls to let them play hockey. “I have tried to spread the word that it is a game that is well supported. We from India have a strong hockey tradition which we can keep alive here by getting our kids to play hockey. It is a sport which helps them to play for life and keeps them physically active.”
Australia gives the unique opportunity to premier league hockey matches for free. And Victoria has one. “Their matches are visually spectacular to watch and the event is free, we have this opportunity to watch high quality match for free, so why not take advantage?” he observes.
As for Mridula, it is a journey filled with learning experience. How she shapes up depends on how she takes it and wants to learn, reflects her father. Going by the way she is going, he is pretty proud of this young champ!

By Indira Laisram

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