What is the difference between a champion and just an ordinary player? One could attribute qualities like talent, technical excellence and fitness. But there is another crucial factor, and that is mental strength. A champion, who is mentally strong, can focus on the task at hand, cutting off all distraction and thinking on his feet turns an adverse situation to his advantage. Often, even the best players come under pressure, lose their composure and slide to defeat when their mental strength takes a dip. Take, for instance, the Serena Williams match against Naomi Osaka in the 2018 US Open. When penalised by the referee, the American legend lost her cool and the match. Williams, no doubt is a mentally strong player but a momentary low in her emotional intelligence at that crucial point, saw her pay a big price. What she, instead, needed at that moment was a calm and composed approach to the situation, Mental strength comprises emotional intelligence with self and social awareness as the essential components. Building high levels of these three factors, sports psychologists acknowledge, immensely helps in the process of sporting success. A foremost mentor in this field of mental training is
M. Krishna Kumar, a multifaceted personality. He is an IIT and IIM graduate, Founder and Director of Intrad Consult, an international executive coaching firm. With a USPTR professional certification in tennis coaching, he is also the Founder-Director of the premier Kinesis Tennis Academy. In his career that spans three decades, Kumar has trained hundreds of sportspersons and business executives to develop new and effective ways to achieve their goals through techniques that help them reach peak performances. “Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to understanding one’s emotions and that of others and by balancing them and working towards achieving peak performance,”
says Kumar. Elaborating on this theme, he continues, “Performance on a sports field is directly correlated to stress. Too little stress could make a player stay relaxed and not give their best and potentially even lose the match. Conversely, a challenging encounter that creates an overload of stress might make him anxious and unable to deliver his best. Achieving and maintaining optimal stress when his EI is functioning at the right level is the best way, as that will see him raising the level of the game.”
Krishna Kumar with Boris Becker Kumar illustrates by sharing a situation how EI works in real play or practice situations.
“I was training two national level players in my court who were scheduled to play matches later that day. Overnight showers had left wet patches on the clay courts. When I asked each of them how they would adjust to the situation, one of them was distinctly uncomfortable. He felt that the courts would make movement difficult and that the wet areas would reduce the impact of his shots. The other player, drawing on her greater match experience, said that she would try and place her returns to hit these wet patches and thereby trouble her opponent. Applying EI, she approached the problem with a clear mind, without being perturbed by the challenge. Not surprisingly the results, later that day, reflected the thought processes of the two players,”
adds the coach. Achieving Emotional Intelligence requires that one develop both self-awareness and social awareness. What is self-awareness?Kumar puts it succinctly by stating that being aware or fully conscious of what one has been doing, by developing the willpower to shut off distractions is the start of embarking on affirmative action. “When we reflect on our actions and continue the action-reflection process, we reach a state of becoming completely engaged in the activity whereby optimal performance is met. It is the state that we commonly refer to as being in the Zone or a state of Flow. When a person is in a state of Flow, he or she is at the highest level of EI” says Krishna Kumar. Players also need to become socially aware. Social awareness is all about judging the action or reaction of one’s rival, the situation, and how to control its impact. “A champion player, like Federer, is fully aware of what is going on around him; he soaks into the atmosphere with crowds shouting in the gallery, the setting, the court condition and his opponent’s frame of mind. Sometimes, a player might be faced with a situation where he has to cope with the tantrums of his rival, and the challenge is to stay focussed and not get sucked into a spat. That’s where Emotional Management comes into play,’’ points out Kumar. A player can dramatically raise the level of his game by consciously working on his Emotional Intelligence, self- awareness and social awareness towards developing mental strength. A good coach will help to instil and enhance those qualities among players, not only through verbal instructions but by being their role models, concludes the master mental training mentor.