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One thing I have always said is that I would like the sport to be the hero- beyond a single athlete, beyond the federations which govern it. It's one of the primary reasons why I chose to continue contributing to shooting, my sport, long after I had ceased to compete in it actively. It is also why the changing demographics of Indian shooting makes me immensely happy presently. India no longer has to depend on a few tried and tested names to step up and win medals on stages that matter. We have a mixed team now. There is a delicate balance between the juniors and the veterans of the sport. Many young talented shooters are coming up, and along with that, the stalwarts present are contributing too.
In the Asian Games, the remarkable thing is in a discipline where a 38-year-old Sanjeev Rajput is winning, so is a 16-year-old Saurabh Chaudhury.Manavjit Singh Sandhu , who is the senior most was also there but he missed out on a medal by a hairline. A surge has come in Indian shooting, and a beautiful combination has been created now. It gives me immense pride to see the future generation shine so bright. The young talented shooters are also there, and they are showing strains of focus and maturity uncommon for their age. To be consistently strong there, you must have great mental strength. In high-level sports, especially in places like the Asian Games, every player has incredible focus, and on the day of the shooting, the competition is intense with narrow margins in between the players. It could be anyone's game then. Of course, it's not all a walk in the park- especially when you taste success at this young an age. There are several pros and cons associated with winning at 15 or 16. It's a great thing to set your benchmarks high right at the outset of your career, but there is a lapse in training as you fear to change your techniques or experimenting because you feel you cannot afford to miss out any of the chances. These kids, they are living their dreams early into their career and tasting success and, definitely, even enjoying it. But in the world of competitive sports, you have to run on the assumption that there is no consistency at the top. Phases of struggle will come. Things will not always be smooth sailing. The moment they encounter failure that is the moment to judge an athlete. The strategies they use to tackle it tells you a lot about their mettle. When life is hard on you and gives you a ungentle shove and you fall, you must learn to pick yourselves up. They will inevitably fall someday, there will be not-so-good days, but they must learn to battle past them and stay humble. The mindset has admittedly changed over the last few years with the sole focus on winning medals by hook or by crook, and there is not a single moment of peace with competitions piling up one after the other. For instance, I train Mehuli Ghosh, and she is very young right now. I make sure that she doesn't let the success get to her head. The big dreams which she has cannot be realised in the immediate future. It's only after 10-15 years of staying dedicated to this sport, can one achieve those ultimate targets. And that's a good thing. If you set easy benchmarks, you're not challenging yourself, are you? The attitude should be to keep your eyes trained on the bigger picture. Even if Mehuli qualifies and wins gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, she must not hang her boots up. Instead, it should be an impetus to climb higher That hunger should not perish. Nowadays most teenagers have their minds mostly preoccupied with social media, and their focus falters. Here, the challenge grows. How do you expect a kid to focus on winning medals when all her peers care about the latest trends on Instagram, Facebook or the other platforms. To be wholly focussed, they need to sacrifice certain things and choose wisely. With every sacrifice you make, you become unique and stronger. There are a lot of politics in sports and every Federation. When Mehuli was not selected for the Asian Games squad, she was heartbroken, but I told her not to lose faith and stay calm. These upsets need to be explained to the younger generation adequately and they need to be given the right dose of optimism. On the other hand they should also appreciate the current federation who are facilitating the athletes way more positively as compared to earlier administrations. The hard reality is, sports is not fair always, there are a lot of stakes involved from many quarters, and absolute fairness is an impossible task for the administrators. So the easiest way for an athlete, is to excel in every possible opportunity. You must learn to channelise these emotions into your game. There will always be the struggle, and you must not get disheartened by the sudden changes of policies of selections. But Mehuli has got the chance to compete in the World Championships where her performance will play a pivotal role in getting her a ticket to the Tokyo Olympics. The World Championships is a bigger stage hence, and she should feel proud about getting selected for it and not ponder over missing out on the Asian Games. And 2018 is full of bigger tournaments. In the Youth Olympics, I think India has a good chance with Manu Bhaker, Mehuli and Saurabh Chaudhury in the squad. Although Manu has taken a lot of pressure on her shoulders at her young age, she is going to perform well and give her best for sure. For shooting it's imperative that the mental aspect of every athlete is strong. Everybody knows the technicalities of the sport after a particular age and can be a good shooter but to be a real champion, you'll need that extra mental edge.
There should be a 90% focus on the psychological health of the athlete to ensure a bright future, especially in shooting.The other crucial driving factor is that you have to be very honest with yourself and be disciplined on the line. You have to follow what you are taught religiously. The coach needs to be a strict disciplinarian in some instances. They should make an allowance for the athletes too so that they can grow individually. The coach needs to empower the athletes, that the players are not afraid to make mistakes and learn from them to do better in the future. We must not cripple an athlete and bind them with the cause of discipline but allow them the room to grow and to bloom into great human beings. With regular doses of optimism and encouragement, the future of Indian shooting will soar into higher skies. This is a very proud moment for India to have a group of healthy players aiming for gold and living up to that promise! With the right kind of coaching and training, I am sure the younger generation will take Indian shooting into unconquered territories soon.