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Table Tennis

"Playing professional sport is always injurious to your physical and mental health" - Sharath Kamal

Veteran table tennis player, Sharath Kamal, in an exclusive chat with The Bridge spoke on the boom in Indian table tennis and the importance of mental health safekeeping.

Indian table tennis player Sharath Kamal said thsi was his best Olympics ever

Sharath Kamal in action at the Tokyo Olympics (Source: Getty)


Sohinee Basu

Updated: 14 Nov 2021 10:10 AM GMT

Moving from strength to strength and steadily climbing the ladder to success, Indian table tennis has been noticing an upward curve trend ever since the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Capping off a surreal run at the Tokyo Olympics and the Asian Championships, Indian paddlers are dauntless and unafraid to invade Asian territories with their now-sharpened skillset and transformed mindset. Leading this motley pack of Indian table tennis stars from the front is the veteran Achanta Sharath Kamal himself, who is setting an example for the younger generations and inspiring them - not with his words, but with his dashing performances in the matches.

Returning with two historic bronze medal wins from the 2021 Asian Table Tennis Championships - one from the Men's Team and the other from the Men's Doubles, where he partnered Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, Sharath Kamal, at 39, is playing the best table tennis of his life, as he easily claims. In a recent Instagram live ahead of World Mental Health Day with the legendary paddler, The Bridge enquired about the reason behind the boom in Indian table tennis and the aspect of mental health in the context of sports.

For growth to take place, there are many hands and minds involved in pushing it forward. In table tennis, a similar pluralistic trend has been identified with the sport growing increasingly popular and subsequently garnering attention from Federation's - especially after the medal-fertile run at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and 2018 Asian Games. Sharath Kamal, who has been in the table tennis circuit professionally for over two decades has watched this transformation from close quarters and has been a part of every high and low wave.

"When I compare myself as a younger player in my early 20s to my early 30s and now late 30s, I can see that table tennis as a game has evolved. It's become more professional. For the people who are administrating the sport, by and large, the Indian mentality on the sport has become lot more professional," Sharath Kamal noted. "The Federation is doing their bit, SAI is doing their help with having us on TOPS scheme, then you have NGO's like Lakshya Sports Foundation...who are helping me," the multiple time CWG gold medallist relayed gratefully.

With this kind of awareness in the air, it automatically spells positive tidings for Indian table tennis. "Everybody is being taken care of by someone in an environment to grow. That's the reason why the sport has been evolving so rapidly," Sharath Kamal correctly identifies.

Mental health first approach to sport

Sharath Kamal (Source: Reuters)

All said and done, table tennis, especially at the elite level, like any other high-level sport is more a game of nerves than a show-off of talents. Talent can be one thing but it is the preserving of mental health that takes centre place for an active player who has to keep a torrent of contrasting emotions in check and go out on the field and conquer. It isn't an easy task and as important a role the Federation's are playing to promote the sport, it is equally crucial to take care of the mental health.

Sharath Kamal, who still finds the hunger in him to go on and play at his best level cannot stress enough on the need for taking care of your mental health. Joining the chorus which Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles sang in 2021, Sharath Kamal also twinned with their ideas. "Playing sport as a hobby is very healthy, both for your physical health as well as your mental health. But, playing professional sport is injurious to both your physical and mental health. Injuries keep coming up, you are always pushing yourself to an injury but you are on the edge where you still need to continue playing," the veteran paddler realistically paints the picture.

"Mental health is very difficult to handle. You are all the time on the tour - you play matches, you win some, you lose some. Lot of things are happening which have to be handled..even at that moment also. It's not like ' I can take a break, go back home, sit, relax, think about it and go back.' I have to keep hopping from one tournament to tournament...that gets to your head, your mental sanity," the 9-time National Champion mentions, highlighting the myriad struggles one has to face, emotionally.

However, in the pursuit of excellence and delivering at the top-level, it is important to mentally condition yourself correctly. "We as sportspersons, we try and get help. As an individual, I can concentrate on my technical aspects, tactical aspects, strategy building, my diet, mental support and everything..but I can't do it all by myself, I need a professional in these areas. These days, there is more awareness about it," Sharath Kamal relays.

"I can see a lot of young players are working with mental coaches. Basically, you are more aware of what's happening within. It's same like being aware about your physical health - today my body is not fine, I should rest today or today my body feels fit, I can go on to two extra sessions - it comes down to being aware about yourself," the bronze medallist from the Asian Games points out, as he looks ahead to seeing the rise of Indian table tennis in the coming years.

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