When the Indian contingent returned from the 2000 Sydney Olympics with just a bronze medal, it made then army chief General S Padmanabhan remark, "If we can’t win at sports, we can't win wars."
It was this thought that laid the foundation for the Army Sports Institute.
The sentence also provided the push needed for Dr Swaroop Savanur, who until then was a practising orthodontist in Pune, to take the plunge into the field of mental conditioning.
Cut to 2017, Dr Savanur is the man mentally preparing the country's U-17 team for war, or as we popularly know it, the FIFA U-17 World Cup. As the U-17 team’s mental conditioning coach, he has been tasked with helping the youngsters cope with the baggage that comes with being the first-ever team from India to participate at a World Cup. Not to mention the added burden of playing in front of expectant home crowds.
Dr Sawanur admits that when the tournament begins on 6 October, the boys will be under pressure, but believes the youngsters are now equipped to handle it.
“The Indian team is raring to go. They are ready to go out and perform. Of course, there is pressure. But sport is all about knowing how to control pressure, not eliminating it. You cannot eliminate pressure. It is a part of the game. When an athlete cannot control it, then it leads to anxiety which can lead to an athlete making mistakes,” Dr Savanur told Firstpost on Sunday.
That's where Dr Savanur comes in.
“My job is to get players mentally fit. A World Cup will be a different kind of experience for all the players, especially since no one from the country has faced this before. On top of that, this will be played in front of home crowds so obviously emotions will be running high among players. While there are some players who are naturally equipped to handle pressure, there are others who need help.
“There are many techniques to get players to focus on the match and control pressure. Controlling your breathing is a widely known tactic. There is also self-talk, where players talk to themselves and try and control the negative thoughts that crop up. There's also a technique which I like to call 'mental imagery' where players imagine feeling the pressure of a match situation before a match. I also use real-life anecdotes or videos of athletes who overcame pressure to succeed.
“Sometimes I also suggest that players try a 'third-person' approach, where they stand in front of a mirror and advice themselves like they're a different person,” he added.
Dr Savanur could have hardly joined the team at a better time. His appointment early this year came just weeks after the team’s preparations were jolted by the sacking of coach Nicolai Adam just nine months before the prestigious tournament due to poor results and, perhaps more critically, allegations by the players that the German had physically abused them.
“Frankly, despite the whole Adam incident, the attitude among the players was really good. They didn't take too much time to get back in track and focus on the World Cup,” Dr Savanur said.
The Indian team is not the only team which employs the services of a psychologist at this age group. The England and the Chile outfits are among the international teams competing at the U-17 World Cup, who will travel to India with mental conditioning coaches in tow.
The pressure on this young bunch to perform at the World Cup might be unprecedented, but with the presence of Dr Savanur, expect the U-17 team to be ready for war.
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Updated Date: Sep 28, 2017 18:22:11 IST