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“All my goals and dreams are connected with hockey.” Sezim’s path from a street rink in the village to international championships.

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This is the story of 18-year-old Sezim Salamatova, a female ice hockey player from Kyrgyzstan, a developing country in Central Asia. Hockey became the meaning of life for Sezim and opened up a whole new world beyond her native village.

Sezim Salamatova.

Sezim learned to skate because of her father’s initiative: he created an outdoor skating rink in their native village of Otradnoye in the Issyk-Kul region of Kyrgyzstan. At 13, Sezim picked up a hockey stick for the first time. Four years later, she became an offensive player on Kyrgyzstan’s first national women’s hockey team.

“In the village, no one talks about becoming a champion because it seems impossible for us,” says Sezim.

In 2017, Sezim’s father, Salamat Abdrakhmanov, created a women’s hockey team after noticing the girls’ interest in skating and their competitive spirit. He notes that he enjoyed coaching girls because they are organized and disciplined.

As both father and coach, Salamat saw his daughter’s passion for hockey when she competed on the ice with her older brother, who also played the sport.

“I bought my son the hockey equipment, and they were constantly arguing over who was going to wear it,” recalls Sezim’s father.

But the path has its difficulties. Sezim remembers how cold it was to train on winter evenings at the skating rink.

“In general, practicing in the village was very hard. When we put our helmets on, our ears would completely freeze, so we had to play with hats on.”

Sezim Salamatova

The homemade rink, which was poured into the garden of Sezim’s house, did not have special boards. The absence of such boards became a problem for the team, as they are tacitly called ‘an additional player’ in the game. It was hard for the team to skate on ice rinks with boards because the girls were not used to them. The team’s coach notes that this problem affects their results to this day.

Sezim’s mother, Nazgul Bayalieva, was against hockey and, as she admits, remains in the same position to this day.

“Hockey is an injury-prone and tough sport, I am afraid for Sezim,” says Nazgul.

Although the athlete had no serious injuries, seeing her teammates wearing casts or getting hit in the face by a puck scared Sezim’s mom.

Trips and competitions

The best memories for Sezim were the constant trips to neighboring cities for games and competitions. The girls had at least five visits each winter, where they would stay in hotels and, according to Sezim, ‘organized dance parties’ that brought the team closer together.

Sezim in her home village on a homemade ice rink.

However, it was the hardest time for Sezim’s mom, who was left alone with a two-year-old child and had to take care of the household chores, farm, and all other responsibilities by herself. Sezim has two brothers who also played hockey and traveled to competitions with their father.

“They stopped paying attention to our family; only hockey was present in their life. Then I told them to give it up. I don’t need such a thing. I asked them if hockey would feed the family in the future,” says Sezim’s mom.”

From the very beginning of the team’s establishment, Sezim’s father urged the Kyrgyz Ice Hockey Federation to register their team as the country’s official women’s national team. However, this request didn’t go any further than promises for a long time.

At that time, Sezim already realized that she could not live without hockey and feared there might not be a national team at all, given the empty promises. Meanwhile, the Kyrgyz men’s hockey team traveled abroad for competitions at least twice a year and had all the resources for the team’s development.

Abu-Dhabi

In March 2023, Sezim came home from school and saw her mom’s happy face. She had been invited to a hockey seminar in Abu Dhabi.

Her parents spent their own money to buy the tickets, and Sezim was about to fly abroad for the first time in her life. It was a big celebration for her family, friends, and the whole village.

“The first night after arriving in Abu Dhabi, before we went to sleep, we thought about how life is finally beautiful and that we are very grateful.”

The seminar in Abu Dhabi opened up a new world of hockey and more for Sezim. The athlete appreciated the videotaped training sessions, which allowed her to analyze mistakes visually.

Sezim during the game.

However, the most significant part of this trip was not the training or the beautiful Abu Dhabi. It was the hockey stick.

“I had a hockey stick, but at one of the practices, the UAE women’s national team coach said it was too heavy. She later gave me a new hockey stick that I absolutely loved.”

The stick seemed to symbolize the trip and encouraged Sezim to practice even harder. In a sad and quiet voice, Sezim said that after a while she broke the stick during one of the practices.

The athlete’s dad explains that the fear of breaking an expensive hockey stick and the inability to buy a new one prevents female hockey players from making the hard shots that are critically needed in the game.

International championship in Thailand

With no time to rest after the busy Abu Dhabi trip, Sezim and her team immediately began preparations for the Asian and Oceania Championship in Thailand. In 2023, after seven years of requests and expectations, the team was finally declared the official national team just before the championship. They finished penultimate out of eight teams, only beating Kuwait.

National Women’s National Ice Hockey Team of Kyrgyzstan.

“In general, when they play someone else’s anthem at the end of the game, it hurts. You avoid looking at people’s faces and just look down,” Sezim explains.

Sezim and her teammates promised not to cry after losses anymore. However, it was impossible to hold back the tears.

“The federation told us that if we had more practices, we could have been champions. We played well without enough practice, but it could have been even better with proper preparation for the games,” says Sezim.

The Kyrgyz Ice Hockey Federation is the only body that is fully responsible for organizing and ensuring the quality of training processes for the women’s national team.

Kyrgyzstan’s women’s national team

Sezim and four other hockey players who had the opportunity to train in the capital spent six months preparing for the Asian and Oceania Championship, held in Bishkek in 2024.

They woke up at five in the morning for training, which they had to pay for themselves. Additionally, the girls covered the cost of a taxi because it was their only option to reach the rink by 6:00 am.

Salamat, Sezim’s dad, was not invited to the championship as a coach, member of the coaching staff, or even as a guest.

Despite strong support from fans in the stands and beyond, this championship was a disappointment for Sezim. She admits to going through a period of self-criticism because she ‘expects a lot from herself, but it still doesn’t work out.’

Sezim faces a significant challenge in hockey — she gets extremely nervous before games. This anxiety causes her to lose control over her legs and feel unsure of herself on the ice. Despite excelling in speed, skating, and puck possession during practice, she struggles to meet her coaches’ high expectations during crucial moments.

“It was so embarrassing in front of my dad,’ Sezim confides. ‘He works in another city and came to every game. Yet, there I was on the ice, performing like I was in a ballet instead of playing real hockey.”

Sezim’s life now and plans for the future

Nowadays, the women’s national team has no regular practices. The Federation organizes them only shortly before championships, without consistent training.

Sezim is studying psychology at the Bishkek State University. She has special reasons for choosing her future career.

“I’ve been thinking about becoming a sports psychologist. I don’t see myself becoming a coach in the future, but I want to help athletes psychologically,” says Sezim.

Sezim has often faced challenges dealing with anxiety before games without the support of a specialist. She’s uncertain about the future of sports psychology as a profession in Kyrgyzstan, but she firmly believes it’s exactly what athletes need.

“Hockey is the most interesting part of my life right now,” Sezim reflects. ‘It has helped me overcome my shyness and become more outgoing, but only on the ice so far.”

Despite her athletic progress, Sezim sometimes questions her potential. Yet, she cannot imagine her life without a hockey stick, pucks, and ice.

“All my goals and dreams are related to hockey,” states Sezim.

Her biggest dream now is to study and play hockey abroad. She actively seeks information about women’s hockey clubs in other countries.

As her coach, Sezim’s dad believes that with the right resources, she has potential not only as a hockey player but also as a future coach. Unfortunately, both aspirations are challenging to achieve without the support of the right people.

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In this article: #Championships, #WomenInSport, #Womenshockey, grow the game, Hockey, Ice Hockey in Asia, Kyrgyzstan Hockey

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