The Asian Games is the second largest sports platform after the Olympics. It's an opportunity for Asian Athletes to showcase their skills & prowess in between the Olympic Cycle.
The 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta will feature about 9,000 athletes representing 45 nationalities across 36 Sports in about 439 events. There is no greater honor for any athlete to hear their national anthem play when they're on the podium. That anthem makes the blood, sweat and tears, worthwhile.
India's record at the Asian Games overall 17 Editions (1951 - 2014) doesn't mirror its potential. Over the last 2 Editions (Guangzhou & Incheon), we have ranked 7th in the medal standing and averaged about 60 Medals per Edition - 12 Gold, 13 Silver & 35 Bronze.
INDIA VERSUS THE REST AT THE ASIAN GAMES
To put relative Asian Games performance in perspective, here are a few statistics from the Incheon Asian Games 2014:
1. China, Korea, and Japan collectively won 54% of all medals (776 out of the 1454 medals)
2. China, Korea, & Japan won 63% of all Gold medals available (277 of 439 medals)
3. Kazakhstan (28), Iran (21) and Thailand (12) won more Gold medals than India
4. Chinese Taipei (18), Iran (18) and North Korea (11) won more Silver medals than India
5. India had the 4th highest Bronze medal haul after China, Japan & Korea
A LOT HAS CHANGED IN THE PAST FOUR YEARS
However, past performance is not an indicator of future success. In the 4 years since Incheon, a lot has changed in Indian Sport and some of these changes are highlighted below:
1. The new Sports Minister is an ex-Olympian & fully committed to the cause of Indian Sport.
2. Annual budgetary allocation to sports have increased by 100% over 2014.
3. The systemic support and encouragement to national athletes is, at an all time high. This time, participation in overseas competitions and access to the best international training facilities have been made available to Indian athletes.
4. Schemes to financially support national athletes (TOPS) have been implemented and continue to be fine tuned for further relevance.
6. Some Sports Federations (Wrestling, Boxing, Athletics, Weightlifting) have demonstrated a degree of systemic improvement (IOC regulations, anti doing, age fraud & national selection)
7. The emergence of a new breed of sports stars across different sports that are the new flag bearers of hope for the future - Neeraj Chopra (Javelin), Manu Bhaker (Shooting), Manika Batra (Table Tennis), Jinson Johnson (Athletics), Tejaswin Shankar (Long Jump), Mirabai Chanu (Weightlifting), Anish Bhanwala (Shooting), Karman Kaur Thandi (Tennis), Vinesh Phogat (Wrestling) amongst others.
8. India is starting to whole heartedly support non cricket sports. The level of interest, evident from TV ratings and growing fan base and impressions on social media is indicative of the fact that Indians are cheering for non cricket sports in very large numbers.
9. Social movements such as #HumFitTohIndiaFit and #KitUpChallenge are creating mass awareness about health, outdoor and fitness, which in turn, is fueling the sports momentum across India.
My prediction is that India will come back from the Asian Games in Jakarta with a total medal haul between 75 - 81 medals, (16-18 Gold, 20-24 Silver and 40-45 Bronze). But in order to win these medals the next 50 days are critical.
50 DAYS TO ASIAN GAMES 2018
With exactly 50 days to the Asian Games in Jakarta, India needs to get a few things in order:
THE SPORT ADMINISTRATORS - over the next 50 days, sports administrators need to get the following in order:
(#1). ANNOUNCE THE SQUADS - for each sport as quickly as possible. This decision cannot be delayed any longer. Archery, Badminton, Table Tennis, Shooting, Golf, Karate, Tennis & Football, Karate, Taekwondo have announced their squads. Wrestling, Swimming, Weightlifting, Boxing, Wushu, Squash, Judo, and Kabaddi have not yet made the announcement. Athletics & Hockey should be making the announcement in the coming week. The final squad should include - chief coach, assistant coaches, athlete, physiotherapist and other support staff.
(#2). LOGISTICS ARRANGEMENT - ensure all arrangements (travel, visa, equipment movement, media interactions, etc) have been planned well in time. The intent should be a minimum discomfort to the athlete under all circumstances.
(#3). ATHLETE SUPPORT - Ensure that player entry filing, play schedule, practice schedule, fitness schedule, official uniforms, diet & nutrition arrangements, sports gear, etc are planned and double checked to avoid any last minute discomfort to the athlete.
THE ATHLETE - over the next 50 days, athletes and their coaches need to focus on the following dimensions:
(#1) COMPETITIVE PLAY, FOCUS ON TECHNICAL SKILL & GAME ANALYSIS
1. Provide light intensity competitive sporting action while focusing on technical skills, position play, set pieces, scenario planning. The intent should be to fine-tune attitude and effort towards delivering the best result.
2. Coach lead, post play game analysis as well as video reviews of key competitors is critical to help the athlete prepare mentally.
3. Avoid injury scenarios at all costs.
(#2) MENTAL CONDITIONING & PREPARATION
1. Instead of visualizing the outcome, the athlete needs to focus on creating a map of individual steps that deliver an outcome. If the athlete's focus is on winning or losing, he/ she will be distracted from the specific actions that he/ she need to execute to deliver a game plan.
2. Encourage the athlete to visualize his/ her performance by creating a set of scenarios and his/ her action responses to the same. This helps improve the speed of response/ reaction time under pressure situations.
3. Encourage the athlete to create a pre-event preparation schedule to help focus energy and attention on the task ahead. This should include a purposeful self-talk that is uplifting, motivating and energizing. Practice this regularly to set a routine.
(#3) BE WATCHFUL & WARY
1. The athlete has to be extremely careful about medicine, supplements and food items that he/ she consumes. At the end of the day, the ultimate responsibility lies with the athlete.
2. The athlete is advised not to put themselves in any situation which becomes hard to explain later or brings unwanted attention. The athlete needs to be mindful of the fact that he/ she is a national icon and an ambassador of India.
3. The athlete allows only those individuals into his/ her immediate vicinity that bring positivity and confidence building thoughts to the table.
4. The athlete has to be aware that he/ she will come across many distracting situations but those have to be avoided at all costs. Since he/ she is playing for India, the athlete needs to remember that a billion plus dreams and aspirations ride along.
(#4) REST & REJUVENATION
1. The athlete has to find ways to rest the mind and the body. Sleep is an extremely important activity to rejuvenate energy and focus.
2. Family time is key. Friends and close confidants that help the athlete focus away from the sport are an important component to your preparation.
3. The athlete has to watch his/ her weight, keep the focus on fitness and health and keep the body supple and the mind relaxed. The mind is the athlete's biggest weapon. Unleash it when the time comes. Till then, reign in the horses.
As India moves forward in its journey to find its rightful place as a regional superpower in Asia, India also needs to demonstrate its growing capabilities in other fields such as sports. Sports signifies the power of the social movement led by the youth of India and is indicative of India's social potential in the immediate future. Sports energizes India, creates positivity all around and ensures an outpouring of national pride.
While wearing the national colors, athletes carry immense responsibility to correctly represent the emerging spirit of India. Remember that 620 Indian athletes carry the hope and aspirations of a billion plus Indians.
India promises to support it's athletes in victory and in defeat. But India does expect these athlete to put on a show, like the world has never seen before. India's performance at the Asian Games 2018 will be a pivotal moment in India's journey as a Sporting Nation and define the next stage of sports development in India.