Athletes aren’t just defined by their physical attributes and skills. More often than not in sport, it is their mental strength that comes to the fore when the going gets tough which defines the legacy that they create for themselves. And cricket, with pressures stemming from factors right from the cramped calendar to the rigours of the five-day Test format, bears no exception in this regard.
Subramaniam Badrinath is among those who place equal importance on both aspects of the game and acknowledge the immense benefits that mental conditioning has to offer to athletes plying their trade across levels. He had, after all, undergone a similar exercise during his days as an active cricketer, the experience of which he now chooses to offer the budding and established athletes alike through his new venture.
The former India and Tamil Nadu batsman begins a new innings with the launch of his non-profit venture titled MFORE, the focus on which will be to hone the mental skills of players and to train coaches and referees and counsel parents for the same. And Badrinath, for one, hopes to see the results in others what he saw in himself when he attended a similar program back in 2014.
“So, 2014 I took up mental conditioning coaching for one year, then I came back (to cricket) in 2015, I played for Royal Challengers Bangalore and three more years of First-Class cricket.
“So that really changed me, it switched me as a person. It made a huge difference in my life, brought out the leadership in me and made me a better person, a better human being, a better family man, everything.
“I realised maybe not enough importance is given to that, so why not create a platform, why not create a stage where we can give these mind skills to the athletes and create a difference in that field,” he said.
Badrinath, who was also a regular in the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) setup under MS Dhoni in the first six seasons of the Indian Premier League (IPL), describes the mental side of sport as a bridge between an athlete’s physical skills and achieving his/her goals.
“Along with physical skills and along with technical aspects, I think mind skills are very important. You have your ability, but that moment in the match when it has to transform into performance, the bridge needs to be strong.
“So it is very important just like (physical) training to train your mind on a daily basis. The benefits that you’ll get off it will be tremendous, the results will definitely be much, much better,” said the chief mentor of the program, which has roped in 25 sports psychologists from India as well as from abroad and will have tailor-made programs for athletes across different age-groups, playing levels, etc.
There’s not one athlete out there who hasn’t hit a speed-bump at some point in their career, and Badrinath had to endure the disappointment of going unsold at the 2014 IPL auction after half a decade with powerhouses CSK, which almost made him quit the sport that year. Badrinath, however, chose to remind himself why he took up the sport as a career in the first place, a method that he hoped would uplift his sinking spirit after going through a lean patch.
“I think the first thing I told myself was, “Why am I playing this game?” I think it’s important for me to always know that. I always believed that I always played the game for the right reasons. The selections or the bad times or whatever, at the end of the day I’m playing this game because I like this game.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re playing Test cricket for India, or if you’re playing on the street with a tennis ball. End of the day, you should love playing this game,” added Badrinath.
The topic of mental health is a lot more widely discussed in the world of cricket now than it was a couple of decades ago, with players such as Glenn Maxwell, Sarah Taylor, Marcus Trescothick opening up on their struggles and a number of players, a lot of whom are Australian, taking breaks from the sport in order to heal their minds, a move that could’ve cost a player his or her spot in the team not too long ago.
Badrinath certainly believes there’s been progress made in this regard, but a lot more can be done when it comes to Indian cricket. “Yes, I think awareness is increasing, but more and more awareness needs to be there, especially in cricket, especially in India.”
He feels cases such as that of Maxwell is a result of an athlete getting “mentally injured”; much like how ignoring a physical niggle over an extended period of time could lead to it snowballing into a more serious injury, ignoring the demons in one’s head can cause one to lose their focus on the game to the point of wanting to give up altogether.
“I think it’s important that you do your mind skills training on a daily basis so that your mind doesn’t get injured and you don’t go into the mental health issues. And I think the awareness is still in a very early stage, we want to create more and more awareness.”
Also important in this aspect is accepting one’s weaknesses and learning to overcome them, he feels.
“To accept that “Okay I am feeling nervous”… it could be anybody, right from Sachin Tendulkar to MS Dhoni who could be nervous in the first ten balls. But they know it, they accept it and they know how to counter it.
“That is what we’re trying to say, that it is normal to accept the weakness, but it is even more important to know how to counter that weakness. That is where we come into the picture,” added Badrinath, whose latest venture will be at the centre of Star Sports 1 Tamil’s new show Mind Masters By MFORE that will be telecast on their Tamil-language channels from 10 May.
A physical launch was to take place just before the 2020 edition of the IPL, one that Badrinath was eagerly looking forward to. Fate, however, had different plans with the novel coronavirus wreaking havoc across the globe, causing WHO to declare a state of a pandemic that saw sporting world arrive at a grinding halt.
While Badrinath didn’t quite savour the launch that he had hoped for, he still harbours hope of his foundation producing world-class athletes. MFORE playing some part in an athlete winning an Olympic gold medal in the future is the dream that floats in his head that he hopes will come true someday.
“There is so much funding coming from the government, from the corporates, they are putting a lot of money into the infrastructure, but I really want to encourage them to bring the money into the mind skills part of it as well, because that is the thing that is going to get us the gold medal for the country,” he signed off.
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