PV Sindhu. Image source
At 21, she became the first Indian woman to win an Olympic silver medal at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics. We saw her blasting, leaping forward towards the net, pumping her fist, roaring in triumph. We saw her skipping around, rushing to every corner, every time. There was pressure, certainly, though succumbing to pressure wouldn’t had resulted in a win. She showcased the presence of a strong mind.
However, prior to registering the win in Olympics, the strong mind wasn’t there. Sindhu tended to get stuck in a negative thought pattern. These negative thoughts would slow her down physically, while accelerating more trains of thought in her mind. Vaibhav Agashe, a sports psychologist, said this prior to Olympics:
“Sindhu tends to lose confidence and get negative when she loses points after taking a lead. This has resulted in some defeats even though she has been in winning position.”
Sourced from here.
She was also advised by the Indian Badminton legend Prakash Padukone (yes, Deepika Padukone’s dad, known for winning numerous international medals, an Arjuna and Padma Shri awardee) to prepare her mind well:
“I think Olympics is a test of mental character. You can win all the other tournaments, but if you are mentally not strong you can never win the Olympics. It’s important that you prepare well mentally.”
“It does not matter how well you perform the week before or the week after, but you have to make sure you reach the peak during the week when the badminton event is happening. It’s extremely difficult to predict who will win. The difference is so little at that level. Whoever is strong mentally will win the title.”
“She’s capable of winning the big tournaments if she can plan her tournaments and focus a little more on the bigger events and prepare for them properly, by not worrying too much about her ranking.”
Sourced from here.
Vaibhav Agashe took Sindhu under his wing to get her ready for Rio. And during what are called mental conditioning sessions, he noticed that she slows down her feet whenever she gets into a negative thought pattern. So simply, he advised her to watch her feet. She was told to just focus on her feet, so she keeps moving even when she is slowed down by her mind.
Essentially, what she was getting trained at was just to let her body perform without thinking about her performance. When she is playing, initially she doesn’t worry about anything. She just plays. But after taking a lead, she begins to think. She may stand a chance now. She may win. That’s when her mind takes over, her feet slows down and she begins to lose.
Agashe conditioned her not to focus on the doubts in her mind- on what shot to play, what her next move may be, what her strategy should be- but just to focus on moving her feet to get to the shuttle. This concentration on feet took her concentration off from the thoughts in her mind. It was nothing but a way to quiet her mind- to stop it from analyzing, thinking, evaluating, playing the shots in her mind.
When a match situation gets tense, not just Sindhu, but most of the athletes tend to over think things that can make them slow down physically and get too defensive. Probably that’s what happened to Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna in tennis doubles during Olympics, and they lost. Contrastly, Sindhu could win 11 points in a row against Okuhara in a pressure-packed match not because she was paying attention to scoring points, but because she wasn’t paying attention to them.
The players who win are those who are quiet in their heads. In fact, in life’s all games, you win only when you are quiet in your head. An overthinking mind works against the things it wants to achieve.
That’s the most valuable skill a person can have: A Quiet Mind.
What do you think about an overthinking mind? Do you also struggle with a loud mind, and have a tendency to get stuck in a negative thought pattern? If so, how do you come out of it? Comment below to make yourself heard!