When the heat is on, it’s mind over matter for athletes

Posted on by KNBT

MUMBAI: The Asian Games start on Saturday and all the effort that athletes from across the continent have put into their preparations over the past many months –in some cases years — will be put to strenuous test in a matter of just two weeks. Spectators will watch many unknown athletes punch way above their weight to bring about sensational upsets, and in some cases see hot-favourites develop cold feet, leaving their followers stunned.

It is the latter situation that is every athlete’s worst nightmare. Nevertheless, they have help at hand these days, thanks largely to the rapid progress that sports science has made. They have coaches who are working relentlessly in order to help them polish their skills, and off the field they have an army of personnel at their disposal including nutritionists, physiotherapists, masseurs and strength & conditioning specialists to get them ready for D-Day.

Another key member to have joined this entourage is the sports psychologist, given how much the outcome of a contest is decided in the mind. Any number of athletes have found out that no amount of slogging will help them win a medal if they are not fully prepared mentally.

Mugdha Bavare, a sports psychologist, who has been working with top athletes from across a host of disciplines over the years, will be travelling to Jakarta for the Asiad as a consultant with the Olympic Gold Quest. Although she did not identify who the athletes she will be working with are, someone like archer Deepika Kumari, who won gold at the Salt Lake City World Cup in June, was on record recently explaining the sort of contribution Bavare has made to her game.

Bavare, who has been pursuing the profession for over 12 years, spoke to TOI about the kind of importance that is being attached to mental conditioning these days. “Individuals and teams have come to recognise the importance of being in the best frame of mind to tackle various complex situations that are going to arise during the course of a contest,” she says.

“There are several things that have to be taken into account when athletes come for training. It generally involves getting a measure of their confidence, concentration, focus and anxiety levels. Then, I try to understand how they react to things like success, failure etc. Every athlete is a different individual and I prepare a plan accordingly,” she explains.

Bavare insists that mental conditioning should become part of every aspiring athlete’s regular training schedule and not be the preserve of only an elite few. “I have worked with some top athletes and am happy with the level of awareness they show. But, it is important for sports associations to realise that sports psychology should be made part of even budding athletes. Once their mind is trained to tackle different situations confidently, you will see a sharp rise in the level of performance,” she insists.

Someone like top shuttler PV Sindhu has endured a string of failures in finals in the past couple of years, and like her there are many others who struggle to climb the summit. So, is the mind’s tricky ways at work here? Bavare is reluctant to hazard a guess, but says: “It is very difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons unless we work with them.”

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