The pressure on you is definitely greater when you are the World No. 1 or the top seed at a tournament. People expect you to go all the way; nothing less than a trophy is enough.
Things are especially tough in the earlier rounds of such tournaments, when you are taking on unseeded players ranked around 25 to 30 in the world. They play as if they have nothing to lose, and the burden of expectations is entirely on your shoulders.
Players always look at that one person who is doing well, particularly someone who is ranked No. 1 in the world. They try to analyze and dissect the numero uno’s game in a bid to find out the secret to their success. They then use the findings to devise strategies and counter the game that is ruling the roost.
The whole world has its eyes on the top-ranked player; every competitor tries their best to defeat the king. Needless to say, the king cannot afford any slip-ups in such circumstances.
Embracing the pressure
The Olympics is very different from the other tournaments we play every year. In general we play about 10 to 12 Super Series events, and in addition to that we have the World Championships, the Asian Badminton Individual Championships and a whole host of other competitions.
The pressure on you while competing in these tournaments is definitely different from what you face when taking part in the Olympics.
That is obviously because of the prestige associated with the Olympics. In an event that takes place once every four years, the hopes of an entire nation – that is 1.3 billion people in India's case – rest on you. Everyone wants you to win a medal for the country, which can make the pressure overwhelming.
I personally feel that in order to be in the right frame of mind, you should look at the Olympics as just another tournament. You need to focus on just the five or six matches that can get you the gold medal. Each such match will last about 60 to 75 minutes, and you have to be totally focused during that period.
You can’t be thinking about the result in such situations. Instead, you have to concentrate on your processes and try and be at your best in order to finish off the match quickly – after which you have to prepare for the next round.
It is essential to keep things simple at big tournaments. You shouldn’t pay heed to the buzz around you or get swayed by what others are saying about you or even be distracted by what’s happening in other games. Your only communication should be with your coach, your physio, your trainer and your family.
I personally think you should avoid social media altogether for that one week, and instead focus entirely on the five matches where giving your best is paramount.
Winning the mental game
Even on the mental side of things, it is important to keep things simple. If you have had the right preparation for the tournament, it all boils down to what you do on the match day.
You have to be completely fixated on the execution. No matter how many years you have been practicing, or how much you have been training, everything comes down to how you execute in the crucial moments.
When you are playing a match, it is essential to focus all your energies on making the right plays. Everything is about that one hour in each of the five matches that you need to win to claim the gold medal.
That is why it is important to take it match by match and try to be at your best for that one hour every day. It’s easier said than done of course, but many of India’s athletes have done so successfully in the Tokyo Olympics.
Now that Tokyo is over though, it is important that everyone prepares well and stays in top shape for the Asian Games, the Commonwealth Games and the next Olympics. If they do manage that, then we are certainly going to achieve much more success in the coming years.
Stay in the moment and focus on the execution
I think Deepika, Manu, Amit and Bajrang have all done really well in their respective sports. All of these athletes have been at the top of their field, been ranked No. 1 in the world, and won many prestigious tournaments.
However, the Olympics is different because there is a lot more pressure. And even if you are the best at what you do, it is imperative that you stay focused during the match and not think about the end result or what others are saying about you.
The importance of being in the present and executing perfectly cannot be overstated.
In sports like shooting and archery you have to be focused on the target, while in wrestling you have to be focused on that one leg lift. You have to keep it simple, and avoid thinking about what goes on before and after.
In other words, you just have to be in the zone for that one minute. The results and medals will then automatically follow.