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Aparna Popat's keynote address at the launch of GoSports Foundation Athletes' Education Programme

Aparna Popat's keynote address at the GoSports Foundation Athletes' Education Programme.

Aparna Popat at the event

During a badminton career that lasted for close to two decades, Aparna Popat brought many moments of joy for India on the badminton court. Some of them include winning the silver medal at the 1998 Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games, winning the bronze in the singles and mixed team event at the Manchester edition of the Games four years later etc.

She also won the Nationals a record-equalling nine times between 1997 and 2006. At an event for the GoSports Foundation Athletes' Education Programme, The 37-year-old delivered the keynote address.

Here’s the full transcript:

“Good afternoon! It is indeed a pleasure to address you all today. I am very happy to extend my v association with the GoSports Foundation as Mentor to the Athletes’ Education Programme. Today in all earnestness and in the spirit of sport, I would like to touch upon a few interesting learnings from my extended badminton career that have led to us envisaging an educational programme for athletes -the GoSports Foundation Athletes’ Education Programme.

I was very fortunate that through my career I was surrounded by very competent, accomplished and hard working people who not only honed my badminton skills but also shaped me as a person -namely my parents / family, coaches, teachers, colleagues, mentors.

You have probably heard the saying that sport not only builds character but also reveals it. Sports affects your character, your personality and vice versa. However, to make efficient use of your personality in a positive manner, you need to know yourself first. Self-awareness in terms of your physique, psyche, your strengths and weaknesses and limitations helps.

My self-awareness came with listening - listening keenly to the feedback of those that cared for me and even more keenly of those that didn't. For example, I was never physically the strongest, or fastest player and I was well aware of that. However, I knew I had good skills and a sharp game acumen.

Therefore, I prepared accordingly. I not only trained really hard – harder than the rest – but, my training was also more focussed. My training sessions were intense and meaningful. I looked upon the challenges as stepping stones to achieve more. There was no place for excuses as I was aware of myself – aware of the things that I could and could not do. I used my limitations to grow. I strongly believed in the philosophy of the famed Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu who said "Know yourself and you will win all battles."

Many a times, successful sportspersons tend to feel invincible and believe they have a handle on everything. However, success cannot be attained or sustained alone. Your team matters. What they think matters. And so effective communication and feedback becomes pertinent. And according to me, the core team of a sportsperson consists of the parents, coach, and athlete of course.

Very early on, in fact on the very first day of coaching, my coach clearly earmarked the roles that each would play. Anything to do with badminton was my coach’s territory, my mother had to ensure I ate, rested, and slept well. My role, of course, was to listen to the two and have a good work ethic. I, of course, took the liberty, many a time, to pose creative challenges just to trouble them and offered them some feedback of my own...through silence.

The other issue I found tricky to handle was managing expectations. These expectations came from within and without. While most were directed towards winning a match or tournament, others were to keep up your self-image, status, stroke your ego etc. Right from school, where my principal had threatened not to allow me to play tournaments if my grades dropped, to my coach telling me that if I did not beat some opponent in the next 6 months he would not train me anymore, to the pressure of being perceived as someone who was always sorted, in control - expectations took their toll on my performances and on me as a person.

I internalized a lot, worked with my coach and mentor on setting realistic goals. I also cultivated hobbies as stress busters and managed to keep my senses about me amidst all the pressure and expectations. (For example, during the CWG 1998, I used to doodle before my match). But it was hard.

Now, when I look back upon my career and its progression, I can say that I am proud of all that I have achieved. However, I know that I was one of the lucky few who managed to lead a relatively normal life and had a good support system that collaborated well to help me succeed. There were others, perhaps more talented, but just not as fortunate in terms of guidance and hence could not achieve their potential.

Sports today is getting increasingly demanding and competitive. A lot of children don't even get time to attend school or interact socially - sometimes under the guise of 'being focussed'. This could have consequences later on in life. While I am a very strong advocate for education, being a sportsperson I do understand the other side too.

Hence, through the GoSports Foundation Athletes’ Education Programme, we aim to provide athletes just that guidance both for their professional and personal improvement. The guidance may be through a mental trainer, nutritionist, experts in various fields such as emotional and social management, mentors, etc; basically, make them smarter - quicker. Going further, from my experiences I feel post-career options and creating brand value for the athlete are also important aspects that need to be addressed.

I will be collaborating with the eminent experts that we have here today, and will aim to factor in my learning and experiences to complement the deep knowledge that they have in their respective fields. 

The breadth of topics covered, and the structure that this programme brings is something that really excites me!

Before I conclude, I would like to stress on the fact that while all this help will aid an athlete to improve, the essence of success remains tireless hard work, and enjoying what you are doing with a vengeance. The inspiration is within. The fire is within.

I'll end with this quote: "It’s not the will to win that matters. Everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters." Through this programme, we aim to do our bit in helping athletes prepare to win.

Thank you, for your time.”

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