Have Indian Olympians got the mental make-up to handle the pressure of expectations at London 2012? Going by the show put up by the Indian archers for the ranking rounds, our performance exudes little confidence.
The highly fancied Indian Olympic contingent was given a reality check as the archery ranking round saw both the female and male archers struggle to come to terms with the pressure of performing at the biggest sporting spectacle in the world. The top ranked Indian was Deepika Kumari at eight, while the rest of the archers all performed under-par to be ranked outside of the top 20. In the team event, the male archers were ranked bottom at 12th, while the female archers fared slightly better by securing 9th position. This means that our male archery team will face Japan in the first round, and if they do cross that hurdle, they will face the highly fancied US team, who are currently ranked number one in the world. In the buildup to London 2012, the Indian sporting fraternity as well as the media had labeled the archery contingent as “serious medal contenders” (DNA, July 26 2012). Then what are the possible reasons for this poor start, which has seriously hampered their medal chances?
A resounding reason that comes to mind is a billion people’s ‘weight of expectations’. In previous Olympic competitions at Beijing 2008 and Athens 2004, there was little media confidence in Indian Olympians winning a medal, little corporate interest in the athletes and a dearth of information amongst sports fans, hence leading to almost no expectations from Indian Olympians to come back home with a medal. This meant that previously they had no pressure of performance and no accountability to corporate sponsors and the sport-loving public. But now they are expected to win – which can seriously affect the psyche of how a sportsperson performs.
This poor performance from the archers in the ranking rounds, due to the expectations of over a billion people, could have been the combined effect of nerves and their mental make-up. Any sports coaching and playing professional will agree that nerves or nervous energy can be good for a sportsperson, as it can be turned into positive energy to translate a mediocre performance into an exceptional one. Hence, this points to the fact that there was a lack of mental conditioning of the archers in preparation for London 2012, because a focus on the mental aspect of their game could have helped them use their nervous energy to perform better, instead of succumbing to the pressure. A lack of belief within India’s sporting fraternity regarding the importance of a mental coach, as observed in the absence of such personnel in the Indian Olympic contingent, could cost India a few medals in the upcoming days at London 2012.
Finally, a poor start by the archers does little to inspire confidence in the the rest of the Indian contingent hoping to shine at London 2012. Poor starts are not just confined to Indian Olympians, but have been noticed in past in Indian cricket, hockey and other team sports. This also points to a lack of preparation – to win a medal at the Olympics, a team or individual has to be at its very best throughout, not just at the start or the end.
By Suheil Tandon
(The author is Co-founder & Partner, Pro4Sport Solutions, a high-performance coaching firm that trains young athletes in the sport of Basketball, Cricket, Football and Table Tennis)