Author: viswanathauthor



I am amazed at the instincts the animal kingdom has developed over the generations in order to survive. When millions of turtles hatch they are driven by intuition to make way hurriedly to the water to escape predators. Similarly on the plains of Africa millions of Wildebeests, Zebra mothers give birth to their calves at almost the same time- which increases the chances of their survival: since the predators cannot eat all the new born calves. These new born calves know how and from where they have to suckle, the moment they are born. There are many such examples of how animals have evolved in order to survive for self-preservation.

All living organisms have the basic instincts by which they satisfy their hunger, thirst, need to sleep and the urge to procreate. Animals including the most highly evolved human race have this basic instinct to survive and preserve, when their life is threatened: so, they either run away from the threat or fight the threat/challenge. This phenomenon is called as flight or fight response.

We are living in a competitive world and it is imperative that every human perform to the maximum in his own sphere of activity and it is needed by the individual to go for the kill to turn the result in his/her favour. While some run away from threat others go for the kill in order to avoid failure: this is what is called as killer instinct.

Killer instinct is very common in sports to the extent that we see players take some bold and adventurous decisions to win points and games. These decisions are seen as risky and illogical, but this is what the daring athletes do to spring a surprise on the opponent to overpower him/her.

Instinct is the tendency of an organism to make a complex and specific response to environmental stimulus without any reason. Instinct is also sometimes known as intuition/ sixth sense / gut feeling. Athletes have this innate ability to take certain decisions during crucial moments of a game that may defy logic but were very effective to the outcome.

Killer instinct can be seen as an ability to find an opening or chink in the opponent’s game to go ruthlessly after the opportunity. In a long rally the one who finds the opening, takes the initiative and attacks usually wins the point.

Athletes who possess the killer instinct are usually ambitious, committed and motivated – with a drive to come on top and emerge victorious. They hate to lose and want to win every time they compete.

The quality of killer instinct has been seen in many world class athletes in many sports. But the highest quality of killer instinct I have seen is from Roger Federer who is ruthless and brutal – in his own quiet manner, showing no mercy even against the weakest of opponents. Tennis stars of the opposite kind were John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors who were aggressive, vicious and instinctive killers on the tennis court. They hated to lose and would do anything to win: from holding up matches to distracting the opponents by their dubious ways.

Chuck Bednarik, a former American football player has said- you’ve to go to play with that killer instinct man. You have to hate that guy across from you, then after the game is over tell him what a nice guy he is: shake his hands, especially if you win.’

Chris Evert, a champion women’s tennis player once said- Now that I am losing some, I can see how tough I was – the killer instinct, the single mindedness, playing like a machine. Boy! That’s what made me a champion’   

On the contrary, I have seen players lose from winning positions lacking the killer instinct to finish off games and win matches.

I bring to you certain instances from the game of cricket were certain instinctive actions by certain players brought about historical results:-

  • India played Pakistan in the finals of the T-20 WC in South Africa in 2007: Pakistan chasing an Indian total of 158were 145/9 after 19 overs. To everyone’s surprise MS Dhoni asked Joginder Sharma to bowl the last over and soon Pakistan were all out for a total of 153 giving India a victory.
  • In the Nidahas trophy held in Bangladesh recently Dinesh Karthik’s 8 ball cameo helped India win. India needed 5 runs of the last ball and DK guided by his intuition instinctively hit the last ball over extra cover for six- any other batsman would have tried to heave the ball over long on or long off and missed
  • In a 50 over game versus India at Sharjah in 1985, Pakistan were required to score six runs of the last ball of a Chetan Sharma delivery and Javed Miandad their star batsman, as if to avoid an agonizing defeat against India, scored a six to give Pakistan victory.



Some people are known to tread aimlessly in their lives sometimes branding themselves as failures and when asked, they do not know the reasons for their predicament. The obvious reasons they would attribute to is that they are not lucky and are destined to fail. Perhaps they have not realised that they can take control of their lives through knowledge or perception of the situation: something commonly known as self-awareness- the knowledge of the self.

The reason people do not look inwards or introspect is because they are afraid of knowing the truth and truth is always bitter. Truth reveals something that is hard to swallow. Our egos get hurt and pained with the truth and while trying to protect our ego we get in to the defensive mode and try to suppress the truth.

Self-realization and self-improvement calls for change and we fear change: our ego prevents us from change. But for our personal growth, progress and happiness- change is inevitable. Becoming consciously aware of our needs, our fears and our weaknesses is the most critical step in the change process.

As in any other field, sports too calls for self-awareness and those athletes who lack self-understanding are disconnected, unresponsive and in denial mode of what is bothering them in their quest for peak performance and success. They need to be aware of the feelings and emotions on a daily basis and its effect on performance: this would guide them toward an ideal performance state.

Former tennis star Billie Jean King has said- Self-awareness is the most important thing toward being a champion.’

Researchers Jackson and Czsikszentmihalyi.M [1999] say- Without self-awareness an athlete misses important clues that lead to positive change in performance.’

Self-awareness in sports is the ability to know how and what we are feeling at a given moment and using the feeling to guide our decision making with a realistic assessment of our abilities and well-grounded sense of self-confidence.

Our body and mind constantly send messages- tuning in and heeding to these signals is important in making the necessary changes. It is like noticing the gauges of the instrument panel of your automobile when you are on a long drive: that revealing a lot in terms of your vehicle, you, the present and the destination. Are we listening to the messages our body is sending?

Self-awareness is one of the five basic emotional competencies proposed by Daniel Goleman [Working with emotional intelligence, appendix 1].

An athlete must be aware of his/her emotional state or arousal level to adjust the same to their optimal level of arousal to attain ideal performance state and peak performance.

Athletes need to control the excitement during the sports situations so that their energy can be channelled in to the ideal performance state or to recognize when the arousal level is too low and activate it to the necessary level. The athletes need to be aware of what triggers stress and what are those stressors: it can be the crowds, the noise, their thoughts and feelings.

Awareness is important but it is all about what you do with this awareness and how you take control of yourself and regulate the physiological and psychological changes that are caused by competitive stress.

During performance, athletes must be aware of their movement, execution, muscle tension, breathing patterns, mental states like- focus, calmness, excess thinking etc.

During moments of pressure it requires the athlete to execute the basic skills with a sense of having control over their emotional states, routines, execution and their intensity in order to achieve an ideal performance.

Image source : Internet

James E. Loehr, sports psychologist and mental toughness trainer, has suggested a self-awareness exercise plan to be followed on a daily basis-

  • Tuning in and listening to the feelings and emotions. Listening to the language of the body and the needs of the self.
  • Increasing self- awareness on a daily basis: where am I? What’s happening now?
  • Paying attention to the negative feelings and emotions, particularly those of defensiveness and insecurity.
  • When the feelings were negative, trace the feelings of hurt to its source, understand the weaknesses and face them.
  • Express real feelings and emotions honestly and openly.
  • Be courageous in his search for personal truth.

The use of biofeedback [includes neurofeedback-EEG] is a wonderful tool to understand what is happening within the mind and body when an athlete is exposed to competitive stress. The training screens provided are to correct the abnormalities found and are a part of the biofeedback software.

Watch this video


1 The new toughness training for sports- Lames E. Loehr, Ed.D.

2 Applied sports psychology: personal growth to peak performance IV edition- Editor- Jean M Williams.



I still cherish memories of witnessing intensely fought battles on the sports fields as a youngster: be it an Indo-Pak hockey / cricket rivalry or a Wimbledon match involving John McEnroe vs Bjorn Borg and those limited over cricket matches at Sharjah or the World cup football matches.

Today the intensity with which various sports and games are contested has gone up by frenzied proportions. A tennis match between Rafael Nadal vs Roger Federer or a soccer league match between Manchester United vs Liverpool or a game between Barcelona Fc vs Real Madrid/ Celtic vs Rangers in the Scottish league, the famous Rugby leagues, the ashes series between Australia vs England, the IPL cricket matches, the NBA basketball league matches involving teams like: Celtics, LA Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto Raptors, Chicago Bulls, Golden state warriors and Cleveland cavaliers promises to be vehemently fought.

Intensity is a strange phenomenon and is understood in different terms and contexts such as energy or arousal/ anxiety and it also manifests itself mentally and physically. But intensity is felt as a physiological reaction to a competitive situation. Simply speaking it is the physiological activity you experience in your body.

Dr Jim Taylor a leading sports psychologist who has done lot of work on Intensity say’s Intensity is very important in sports performance because all your motivation, confidence, focus and emotions in the world won’t help you if your body is not physiologically capable of doing what it needs to do for you to perform at your best.

In the ongoing Indian Premier League [IPL-2018] cricket league, whenever a side batting second falls behind on the asking run rate some of their batsmen raise their intensity to go after the bowling by bringing about a rise in their energy, strength and excitement.

Intensity in sports is to have great energy, concentration and vehemence [forceful, wild or turbulent]. It is a quality of being Intense especially in terms of strength, force, energy or feeling.

Gundogan 2-0

Intensity is an important factor for your exercise workout. When you work out with sufficient intensity your body grows stronger and you will notice changes in your weight, body fat percentage and endurance.

Intensity exists at an optimal zone that is individual to each athlete. Each person has his/her zone or intensity at which s/he performs at their best. Optimal intensity refers to the ideal level of physical and mental intensity that allows an athlete to perform at his/her best.’ – Taylor and Wilson 2005

Not every athlete performs at the same intensity when the demands are high: for example in an IPL tie, as captains – M.S.Dhoni may perform in a relaxed manner, while a Gautham Gambhir or a Rohit Sharma may be moderately intense while Virat Kohli is expected to be highly intense and energetic. With experience and knowing themselves they know the sweet spot of their intensity at which they perform at their best.

Intensity has a direct reference to performance: Monica A. Frank PhD says-Competitors need an optimal level of intensity. If the intensity is too high or too low, performance can be affected.’

Over intensity is a state when there is too much of mental, emotional and physical energy. In this state there may be muscle tenseness, breathing difficulties and lowering of confidence. There may be a negative impact on the emotions that may cause frustration, anger and depression. Over intensity also affects motor coordination resulting in flawed technique and execution.

With Under intensity there is lethargy with lack of energy. Athletes lack the adrenaline they need to give their best effort. Mentally it undermines motivation and as a result of this focus is impaired as the athlete gets distracted easily.

What causes over and under intensity

Over intensity

  • When the challenge of the competition is too high and the athlete is less confident about the event s/he may tend to put excess intensity
  • Trying to meet the expectations of the self and others
  • Fearing the consequences when not able to meet the expectations

Under intensity

  • When the challenge is less and the athlete feels over confident
  • When there is apathy about the event/competition
  • When the athlete is over trained: there may be too much of physical and mental fatigue resulting in the athlete not able to achieve intensity

Overcoming Over intensity

  • Develop awareness about what led to past successes and poor performance- the thoughts, feelings and behaviours involved
  • Practicing deep breathing and muscle relaxation
  • Practicing positive imagery of past successes

Over coming under intensity

  • Often the under intense athlete does not relish taking on a lesser known opponent believing s/he would win easily. Instead focusing on the process, execution and process goals for improvement will keep the athlete focused and intensified
  • Treating every game as the same and equally important will keep the intensity alive for these under intensity players.
  • Roger Federer the greatest tennis player ever, perceives every match he plays as important and he knows he has to overcome lesser known players on his way to winning a tournament. He focuses on the process and maintains a balanced intensity with every player he faces.

Achieving optimal level of intensity

  • Develop awareness of your intensity levels.
  • Modifying intensity levels where necessary
  • Negative self- talk could be a reason for intensity interference- identifying negativity in thinking helps
  • Increasing motivational self-talk
  • Recalling familiar situations of intensity interference
  • Being prepared for the unexpected
  • Reducing physiological over intensity
  • Increase energy
  • Having pre competitive routines and plans with regard to your intensity

Watch these videos on intensity

Listen to what Dr Jim Taylor has to say on intensity





The atmosphere was electrifying: filled with vigour and vitality of the boisterous crowd. The occasion was an IPL match between Royal challengers Bengaluru versus Chennai super kings on the 25 April 2018 at the Chinnaswamy stadium, Bengaluru- India.

I was fortunate to be among the youthful crowd and with every passing minute the energy was going up. The energy meter kept rising every time the crowd chanted RCB, RCB or CSK, CSK, rooting for their favourite team. The noise and energy seemed to erupt from the top of the stadium in to the atmosphere as a volcano would do from the top of Mount Vesuvius.

I was thinking about the mental energy that filled the air: the collective energy that was expressing the mood of the crowd that evening and wondered about its vitality in various significant activities carried out by man.

Mental energy is the mood or motivation to pay attention to cognitive processes. It is simply the feelings of having capacity to complete physical or mental activities.

As far as the crowds on the night of 25th April was concerned- their moods were elevated, they were anxious, motivated, zealous of an exciting contest thus setting the tone for an high level mental energy.

Energy is expressed in many ways as- mechanical energy, electrical energy, chemical energy, atomic energy, cosmic energy, physical energy, mental energy, caloric energy, emotional energy, spiritual energy etcetera. But the energy that is most significant to man as far as performance is concerned is the mental energy because it even sets the tone for the physical energy.


Mental fatigue could be a contributing factor in physical fatigue

Dr Josephine Perry, a sports and performance psychology consultant says- ` there is a huge debate among sports scientists on what controls physical fatigue. The latest thinking suggests that while our body usually has more to give sometimes the brain purposely holds us back as if to protect us from harm when we are not motivated enough, bored, fatigued or perceive the effort as too enduring. If we can increase motivation and reduce our perception of effort then we can be more successful.’ This is when we find less energy to begin a physical activity or to continue with it.

Research studies show how mental fatigue can also cause depletion in physical energy: it happens when certain tasks result in lack of energy and tiredness or when tasks are too prolonged or when the person is not feeling interested in the activity, feeling bored but forced to concentrate. Mental energy depletion results in exhaustion, decreased power, increase in activity time and reduced running velocity. Overall it’s detrimental to physical performance.

According to research conducted by Boksem et al- 2005 using EEG [neurofeedback] – when fatigue results there is shift to slower frequencies in the brain resulting in reduced attention and increased distractibility. The mental stamina which is the ability to focus is as important as the physical stamina.

Mind- body connection

There is a mind- body connection in everything we do in the sense every change in the mental-emotional state is consciously or unconsciously accompanied by a change in the body state. Our bodies tend to do what they are told to do. Using the mind-body communication an athlete can activate/ psyche-up/ energize/ arouse OR reduce activation and arousal or psyche-down as the case may be. These terms mean the same but used differently in different contexts.

Energy management

Athletes and all other performers need to learn energy management techniques that psychologists teach them in order to relax when too nervous or activate themselves when they are apathetic, laid back and lethargic.

Some of the common energy management techniques are- stretching[ slow/ active], massaging, deep belly breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, Quick breathing, jumping and vigorous physical exercises, drinking water, balanced diet, using- positive self-talk, positive imagery, verbal cues, focusing on one goal and larger goal, sense of purpose, setting challenging goals, managing pressure and energizing music depending on the sport.

It is a well-known fact that athletes need to be focused on what is important and not to be swayed by distractions. Involving in too many unimportant activities will drain the athlete of the vital energy. Similarly worrying, anxiety, and other negative thoughts will also deplete the brain of its vital- mental energy. The athletes can get easily distracted by what the coach, team mates or spectators are thinking –ruminating on things you can’t control drains them of their mental energy.

During the final stages of a game an athlete must learn to shift gears quickly from intensity during play to bouts of mental or physical relaxation – during breaks this minimises fatigue and induces recovery.

You are amazed at the amount of energy some of the athletes possess as compared to others. Cricketers Virat Kohli and Ab de Villiers are examples to this.

Watch the videos to know more about mental/emotional energy