Being fearless is the X-Factor in sports

22kvitova-web-master768Petra Kvitova the Czech tennis star was robbed in her home shortly after Christmas and the attacker stabbed her playing hand- leaving her to nurse the injuries. Speaking about the incident in a recent interview to the press [TOI-Reuters 2JULY] she said-` Before I was very nervous before every match, now I see I shouldn’t be. Sometimes I am thinking on the court that I already won the biggest fight and if I fight in the match, it doesn’t matter if I win or lose I will still be happy to play. I see tennis and life from a different angle than before. I am not sure if it is the result of what happened but maybe I feel fearless now of what happened.’

Ramkumar Ramanathan world no 222, from India, recently stunned the whole world by defeating the world no8 Dominic Thiem in the Antalya open-in straight sets. He told TOI shortly after the match-` Beating a Top 10 player makes me fearless now. I am definitely not scared of my next opponent now.’ After reading these responses I asked myself – what were they fearing in the first place: to feel fearless now? My mind said-` hey, it is the same predicament that plagues the entire human race: Fear of failure– fear of defeat or simply- fear of loss.

Fear is one of the four primary emotions- the other three are anger, sadness and joy. Anxiety represented by worry, nervousness and panic is experienced by most performers in general and athletes in particular- before a competition or during it and all of these feelings fall under-FEAR. Pressure and choking are also as a result of –FEAR: the fear of defeat or fear of failing.

Why are the performers terrified of failure?

In this evaluative environment everything is judged on the basis of results: making it a result oriented competitive world. Success [string of victories] will give you pride, name, fame and monetary benefits, scholarships, sponsorships etc. On the contrary – string of losses [wrongly termed as failures] will give you shame, see you slipping in your grades, seeding’s and risk losing your scholarships or sponsorships. So, athletes want to avoid this precarious situation and would like to keep succeeding. In this competitive world children begin to understand from an early age that you have to keep winning and it is a crime to lose. So, defeat/ loss become a dirty word. If losing is attributed to failure: then the seeds of failure are sown and Fear of failure sets in.

Even the elite athletes are exposed to these feelings of stress [anxiety, self-doubt, nervousness & pressure] before or during a competition. They have been in these situation umpteen times and know how to handle them. The ability to handle Fear and the associated feelings like pressure is what sets apart an elite athlete from the ordinary. Elite athletes want to win and hate losing but they are not afraid of losing.

Fear of failure in sports is not the same as facing life threatening situations [ex: Petra Kvitova, Monica Seles], plane crashes, motor accidents, facing a carnivorous animal in the forest. And to top it all: winning is not for ever and setback is just the bend not the end. The athlete will know at some point of time their chosen career is not forever and there is life beyond it. This mind-set will encourage the athletes in to accepting both success and setbacks [so called failures] in the same breath.

It is true Victory gives pride and achievement motivation. But desperate thoughts like- ‘I must win or I shouldn’t lose or what if I lose, will distress you and you end with the result you never aspired for in the first place. Instead ask yourself- ‘what is the worst thing that can happen if I lose the match. Keep telling yourself before an important event – `this is just like any other game: it is just a ……… match, it is not the end of the world if I lose it.’

If you think losing a match is failure then what would you say of Thomas Alva Edison who said-  ‘I am not a failure I have only discovered 999 ways of how not to make a bulb.’  

M N Viswanath, author of Success Mantra In Sports and sports performance coach, he can be reached at viswanath.author@gmail.com.

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Momentum is crucial for peak performance

Srikanth KidambiKidambi Srikanth’s superb run continued as the in-form Indian sailed in to the finals of the Australian Open Series Badminton tournament 2017’– this is how the media described *Srikanth’s performance on 25/06/17. This mysterious thing called, Form, which is controllable- is like the higher grace and you don’t know when it strikes you or leaves you. But, you are happy you are in form and would like to use the opportunity when the sun is shining. Rohit Sharma, Indian cricketer, tweeted yesterday- `Opportunities are like sunrise- if you wait too long you will miss them.’ Un Quote. To remind you K.Srikanth recently won the *Indonesian Super Series Open.

But, one thing I can vouch for you is that when in-form you have the momentum going in your favour. or: Is the vice versa true? What is this thing called momentum that you often hear about. The Oxford Dictionary of Sports Science describes Momentum as- ` the positive or negative changes in cognition, physiology and behaviour caused by an event or series of events that affects either the perception of the competitors or quality of performance and the outcome of the competition.

Positive momentum is associated with experiences such as- winning streak-, in which everything goes right for the competitor/s. In contrast Negative Momentum is associated with periods of losing streak – when everything goes awry. It is simply the strength or force gained by motion or series of events [Merriam Webster dictionary]. In psychological terms we call it- Psychological momentum.

You normally hear people say– I found it difficult in the beginning but once I made the start I found the Momentum and everything started flowing.’ Or: `Somehow, I didn’t find the momentum today. Today was one of my OFF days.’ It is often described as gaining/ losing momentum during the course of a match or an on-going season.

The Royal Challengers Bangalore, a team that takes part in the IPL T-20 cricket format every year somehow never gained momentum this 2017 season and slumped to the bottom of the table. Momentum can always be revived: like the Pakistan cricket team did to reverse its fortunes to win the ICC Champions trophy 2017. The Pak side lost miserably to India in the first match but later found the self-efficacy [A belief in the ability to perform the task successfully] and the momentum going in their favour. This is what happens to sides when they find their bearings right and are playing as a unit and are executing their plans well – they find this mysterious [momentum] force gaining from strength to strength and they are unstoppable. But, the opposite is also true- like what happened to the RCB.  When you are at the best of your momentum it is a state akin to the Flow or the Zone- when everything seems to be happening for you. The associated feelings are – sense of control, confidence, optimism, motivation, focus& energy.

It has happened in the past that in the course of a match-for some reason you start making errors lose points and games. Then you over analyse to rectify these mistakes and end up making more- you are at a loss for confidence, focus, optimism and hope. The result- You lose momentum and finally- you lose.

How to get your rhythm and momentum back during the course of a match?

Using the following techniques can help you bounce back to your momentum:                                       

  • Positive attitude and positive body language.
  • Relaxation techniques like slow and deep breathing
  • Present moment awareness 
  • Reduce outcome thinking
  • Break the rhythm of the opponent
  • Slow down your game
  • Believe in your strength
  • Change tactics
  • Keep hope& optimism alive
  • Hang on.

References:

  1. Live science- The reality of momentum in sports- Dan Peterson 6-10-08
  2. Flow- Czsikszentmihalyi.M [1990].
  3. Jeff Greenwald article- ` Riding the wave of momentum.

 

M N Viswanath, author of Success Mantra In Sports and sports performance coach, he can be reached at viswanath.author@gmail.com.

The book Success Mantra In Sports is available on Amazon and flipkart. To book your copy you can click here, amazon

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Happiness is the secret of champions

Anirban LahiriAt the end of a magnificent final round, Anirban Lahiri finished with a career best tied second at The Players Golf tournament at Murfield village, Dublin USA recently. Speaking to reporters later, he made a few important remarks that highlight’s a remarkable change in his approach- that which could impact his future, positively. He said` I am really happy the way I played out there. I haven’t played well in the last couple of months. I’ve been pretty harsh on myself. I’ve beat myself up pretty bad. Coming to this week I decided to be nice to myself go out there and enjoy my golf which I felt wasn’t happening as often as it should. So I just went out and had fun. When you push yourself harder it works against you and I wasn’t in a good frame of mind: I think that’s what changed this week.’  [Agencies TOI].

In this highly stressful and competitive world of sport, athletes set mighty goals for themselves, sometimes- attainable and sometimes lofty and unrealistic. All is well as long as success [victories] keep coming their way but when it is in the contrary- they feel frustrated, sad, depressed and harsh on them [like Anirban did]. Though everyone competes to win, some of the athletes have this strong affinity to say- only a victory [success] makes me happy.’

When you hit a purple patch- the taste of success is sweet but, when you hit a lean patch you are in all sorts of trouble- you are a victim of your own negative feelings and emotions.

Performers of all kind are governed by moods and emotions depending on how they perceive the situation. Moods are those that change constantly but can linger for a longer period of time. Generally the moods and feelings of the athlete prior to the contest indicate the likelihood of success. Proper activation and positive feelings associated by: Alertness, adequate excitation, elation& happiness, calmness & relaxation are generally known to enhance performance.  Whereas deactivation and negative feelings like fatigue, lethargy, depression, sadness, stress, nervousness, muscle tension are known to debilitate performance.[ The Circumplex model of affect – Russell 1980( do:10.1037/ hoo7714].

When Anirban Lahiri decided to go out there to have fun and enjoy his game he would have carried with him positive moods [happiness thro’ fun & enjoyment] and feelings- which definitely could have assisted his performance. Anirban is also a known practitioner of Transcendental meditation- that which promotes mood and relaxation. And golf is a game of the smooth and easy as against tension and perfection. The smoother the better.

Many elite athletes have made the moods and feelings like happiness – their own recipe for success and they know that success comes with happiness and not the other way round. They have learnt to take defeats & victories, setbacks& progress in the same breath and not let their shortfalls come in their way of happiness [fun and enjoyment].

Aries Merritt is 110 m hurdler from USA is a gold medal winner in the London Olympic games 2012 and is also a world record holder for the same category @ 12.80 seconds. In the year 2013, tragedy struck and he was diagnosed with a congenital kidney disease – focal segmental glomerulo sclerosis. He needed a kidney transplant. Four days prior to his kidney transplant at the World IAAF championships in Beijing China, he won a bronze medal. After his surgery and recovery he returned to win the Diamond league IAAF 110 m hurdle event. Despite all his tragedy and struggle he has remained happy and cheerful. The video below shows the happier side of Aries Merritt.

`Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful– Albert Schweitzer.

M N Viswanath, author of Success Mantra In Sports and sports performance coach, he can be reached at viswanath.author@gmail.com.

The book Success Mantra In Sports is available on Amazon and flipkart. To book your copy you can click here, amazon

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Novak Djokovic is accused of tanking

novak-djokovic-2017-french-open
Image from IBT, Australia

The shocking quarter final defeat of Novak Djokovic at the hands of Dominic Thiem of Austria @ The French Open has left the Tennis world in total disbelief. Novak lost 7-6[5] 6-3 6-0. What has baffled everyone is the way in which Novak succumbed meekly to the less fancied Thiem in the last set that lasted just 20 minutes. And now Novak Djokovic has been accused of tanking away the third set to Thiem.  Would you believe it?

The word tank [container] cannot be a Simile with anything associated with sport but tanking as an act is not uncommon in sports. Many teams and individuals have been accused previously for this un-sportive gesture of tanking away a game.

Tanking [courtesy: Sports pundit] is a term used to describe a match lost by a player on purpose. It exposes the deliberate act of colluding, favouring or assisting the opponent in a partisan way.

A team can lose intentionally to another team by not fielding its best players who were available for the contest. It can also mean that a whole team or some of its players can play poorly or collude with the opposition in other ways to see that the opposite team is benefited. In this case it is called match fixing– a scandalous way of surrendering the ethics in favour of money.

It can also be as a result as a part of boredom [staleness] or anger-[for various reasons- injustice, ill- luck, favouritism, racism etc] – when a player deliberately throws in the towel without a whimper.

What could have happened in Novak’s case?

Novak, who has grown in difficult times in a war torn Serbia has seen all the challenges life can throw at you – that has made him humble as anyone can be. He is also known to be a polite, simple and down-to- earth individual. The video below talks of his humility on court – even if it were to be for a ball boy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YdbkxXn7L3s

Novak who has risen to the highest echelons of this gruelling unforgiving tennis world wouldn’t fetter away from all that he built- out of sweat, blood and tears- for nothing. For sure he is not the candidate for Tanking, look somewhere. But, this match will throw suspicions at you- that’s for sure.

Then what was the reason?

According to Jim Courier a former French open champion- ` Novak showed no fight and may be it was partly down to the windy conditions. Novak despises playing in the wind. He really seemed to accept the outcome well before it was conclusive.’ [AGENCIES, TOI 08/06/17]. Could that be the reason- probably? Let’s give the expert his due.

Whatever you are seeing is just the tip of the ice berg

All said – we cannot simply pooh-pooh the idea that something greater is bothering this great player. People say he is going through a lot mentally and there is nothing wrong with him physically. For whatever reason, he has changed his coach and is already in to rough weather with his newly appointed on-trial-basis coach Andre Agassi. It could be even with his personal life. The truth should lie somewhere in the closet of Novak’s mind- you never know.

But, all this taking a toll on Novak’s game – a once Federer tamer is now losing to lesser known’s. FATE is known to play cruel games with everyone without discrimination. Huh! Novak of all people is now accused of tanking.

But, for his diehard fan- he is still too good to be lost and is eager to see him back with his winning ways.

M N Viswanath, author of Success Mantra In Sports and sports performance coach, he can be reached at viswanath.author@gmail.com.

The book Success Mantra In Sports is available on Amazon and flipkart. To book your copy you can click here, amazon

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