‘I am so passionate about my work, I want to give back everything that I learned.’ Salman Akbar – Olympic athletes interviewed Episode 55

Salman Akbar, double Olympian outlines how he almost stopped his career, when he got injured while being injured and struggled to see the light at the end of the tunnel. He shares the difficult journey of a young goalie, who had to get past the older more established goalkeepers, how he got the chance to be the first goalie and ended up playing 2 Olympic Games.

Salman shares how he learned to focus on himself, when it comes to improving performance, evaluating and overcoming setbacks, and maintaining a long career.

He describes the vital role of his family, and their support as a big part of his sporting success.

Furthermore, we discuss

Part 2 of the interview with Salman Akbar

Christian: Today I’m joined by Salman Akbar. Salman is a double Olympian, who competed in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens and the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where he represented Pakistan in field hockey.

His biggest successes, Asian champion in 2010, silver medalist at Commonwealth Games in 2006, two times Champions Trophy bronze-medalist and 2 times selected as best goalkeeper of the world.

Welcome, Salman.

Salman: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.

Christian: Salman, is field hockey the small brother of cricket in Pakistan?

Salman: Yes, you can say that, but officially, field hockey is the national game of Pakistan. But yes, cricket is bigger than hockey there.

How he got into field hockey

Christian: What brought you into field hockey?

Salman: That’s an interesting story. Actually, that was absolutely accidental. I was in school and there were two teams in my school, one senior and one junior. I was in a junior category then and they didn’t have a goalie.

So the captain of the junior team, one of my very best friends still told me that I was very supportive. I used to play cricket in high school also and used to have some diving catches and nice fielding.

So he said that since they didn’t have a goalie, I could just come and try it and see how it was. That was the first day I was goalie, and after that still now. That’s how I was introduced to field hockey.

His darkest moment

Christian: In your life as an athlete, what was your darkest moment?

Salman: My darkest moment was when I made my debut in 2001 for the international team and in 2002 after the World Cup, I got injured in a training camp. I got a knee injury where my ligament got broken and that was the day they were going to select the team for 2002 Commonwealth Games.

Every four years, you would have the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and World Cup, so it was that year. That’s a very busy year of hockey with mega-events, so I was really looking forward to it, and my career was in just starting. And that day I was got injured.

Every four years, you would have the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and World Cup. It was that year, and I was really looking forward to it. And that day I was got injured.

Then during that recovery period, when I was in rehab for my knee injury, I broke my ankle. So it was all together and it was in the early stage of my career and it took a lot of hard work to get there. And suddenly it all came in and in that year, I still remember that period with injury after injury.

That was the darkest moment, missing those important events. I was a youngster in the team, so I was still looking for a permanent spot in the team and I got injured so I was on my bed injured for around six months.

I couldn’t do anything because my knee injury and then my ankle injury and it was on the same leg. So it was just totally blocked for everything and that was really the darkest moment, missing that year, I have been working hard for, for so long.

That was really the darkest moment, missing that year, I have been working hard for, for so long.

Christian: Yes, I believe that. How did you recover from that moment?

Salman: I actually didn’t get much support from the Federation back home. There is no proper system about medical care of players and I wasn’t taken care from any officials. So when I came home, I did a lot of my personal research about injuries.

I would really like to say, that my father really helped me, he took me to the best doctor in the city. I got surgery and that’s how I started my recovery. I also got my private treatment and I had my family support, which was the motivation for not giving up.

And because it was in 2002 and in 2004, the Olympics were coming, so that was in my head and that was part of my recovery as well. I had my self-belief and commitment that I will get out of it as soon as possible and during that, I was still watching the videos of other national teams they were playing.

It was in 2002 and in 2004, the Olympics were coming, so that was in my head and I had my self-belief and commitment that I will get out of it as soon as possible.

I still got myself into hockey even by being on the bed and injured and not training, So I was mentally all in hockey and that was my plan. I also followed the plan of my doctor and physician a hundred percent. So that’s how I recovered.

Christian: So you did it all by yourself?

Salman: Yes, actually I did it all by myself. No one of the officials asked me how I was doing during that period, which was hurtful. But I knew it already and so I really wasn’t waiting for it and I said I’m not going to waste my time because it’s very crucial.

Initially, I didn’t know that in rehab my ankle would also get broken, so I was really very motivated, and I did it by myself. My father and my mother really helped me.

She cooked some nice food for me when she got my diet plan of what I had to do. With the knee injury you also have to be careful of your body weight that you don’t put on too much. So I would say that my parents were really there for me, and they were my real doctors around me.

Christian: You broke your ankle in 2002, when did you make it back to the national team then?

Salman: I went through this injury and then, I came back the next year straight up in 2003. At first I was the second goalie for I would say three years, from 2001 to 2003.

It was very annoying for me, but I had my belief that one day I will make it. And even being selected as a second goalie, it took me three years and in 2000, I was almost going to decide that I’m wasting my time because the top two were really still there.

I always believed that I have a place there, but I’m not getting it because it was just those two goalies. The thought was that they would always be selected and even though I was a youngster on the team.

It took three years and in 2000, it was Sydney Olympics training camp and I spoke with my one of the world record holder in field hockey. He scored the most goals in field hockey, he was my mentor and I always spoke to him.

I told him that I was really done, I was wasting my time and I was not getting older. I told him that I wanted to do something in my future and I don’t see anything in it.

He encouraged me and told me to be patient. He said my time would come as I was a good athlete and goalkeeper and I was to just fight and not give up. I still remember those words and that was also in my head when I was on the bed with my injury.

The very next year, I made a comeback as a second goalie of the national team. Then again, some changes were there in the coaching staff and I missed two tournaments in that year. Even after being selected, they dropped me again.

Then 2004 was the Olympics and I didn’t see anything happening, but I was still working. I had the belief that if something is to happen, it will happen. The very next year, there was again a big change in the whole Federation and they hired that coach Roelant Oltmans.

I still remember I was travelling to Karachi. It was like one-and-a-half-hour flight from my city Lahore, but I was going on the train. It took 12 hours on the train.

I was with two of my friends, and I told them that this is the last chance I was going to take and if I was not selected this time, I would stop hockey and make my career somewhere else. I would start my studies in something. After that, I played until 2013.

Then 2004 I was travelling to the training camp with two of my friends, and I told them that this is the last chance I was going to take and if I was not selected this time, I would stop hockey and make my career somewhere else. After that, I played until 2013.

Christian: Was Roelant the one who selected you?

Salman: Roelant was one, but with him, he brought Ronald Jansen, the very best goalkeeper of his era from the Netherlands. He was a goalie trainer.

When they came in it was totally different, these people were totally from a different culture. The first time when Ronald [Jansen] came and all four of us keepers, including those two top keepers started training with him, it was very new for us to have that professional goalie training.

We were being trained by our legendary, Sahid Ali Khan, but on the modern techniques in those times, this was new. So it was really a big change for the goalkeepers, and I enjoyed it. I was so free-minded.

I had that feeling around me that if I will perform, I will get a chance. They were these kinds of people and they were making the best combination for the Olympics. Their job was also on the line, so they had to perform.

I had that feeling around me that if I will perform, I will get a chance.

I felt that really nice professional atmosphere around me when these people were around and it gave me all the freedom to show what I can do, that really helped. And Ronald Jansen actually had a big influence on my big career, because of all the things he taught me.

For many years it really helped me and I would say that that was the turning point of my career that those people came in there and from there I really picked it up well.

His best moment

Christian: What was your best moment?

Salman: My best moment, that is very difficult to answer, but I would say that I had two. To choose one would not be fair to these two. I think one of the best moment for me was when I entered in the Olympic Village for the first time. I looked around and I was like, “Wow, a dream come true. This is what I was working for and now I’m here.”

And I don’t when being on the pitch, but just when I entered I had the feeling. When I’m talking about this, I still have the image in my mind; that picture of how that was. I was just 22 when I was there. I was young, I was full of passion to perform and I got the chance to do so, I was in Olympic Village and I was so happy. That was really a big one for me.

I still have the image in my mind; that picture of how that was. I was just 22 when I was there. I was young, I was full of passion to perform and I got the chance to do so.

The other moment was in 2010 Asian Games, in the semi-final when we won Korea on penalty strokes and those times there were plenty strokes, now there were shootouts. That 2010 year was a very strange year for Pakistan hockey; a lot of ups and downs.

In February/March we played World Cup in India and we finished twelfth. That was the very first time in the history of Pakistan hockey, having a rich history in the past, so that was very embarrassing. After that, we all seniors decided that we were going to retire and we announced our retirement.

And again, I don’t know what influence I have with these Dutch coaches, but later on a couple of months before Asian Games, the Federation again hired a Dutch coach, Michel van den Heuvel. In those days, I was playing in the Netherlands for the league and he contacted me and he said that he wanted me back. He told me he was the new coach.

I agreed, but told him that I was contracted with my club, so I didn’t have much time. However, he said that they would fix it because Asian Games are important. Winning Asian Games was going to give us straight qualification for 2012 Olympics. He told me he spoke with other boys and they were all ready, so I said yes.

That was a very important tournament and in the semi-final we were on plenty strokes. It was on sudden death and again, that top scorer in the world, Sohail Abbas, he took the penalty stroke and it was blocked. I was walking to the goal and he was coming back and I tapped his shoulder.

He was just walking back on the 23-meter line with his head down. I was standing in the goal and I was thinking that there was this big legend. I did ritual to get ready and I was telling God that he doesn’t deserve it and he should not do this to him. I begged God to do something. I didn’t know what, but I just wanted something to happen because I did not think he should be blamed for all of this.

There was this big legend and I begged God to do something, because he doesn’t deserve it and he should not be blamed for all of this.

Korea took the penalty and they couldn’t score, then we scored and they couldn’t score the next one either, so we won. And then later on, we won the final. That was the biggest medal in my career. We heard the national anthem for the first time when we were standing on the podium.

Usually, we would hear the national anthem in the lineup, but this time, the first time in my life, I heard the national anthem of Pakistan, standing on the podium, looking at my flag going up, having a hand on my heart, gold medal around my neck. Those two were like just goosebumps for me.

Christian: I believe that. I saw parts of the penalty shootout. It’s on YouTube. I saw that one and then I saw that it was sudden death and then it went on and on and on. It was pretty dramatic.

Salman: We all were crying after that.

Christian: I saw that some players were sitting on the pitch and praying.

Salman: It was very important for us. So it was all just together and it happens. If you play a team game that some of the cleats performances get prominent, but I would say that it was absolutely a team effort.

Christian: And then, I don’t want to spoil your best moment, but what happened towards the London 2012 Olympics? You were not at the London Olympic Games?

Salman: Yes, I could have added it to my darkest moment. They called me for the training camp, and I was busy with my club league. I only played one tournament, and Michel, the coach, said that my performance was not that bad and that I could go back to the League, get my shape back and I would be on my team until the Olympics.

But again with some circumstances, within the coaching staff and some Pakistani staff, I don’t know exactly, but they sacked Michel. So again, the Pakistani staff came in and they called me for 2012 Olympics training camp. I was in the Netherlands playing the League and they said they needed me to come to training camp. Straight away I said yes.

I was in good shape, I was fit, I was training well and after four days and they just dropped me with some strange reasons that I’m not fit and all of that. But the reasons behind it, I prefer not to talk about it, but it was certainly not a good moment. But later on, the whole world saw how the keeper of Pakistan performed in 2012.

Her advice to a younger Salman Akbar

Christian: So if you could travel back in time 10 or 15, maybe 20 years, what advice would you give a younger Salman?

Salman: I would give a lot of advice. First of all, I would really like to advise myself to have more education. Because I was 17 years when I started playing hockey, and in school I was just told to be the goalkeeper, but we never trained. Some match comes in, we have a goalie and we have some players, that was the team.

Really, I started playing when I was 17 and then I was 19 when I made my debut. So in just two years. I didn’t play at the junior level, no provision level, no division, straight away I got a chance in the national team.

So I couldn’t get much time to finish my education, which I always miss until now. During my career, I’ve I had many moments that I really felt that I was missing something and that is one of the things that I will advise myself to complete my education.

Second piece of advice to myself is, to make friends very wisely, and that’s what I experienced if I go back in the past. I was not good at that. I had some bad experiences because my choice was not good and I would really advise myself to make friends very wisely.

The advice to myself is, to make friends very wisely, and that’s what I experienced. I was not good at that. I had some bad experiences because my choice was not good.

There are two kinds of people in your life. The ones you know, and the other ones are friends. So you always should keep the difference between these two kinds of people and thought whoever I know is my friend. Friendship is a different word so I couldn’t get that thin line in it and I had some bad experiences with that.

One of the most important thing that I would advise myself is to spend more time with your parents and siblings, even if you have a busy career. When you are young, make time for them. I miss that massively and I miss that part of my life and even now I travel a lot and all that and every time I think I really missed that. I had time.

One of the most important thing that I would advise myself is to spend more time with your parents and siblings, even if you have a busy career.

But I was young, I was training and I was so happy. I was on the national team, I was in papers everywhere and I was performing. When I said that I needed rest I was told that I had to go places.

I’ve missed a lot of family functions, but I miss them now and I say to myself many times, that I was wrong. That is the suggestion I will really give to myself back in the past.

Christian: We always take it for granted, but the time doesn’t come back, right?

Salman: Exactly. That’s why I said it’s my advice to myself.

Christian: And then I wanted to touch on you said choose your friends wisely, but there is this quote that ‘you are the average of the five people you surround yourself with’. So the friends you chose did lead you in a different direction or they took advantage of you?

Salman: Both, actually, I would say. In that time, I used to think they are my friends, but I think they were the people I knew. A person like me, I’m a person like I’m giving my own self or not at all. There were people that they used to tell others that I was their friend. I would be at their wedding or birthday party or having dinner with them and they would be telling people about me being their friend.

So we are big and all that and I didn’t like that. I thought, “What are they doing? They’re not taking me as who I am.” They were taking me as Salman the goalkeeper and they were showing it off and I didn’t like it.

Then in professional life, especially in 2012 when I was not selected, there is one person, who was very close to me and we shared almost our whole career together, even we shared rooms for a number of years. Later on, I came to know that he had an influence that I was not  selected.

There is one person, who was very close to me and later on, I came to know that he had an influence that I was not  selected.

I don’t know what it was, but I made a mistake to give my everything to him, so he used it at that point. I wanted to be there, but because of my mistakes, I would say, trusting the wrong people, that’s one of the reasons that I miss my third Olympics. That’s why I say choose people very wisely. Don’t give your all so quickly to anyone.

His success habits

Christian: What are the habits that make you a successful person or athlete?

Salman: It’s all about what goals you set and then you have to put yourself into your goal and accordingly, you have to make your habits. If I wouldn’t have been a professional, my habits would be totally different.

It’s all about the goals you have and accordingly, you have to make your habits.

When I was in the national team, and I wore that green blazer for the very first time. I was travelling with the national team and I was just 19 then and at the airports people recognizing you and saying, “Oh see. There’s Pakistan hockey team going.” I said, “Yes, this is what I am here for and I can do a lot of good in it.”

I had that feeling right from the first day when my school friend said that I should be a goalie. First time I was a goalie and when I play a game and I saw everything in front of me. I thought that this was something I could easily do. But then when you come to the highest level, everything counts, my sleeping hours, my diet, my rest time, my training time and everything around training.

There were not many professional people in Pakistan, but I used to research. When I used to go abroad with my national team I used to see players of other countries, European countries and I used to always wonder why they were big and we are not? Why are they so muscular? What was it?

I used to see players of other countries, and I always wondered why they were big and we are not? Why are they so muscular? What was it?

I used to see what they are eating in their dining halls and from there, I picked things and then I start talking with many people about what it is and I have learned a lot about it and that’s how I mold myself into it.

If I was not into hockey, I think I would be the laziest person. I love to sleep long hours and I love to wake up late, but with the training, I always have to wake up. Actually, I’m not a morning person, but I used to wake up early in the morning for the training, to go to the gym for work, even now. But now it’s in my system.

His morning routine

Christian: That leads exactly into the next question. What is your morning routine?

Salman: When I was playing at the highest level, my morning routine was very planned. I used to wake up early around 7:00 or 7:30 and I had a small breakfast, like some fluid and some fruit.

Then I’d go for a run, to the gym or do some physical training, then come back early, have a very healthy, calculated breakfast again. Now I can say, I actually cheated many times. Then I’d have some rest and again go for hockey training, in the afternoon, come back and have some rest.

I would also do some analysis of different teams all on my own. I would get the videos from other resources or any of the staff member of the national team, and keeping in mind, planning my own training, that I came back from this tour from abroad.

This is what was going on in hockey. These are the changes that have been coming in, and as a goalie this is what I should train. I would really like to thank and mention to the people around me at my club level, there in my city and they were really well full of knowledge about hockey at that level and they really helped me a lot and trained me accordingly.

So that was usually my morning routine, which was very, very disciplined. I would say in playing days and while I was working, I don’t compromise on my goals. I don’t compromise on my work. I don’t compromise on my training still because I think it’s my body memory now.

My morning routine was very disciplined. I don’t compromise on my goals. I don’t compromise on my work. I don’t compromise on my training.

Now I’m not at that level playing, but I’m still playing. I play with the same passion, I play with the same routine, with the same mindset and now I work and I love my work. I’m so passionate about my work that I want to give what I learned.

I’m not saying that that is right, but I feel a responsibility to transfer it and it gives me so much good energy and satisfaction. I sleep so well after doing my work, so yes, that’s nice and I took all those what I learned professionally as an athlete also. I’m bringing it in my work now, so I’m really enjoying it very much.

How to prepare for important moments

Christian: Really cool. So how do you prepare for important moments?

Salman: As I told you, in 2004 I worked with Ronald Jansen. He told me a very good thing. I still keep it in my mind and I use it. He said that I should play a game one night before you play a real game.

That means that when you go to bed imagine you are playing the next day and make some good pictures that you can imagine the movements. Make it a tight game, make it hard for yourself and your team. Perform not only yourself but just make a nice positive picture in your mind and sleep with it.

That really helped me, and to be honest there were many times, when things happened in the match, as I imagined the night before sleeping. The exact moment was happening because as the goalie, you get the whole vision of the pitch and that was happening and I could say that I imagined it the night before.

There were many times, when things happened in the match, as I imagined the night before sleeping. The exact moment was happening.

I know what’s going to happen and what can happen and I prepared myself accordingly in a fraction of second and it absolutely helped. This is one of the things I still use.

And on game day, I avoid any distractions, I didn’t read the news. I hated reading news, newspapers, internet social media on the game day. I didn’t do it. I still don’t do it. I didn’t like it at all. It’s a distraction on the game day because it’s a team sport. I play a team sport.

Many times we played a game, no matter at what level, and after the game people are coming to me and saying how well or excellent I played. I always look at them and wondered if they realized that we lost the game? Because what they are saying is not important for me. That’s what I learned from this sport that it’s a team sport, it’s not an individual sport.

It’s not me, it’s us. It’s not I, it’s we. So I always preferred that I don’t mind having a bad performance, but I do mind that my team lost. I do take care of it; I do focus on it that my team should win. I have a role in it and I should play that role to the best of my abilities.

It’s not me, it’s us. It’s not I, it’s we. I don’t mind having a bad performance, but I do mind that my team lost.

Christian: So what I hear is preparation so you won’t get enough sleep and also visualization, right?

Salman: Visualization is actually very important.

And what is also important, and of course, it depends on what time is your game is, and before the game, your eating habits counts a lot. And then, at least two to four hours before the game, I would say that you should not be in the bed or have a lazy routine. Listen to some music or just a little walk or just go to any other roommate, any other teammates’ room, just talk, chill, some jokes, just freshen up and forget for a while about the game.

Then when you start packing your stuff to go to the pitch, then at that moment again, everything close, and the focus is on one thing. That’s the game, that’s it. Remember the plan as much as possible and totally focusing and keep reminding yourself that this is the plan. This is what we got to do.

Christian: Then, for example, you mentioned penalties earlier. So the moment of a penalty shoot-out, how do you prepare yourself for that, or especially the moment that you mentioned, it’s sudden death, you are one goal down, you know if you don’t keep, then your team is out. How do you prepare that?

Salman: Goalkeeping has a big mental part to it. It’s not only technique, talent or hard work. The mental part is a big thing.

It’s not only technique, talent or hard work. The mental part is a big thing.

First of all, I would say that it comes with experience. It doesn’t come straight away. There are few people who are very blessed who have that straight away, even when they are young.

But it’s all about the moment. When you are there, you have to make sure that you are there in your hundred-percent abilities, instead of thinking about the situation.

When I see that video again, I am standing there, I don’t think that I have to stop this because otherwise we’re going to lose. My thing was because one night before we had a video session and the coach showed me some penalty strokes of Korean players.

In my head, I thought that number four is here, I thought about what I saw, what it is and what it can be and that I can do my best. I focus a hundred percent on the situation in front of me, instead of focusing on the circumstances of the what can happen. Well, it still didn’t happen, so it can be anything.

That’s how I prepared myself and in many situations, many pressure games. I played against India in Pakistan, in India, with packed stadiums and all that. I never ever look at it and never ever listen to it because for me, most importantly is what’s happening in front of me on the pitch.

I never give this extra pressure to myself that I’m representing a country. I’m so proud to represent a country at the highest level, but when I’m playing, it’s never in my head, never ever because I think that that’s going to be an extra pressure I’m going to take on my own self.

When I was young sitting on the bench, in packed stadiums playing against India, I was so fascinated, “Wow, this is amazing!” But when I started playing against them, I never had this kind of things in my mind because I think these small details can really make a big difference in your own performance. The devil is in the details.

How to overcome setbacks

Christian: How do you overcome setbacks?

Salman: Being able to overcome setbacks is very important part of an athlete. I saw many very talented athletes who were performing well, but they had setbacks and they totally vanished.

I saw many very talented athletes who were performing well, but they had setbacks and they totally vanished.

How I overcome setbacks is, I always sit and do an analysis of my own self, instead of thinking or blaming others for that. First, I start always from my own self to see what I did I do wrong. Was I cheating in my diet, was I not sleeping well or training enough. Was my focus somewhere else or maybe I was out of my box. Maybe I was out of my box and thinking now I’m so big, I can do it.

I always started with myself and you always know what you did wrong. You can’t lie to your own self. You can wear a mask and pretend, but deep down inside you, you know the truth, no matter what. Even criminals know that what they did. So I never wear the mask.

You can’t lie to your own self, deep down inside you, you know the truth, no matter what.

I’m very critical to my own self and that always helped me to get out of the setback. Then I see videos and I talked to very few, relevant people. I don’t talk to everyone, because when you are performing, everyone comes to you and tell you how good you are and you are doing great.

But when you don’t do well, everyone will tell you, that you performed badly, but no one will tell you how to come out of it. The more people you will talk with, the more you will get confused. So I always spoke only with relevant people and ask for their advice on what I should do.

I never picked all the things. I always picked the things I felt that they fit in and they’re going to help me. I always used to speak a lot with my dad during my setbacks because he was always very critical of me. He hardly ever appreciated me in my whole career, I think.

Maybe two or three times in 13 years. Even when I was coming back home from a good  performance, he never said, “Well done.” He always told me that I could have done much better and he’s pointing out those situations I could have done better. He always told me “Be humble, put your head down and look at what you did wrong, instead of what all the team did wrong.” So that really helped me.

During my setbacks, I also used to talk with my mom a lot, just being her child needing some sympathies from her. That always helps, because we all are humans and that always gave me a lot of energy, and I always felt reborn. My mom always gave me the feeling that “You can do it. I know you will. The bad time will go away.”

And because she doesn’t know much about sports, she only used to watch my games on TV  until the national anthem. She always said, that that was the only time she can see my face, otherwise I’m wearing the helmet.

So during my setbacks, I always spoke to the most relevant people, my parents especially. To my father, because he was always really very critical of me, and to my mother to get that rebound feeling and hearing that this time will go away. She would tell me to just relax and ask me what I want to eat. So I relaxed and from there I start again. So this is how I used to come out of my setbacks.

Christian: It has worked for you.

Salman: Yes, absolutely.

His role model

Christian: Who’s your role model and why?

Salman: I don’t have a role model, I don’t believe in it. I’m inspired with by many athletes, but I don’t have any role model. Maybe it’s because of the way I started this sport. I never ever thought that I will come that far, this wasn’t my plan at all.

I’m inspired with by many athletes, but I don’t have a role model. I don’t believe in it.

When I was in school, it’s within our family routine that you study well, get the highest grades, get a great job, earn money and live the life. That’s the way we do it. My brother is a Chartered Accountant. He went to New Zealand and is now living there also. He went there and he broke a record of that University, a 29-year-old record, he got a scholarship, he got the highest grades. Now he’s a Chartered Accountant and he is earning massively.

Same with my sister. She broke the record in the university and got a scholarship. So this was my atmosphere at home and that’s how I started sports.

Initially, my father didn’t support me. He asked me what I was doing. He told me that I have to study because that is what we did in our family, but when he saw that my name is coming in newspapers and he said, “Oh, what are you doing?” There were many times that my mom used to lie to my dad that I was gone to study at my friends’ home. But actually, my mom knew that I was going to training.

So that’s why maybe I never looked at this sport. But the more I became a professional athlete and I looked at other sports, even in my own sport, I’m very much inspired with many athletes.

The best advice he has received

Christian: What is the best advice you received and who gave it to you?

Salman: The best advice is always in the past, iso I can even choose the advice my friend gave me that said to be a goalie. And then when I was starting that guy said told me that I should not stop hockey because I can go further.

That were all good advices, but overall I think the things my parents told me are the best pieces of advice for me. My mom always tells me that bad things will go away and that she knows her son will do it.

My dad told me that I should just be humble, put my head down, no matter what, even if you have success, you still have a long way to go, it’s just the start.

I think those things kept me going. What my parents always advised me, those things got me moving and motivated. and they really lifted me up when I was down. And they really pulled me down a little bit when I was growing too much out of hands. That advice I still use now in my whole life.

I did use in my career also, even while playing in the goal. Just a small example of how I take that advice of my dad and how it helped me to be humble and keep my feet on the ground that even of that plenty strokes thing, I stopped it. I didn’t feel that “Wow, I did something.”

I was so happy, I was crying because of happiness, but I said only won the semi-final. The final is still to come and even after the final, yes, we celebrated, but after the Asian Games also, I said, that this was a great achievement, but I still have to go further. Everyone was happy, that we got the medal, but then what’s next?

So I think the best advice I received from my parents and there were a lot of them and I still use them, those are the best advices you can ever have in the life.

A typical training day in the life of a professional field hockey player

Christian: How does a typical training day in a field hockey players’ life look like?

Salman: I would say is very tough and calculated because it’s not an easy sport. It’s one of the fastest sports on the earth. The daily routine is that you start in the morning with a little bit of physical training. You have to go to the gym to keep your fitness level.

A training day is very tough and calculated because it’s not an easy sport. It’s one of the fastest sports on the earth.

You get your personal program every time, you get your homework in your off-seasons. Goalkeepers always have a different program, as compared to the striker or the corner specialist.

Generally, it’s just like in the morning you have to do some gym session or fitness session, then you take some rest, you have to take your diet, then you go to the technical part, which is on the training ground.

You do some drills, you play hockey and then later on in the evening, again, you come to your diet part, you do your homework, which is your personal program and you have to watch and analyze some videos.

So it’s a packed day, even during the off-season when you’re at home. It’s not that you only play one tournament and then it’s done and you can have few weeks off. And then before the tournament, you get together for the preparation and from there you start. You will be far behind the other teams if you do it that way.

That’s why you always have to follow the program and one or two days of rest are fine. It depends on how much travel you did, how tough the tournament was and how long the tournament was. So after one or two days, back to the routine, back to the office, following the same program.

So when we go to the training camps for the next assignment, we don’t start from the bottom, we start from the level from where we left. So yes, it’s a very busy daily routine for the field hockey player.

Christian: And then out of interest, you said you get homework where you have to do video analysis by yourself?

Salman: Yes, absolutely. We get the clips of the videos. It’s like I’m goalkeeper, so I used to get the clips of plenty corners, circle penetrations, their build-up, how they press and these very technical things. Every player gets his own files to watch and that’s how we worked and that’s very helpful. It keeps you into the game. Everyone does training, but this video analysis is so important.

I felt that it always kept me in the game, and I was full of information. I knew what I could expect in the next tournament or from the next opponent and accordingly, we were training. That’s the most professional way you can train yourself.

Christian: And you are a veteran player, so you have more than 250 matches under your belt?

Salman: Two hundred and thirty.

Christian: Two hundred and thirty? Now you also have a Goalkeeper Academy, where you give all the knowledge you have to students, right?

Salman: Yes, I have my own Goalkeeper Academy called SGK Academy in the Netherlands, I’m running it myself and it’s quite successfully. I’m working five days in different clubs in the country and with youth and senior goalkeepers.

Because I spend almost half of my life being a goalie, and I think this is the only thing I know. That’s why one of the advice I would give to myself 20 years ago is to have some more education. But still, I’m very happy. I’m doing what I know and still learning about it because every sport is changing quickly every day.

Sports is getting scientific and it’s so interesting for me to not only keep those techniques or ideology when I was playing. Keeping myself updated keeps me motivated to learn more and I love to learn more new things.

I’m doing what I know and still learning about it because every sport is changing quickly every day. Keeping myself updated keeps me motivated to learn more and I love to learn more new things.

It’s going very successful and I do personal training also there, five times a week in different clubs, with their youth goalies and their senior goalies. That’s actually the work I’m doing nowadays, besides playing for a club in the Netherlands.

Christian: That’s really cool.

Salman: And I’m a national goalkeeper trainer of Japan also. So that’s my new international assignment. It started in 2018, so it’s also very challenging. So far, it’s going well. It is really interesting to work with the Japanese goalies. That’s my whole work thing I’m doing nowadays.

Christian: And that is towards the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games?

Salman: Exactly. Initially, the plan was to qualify for the Olympics by winning Asian Games, which actually happened.

Christian: Congratulations.

Salman:  And Japan won for the gold medal for the first time in the history in a dramatic way. I would say, the best finals of a decade. They were five-two down, nine and a half minutes left. Then they made it five-five, only one-and-a-half-minute left. They were six-five down and only 50 seconds left, they made six-six. So it was a very massive final.

Christian: Nerve-racking.

Salman: Yes, and then they won in the shootout. So we got success in that and was I proud to be part of that staff team and now still going on, preparing for 2020. It’s really going great.

Christian: That’s really cool.

His interview nomination

Christian: Do you want to nominate someone to be interviewed?

Salman: Yes, I would like to nominate Jaap Stockmann, the former goalkeeper of Netherlands because I think that he has so much to tell to the world. His career’s full of success. He was one of the best goalkeepers of his era because when I left that was the time he came in the picture.

I saw him performing, and I to date, I didn’t see such a stable and a good goalie in International Hockey. Belgium and Irish goalies are doing pretty well.

But still so far, after Guus Vogels from the Netherlands, Arnold from Germany a long time ago, I think Jaap Stockmann should come up.

He has disappeared. I don’t know where he is, but it would be so good to see him talking about his career. I would love to nominate him and would love to hear his story.

Where can you find Salman Akbar

Christian: That’s really cool. Where can people find you?

Salman: People can find me on Facebook, my own page with the Salman Akbar, former goalkeeper and captain Pakistan hockey team. You can find me on Twitter @Salman Akbar 12. You can find me on LinkedIn Salman Rowley and you can visit my website

Salman Akbar’s social profiles

Facebook profile

Facebook page





You can get a lot of information on the website and you can contact me directly there. And that’s how you can easily find me and you can email me salmanhockey321@hotmail.com and if you visit my website there, you can contact me through my website email.

Christian: Fitted into your busy days with Japan hockey and the clubs and your own career?

Salman: Yes, I have to. You have to stay in contact and nowadays, the world is totally different and again, I do very relevant social media things. I don’t just do like other people do. I don’t have time for that, but when it’s relevant and, of course, something very important, I like to and I always do it.

I do watch what’s going on in social media with sports and athletes. I read things and all that, but not a real user of telling people today, “This is what I eat, I’m going to training, I’ve been training for something.” No, not into it at all.

Christian: Salman, thanks so much for your time. That was great.

Salman: Thank you very much and yes, feelings are mutual and thanks very much once again for having me. Have a great day.