The mental side of the game – part 2
Ace tennis player and coach DEVINDER SINGH BHUSARI continues to share his insights on the right perspective to sport. Here he talks about how to manage stress and pressure on and off court, and brings a whole new dimension to the art of competing and the role of parents in encouraging their children to accomplish their dreams.
Q: What does health and fitness mean to you?
DSB: One of the best parts of my journey in Shaishya is that I also deal with the coaching of adults. By adults I mean anyone who is over 18 and who is learning or playing tennis just for the social or fitness part of it. I see so many people take to sport for fitness and wellness – to keep the body fit. When I say ‘fitness’ or ‘wellness’, there is of course the physical part; you exercise your whole body to ensure that you are able to use it very well throughout the day. The other part of wellness, which people often miss out, is the mental or the emotional part. I see so many players who come to us in the morning to play a competitive set and if they lose they are in a bad mood throughout the day. And actually they play tennis to start off the day in a good mood. So these are misplaced priorities, you know, misdirected ambitions.
If you watch tennis matches, sometimes you will see players with a frown on their face and clenched muscles. You can see the tension written all over their faces. I keep telling my students, “Why can’t you sing a song between points?” or “Why can’t the racquet become a guitar for a moment?” Why can’t you maintain a sense of humor in the middle of a match?
Q: That’s such a beautiful perspective, especially towards sport. Can you elaborate?
DSB: When we talk off-court, the kids who come to me for counseling share that they feel a lot of pressure. Normally the fear is of losing. So one of the ways they know they are handling the pressure, fear or nervousness well on court, is if they can maintain humor, if they can smile. The same applies to life also. In life, too, we have our share of challenges. Can we smile through them, accepting them cheerfully? So I tell my students, “In the middle of matches, can you smile? Or for a few seconds why don’t you sing a song under your breath? Because if you can maintain that perspective in the middle of the match, we know that you are handling pressure well. You are just being yourself, smiling your way through it.” That’s what life is all about, isn’t it? Accepting things cheerfully with a smile, even when they are tough. And if these kids are going to learn it here at such a young age, they will be very well prepared for life – which is the beauty of any sport. It prepares you for life.
Q: Well, stress is synonymous with sport today all over the globe, and this is such a lovely perspective – to keep it light and humorous. Is there any other tip that you can share to cope with the stress and pressure of competition and stay cool while playing tennis or any other sport?
DSB: To answer this question I would like to go back a little … My father used to give me a lot of books and say, “Treat these books as your coaches.” So I used to read a lot, and two or three books have stayed with me. One especially stood out, and that is The Inner Game of Tennis. It dives deep into your personality, what is happening inside of you, the awareness that you should have while playing a match. I picked it up from an old bookstore on one of my birthdays and it shaped me; and I call it ‘The Bible of Teaching and Learning Tennis’.
Q: Wow! Who is the author?
DSB: It is by W. Timothy Gallwey. The author himself was a tennis player and the book was a bestseller. He then went on to found the Inner Game Institute (www.theinnergame. com), and subsequently to write other books called The Inner Game of Work, The Inner Game of Music with Barry Green, and The Inner Game of Golf. It all actually started for him with tennis. Another great book is The Mental Game – Winning at Pressure Tennis by James E. Loehr, who is a pioneer in sports psychology. Some of the things that I have shared today with you regarding the right perspective are from this book, and I share them in my counseling sessions. I have developed lesson plans for a curriculum, for group and individual counseling, from these books and also from my own experience, and when any child comes to me with a particular problem I have material ready to talk about.
Now coming back to your question of handling stress, what I have found to be true is that we need some amount of stress or nervousness or pressure, which is positive and which is required to get things done. For example, if there are no deadlines no work can happen. If there were no exams, many kids would not study. And if there were no matches, a lot of kids may not think of improving themselves. So this little bit of pressure is required to get things going. Some amount of it shows that they care. But many kids are happy if they win and sad if they lose. I think that is the wrong equation. Not equating winning with happiness needs to be constantly reinforced, because parents and others will be happy if they win. If they lose they think something is wrong. How do we ensure that the kids are still happy even when they lose?
Most stress comes because once they enter the court their whole focus is on winning the match, proving, “I am better than the opponent.” But there have been so many cases where I have won a tennis match and have not felt good about it because I didn’t play well. So I keep telling the kids, “If you’ve won a match, it only tells you that on that day you played better than the other person. It does not mean you are better than the other person. There may be other days when your opponent plays better, so you have to face that too.” So all this comes down to the fact that you are not approaching the sport with the right perspective.
At the end of it I ask them to remember that it’s just a game, and you play it for fun, fitness and a lot of other benefits, like better concentration and other physical abilities. Once they remember that it remains the base, and all the negative consequences and complexities they develop because of the sport will go away. Then they will start enjoying the sport a lot. I mean you can be a champion yet not enjoy the sport. You might as well be a happy person, maybe not playing at a high level, but that’s completely okay. And if you can play at a high level, always keeping a smile on your face, there’s nothing like it. That’s the best!
Q: What is the role of ambition in achievement and excellence?
DSB: In Human Resource Management we have a theory of external motivation vis-àvis internal motivation. When we are children, any example that motivates us to do better, to excel, is good, for example, seeing someone holding a trophy. But it’s very clear for me when I play a match, that if I enter with positive emotions like the desire to excel, to play my best, I will also not feel a lot of pressure because I am positively motivated. I am negatively motivated when all I want to prove is that I am better than the other person. So if ambition is about being number 1 – winning this tournament, winning this trophy – if it’s about ranking, it is going to put a lot of pressure on the child, which in turn can lead to a lot of negative emotions like anger, frustration, nervousness and everything that goes with it. This is also what the sports psychologists say.
Luckily, in my case, with the books The Inner Game of Tennis and The Mental Game, and with meditation, the perspective changed from outward to inward. When I look inward – and the ancient Indian literature is replete with this saying – I realize that my opponent is not someone outside me. Even on the tennis court, my opponent is not actually someone who is playing against me. If my opponent is inside me, he has to be myself: How can I better myself? How can I defeat the negative tendencies that I have within me? How do I overcome the fear and nervousness that are there within me? Because I know that if I overcome these well, I will be able to respond better to the things my outside opponent is challenging me with.
And that is where I believe aspiration comes in, because it is to become something inside and not something outside. Outside, the world will take care of itself, but if I am becoming a better human being, if I am trying to change myself every day, if I am trying to become a positive person and find ways to overcome my own negative tendencies, ensuring that I become more and more positive, more and more loving and happy on the court, that is a sportsman’s spirit. I think those kids who are happy inside and have the strength inside are the only ones who are able to show good sportsman’s spirit in the most challenging situations.
Q: I’m sure that we’re going to come full circle with this question. We have been speaking throughout about the right perspective that children can have towards sport. Can you share with us your ideas about the parents’ perspective while encouraging their children in any field?
DSB: Since I am also a parent of a three-year-old boy, I keep looking to this time and again. I would actually like all parents to encourage their children to develop in more than one field, honestly speaking. Academics is great, but what else? And I am not speaking just as a sportsperson right now. The initial push always comes from the parents because at a very young age the child may not have the wisdom to decide. So whether it is sports or music or dance or robotics or any of these, the initial push always comes from the parents because the child looks up to their parents. I think it’s very natural for a child to follow in their parents’ footsteps and also to make them happy.
Having said this, there might be various stages that come in life. For example, as a parent you might be the one initiating this, but that doesn’t mean you will be the coach throughout. A lot of pressure comes when the child tries to meet parents’ expectations. Our job as parents is just to give them the initial push, to provide them an environment which is supportive, to support them financially, to support them wholeheartedly, even if that means investing a little time in it, and to be there for the child.
You may have a vision or a dream for your child and hopefully your child will share that dream, but if they don’t, that should also be okay. Because at least that means the child is someone with their own perspective, who knows their strengths and what they want out of life. If you give them those kinds of values and raise them in the right way, the child will take proper direction and will do things that are great for them.
Q: This dimension that you’ve brought to sport is really wonderful, Devinder. Is there anything else you want to add?
DSB: We were talking about managing various duties, and this is one part of my life where meditation is helping me a lot. In fact, I have been struggling with this question for the last two years. A solution came by itself: doing all these duties of a Heartfulness trainer, tennis coach, counselor and a parent, fits in beautifully with meditation. Just being involved with the pursuit of the highest possible goal is taking care of a lot of other things.
Q: Thank you so much, and I wish you all the very best in your sport and in your work as a mentor and trainer.
DSB: Thank you, Meghana.
Interviewed by MEGHANA ANAND
July 30, 2019
June 30, 2019
May 31, 2019