Poise under pressure
Youth icon, sportswoman, and multi-award recipient, P.V. SINDHU has many national and international titles under her belt, the latest being the 2019 World Badminton Championships. A never-say-never attitude, a magnetic smile and twinkling eyes, she is an epitome of humbleness and graceful poise. Here she speaks with SATYA SAHAY at the inauguration of the P.V. Sindhu Badminton Academy at the Lalaji Memorial Omega International School in Chennai, India.
Q: I’m very grateful and super excited to have a heart-to-heart conversation with you.
PVS: It is a great pleasure for me to be here at LMOIS in Chennai, where I’m coming for the first time to inaugurate this new badminton facility that is named after me. I hope that those youngsters you take up badminton will come here to practice and train hard, and in future be more successful.
Q: You have ignited so many lives by being who you are, and you have inspired so many girls to take up sports and dream of reaching the same heights. This is an encouragement and support to them all.
PVS: Thank you so much. It’s nice to be told that, but it’s not just my hard work; it’s a lot of people’s hard work who have supported me. My parents have been very supportive, and my coach, and I’m thankful to them. Parents’ support is much needed by anyone who gets into sports; it’s not just a few months of hard work, but years of hard work, and success is not immediate. But with hard work you will definitely get there. Not only in sports, but in other things like studies, ups and downs are always there. Some might find success early and some find it late, but there’s a process and it will take time. You have to be patient and you have to believe in yourself.
Q: So, tell us a little about your childhood and upbringing.
PVS: I started playing badminton at the age of eightand-a-half, just for fun, and when I started I never thought I’d become an Olympic medalist or a World Champion. My parents are volleyball players and they always supported me with whatever sport I wanted to do. Step by step, I got better. My mom and dad guided me, because they knew how it was coming from a sports background and the experiences they had faced. Even now, whenever I play and make a few mistakes here and there, they tell me, “You need to do this,” or “You need to do that.” That helped me in improving my game and I’m very thankful to them.
Q: What were the values in your family? Are there any qualities that you are grateful for?
PVS: As I said, hard work is one of the most important things, because you won’t achieve success so easily. You have to keep working hard. Also, whenever I would lose – you know there are always ups and downs – I learnt never to think it’s over, there’s always a next time. When I lost, obviously I would feel sad, but my parents would say, “There’s always a next time.”
Q: So how do you cope with failure in an individual sport where you’re not part of a team?
PVS: It’s not only in individual sports, but also in team sports, every player feels sad or bad whenever they lose a match or come up with failure. But failure doesn’t mean it’s over, and you learn a lot from your loss. The next time you face that same opponent, you won’t make the same mistakes again. It’s not that you shouldn’t lose, that you always have to win, because that can’t happen. So, you have to be strong and you have to come back stronger to face the next challenge.
PVS: Winning is always a very positive thing. You feel happy, you are motivated, and it’s important that you stay grounded and be aware that you won’t keep winning every time. You can’t become overconfident because that will lead to something else. You can be happy with your win, and the next time you face the same opponent you have to give 100% to the game. In badminton there are a lot of strategies, and every time you play the game changes. So you have to be mentally and physically strong.
Q: How did you discover your ability as a sports person? Was it easy to follow your passion?
PVS: It wasn’t easy, but at the same time I really enjoyed it. I think you need to enjoy sports; you need to enjoy whatever you do. It shouldn’t be a forced thing where you’re playing and winning for someone else. You need to feel happy doing it. It wasn’t easy, and there were times when I kept losing, and people started asking me, “What’s happening?” But then I came back much stronger, and I gave the answer to them with my racket. Criticism always comes, so don’t take it to heart, and let it go. You have to think what’s good for you and not spoil your mental condition.
Q: Is there any routine or act that you do before big matches?
PVS: It’s very important to take proper rest. You practice all the time, but before a match you can’t exhaust yourself. So to feel fresh and rested is important. Before any match the preparation is to get to know your opponent, what her strategies are, and how to play against her. And in case Plan A doesn’t work, you need to have a Plan B, and to decide on the court in the spur of the moment, under pressure, in a matter of seconds. That is crucial.
Hard work is one of the most important things,
because you won’t achieve success so easily.
You have to keep working hard
Q: And is there anything that you feel brings you luck?
PVS: I believe in God. There’s no lucky action, or any such thing, and I do believe that on a particular day whoever plays better wins. I’ve taken up Heartfulness practices, which really help me, and they have made a huge difference. There were times when I got angry with myself, when I lost points in a match, and I didn’t know what I was doing. But with this practice, I now find those answers within myself. I keep calm and keep going, which is very important when you’re playing long matches and feeling impatient. For example, when you’re leading by seven points and eager to finish, it’s important to close your eyes for a few seconds and get ready. These small changes help you a lot to stay focused and calm.
Q: What does it take to become a great sportsperson? How much of it is talent, how much attitude and hard work?
PVS: It is not any one thing; you need everything in equal parts. It’s like a chain, where you need to have determination, the right attitude, hard work, and also talent. It’s connected and everything together makes a champion. You also need to be grounded when you taste success; that’s important.
Q: How do you maintain your graceful poise under pressure?
PVS: Every player faces pressure, and that is when you need to just keep going, keep calm. People want me to win, the expectations are always there, there are responsibilities. That is when you think, “I need to win.” So it’s very important to bear in mind that you’re not playing for other people; it’s for yourself. And when you go on court and give one hundred percent and win, it’s for yourself and for the people too, for the country. If you let others’ expectations affect your mind, that brings extra pressure on you.
Learning to meditate makes a huge difference when you’re on court.
It makes you feel in control when you’re impatient and under pressure;
it calms you down. Nothing else comes into your mind.
Q: Would you say that meditation has helped you maintain your balance, and has kept you centered?
PVS: Definitely. It’s a process and it takes time. Slowly I understood its effect. It makes a huge difference when you’re on court. It makes you feel in control when you’re impatient and under pressure; it calms you down. Nothing else comes into your mind. You’re able to just play your game. Otherwise, when you’re at game point, when you’re leading and about to finish a match, you have this anxiety, “What’s next?” So meditation keeps you going until the end. That’s been my personal experience. Every individual has a different mindset, has a different experience, and with me, I’ve seen a big change. I used to get angry whenever I lost points or when I was losing, but now that has reduced a lot. I’m able to keep calm.
Q: Who has helped you along the way in your career. Who are your mentors?
PVS: Of course, my parents and my coach. They’ve been very, very supportive, especially through the hard times. My parents have made a lot of sacrifices and I’m very appreciative. The stadium where I trained was very far from where we lived, so we had to shift house so we could be near the academy. My mom and dad took early retirement from their jobs, so they could travel with me wherever I went, and mentor me constantly. Still today, whenever I go home tired, my mom cooks what I like to eat. All that really matters and helps me a lot.
Q: What guidance can you offer young people who want to follow their dreams?
PVS: A lot of youngsters are taking up sports as a career, so I would say to them, “Enjoy your sport. Winning and losing is secondary. Follow your passion. It’s very important to play your heart out and do your best.”
To parents, I’d say, “Fully support your child in whatever sport they are playing. Your child has to want to play that sport. It’s not enough to put them in an academy and expect them to perform well, just because it has produced top players. It doesn’t work like that. Everyone has a different talent and ability, and it’s important to know your children’s needs when giving support.”
Q: They need constant nurturing.
PVS: Yes. Joining an academy doesn’t make you a world class player. It requires much more; it takes time, too, during which you need parents’ support and encouragement.
Q: How important is mental health in sports?
PVS: In any sport it’s important to keep yourself both physically and mentally fit. If you’re physically fit but mentally not strong, that won’t work, and vice versa. If you’re not mentally prepared, you’ll go and play blindly. At some point, suddenly you’ll go blank and won’t know what to do next in your game. Mentally you need to be very, very fit, so you’re aware of what’s happening within you and what needs to be changed. Doing meditation won’t necessarily bring you success and let you beat the world, but you’re doing it for yourself, for your heart. You get clarity through that. But that’s not the reason for doing meditation. You need to feel good within yourself, you need to understand and agree with the inner you, and use it in a positive way. When you start meditating, you start getting that clarity in your life. It helps you go with the flow. It has made a big difference in my personal life.
Q: Now we have some rapid fire questions where you answer with one word within a few seconds. What does the following stand for you?
PVS: Life. Happiness is life.
Q: True success.
PVS: Hard work.
Q: Would you say hard work is success in itself?
PVS: You are working hard with yourself and that is a critical condition. Success is not just to beat everyone and win. Success is step-by-step with what you’re achieving gradually.
Q: One thing you do when you are stressed out.
PVS: I just sit and think. I also meditate.
Q: ‘Sindhu’ as a brand stands for …
PVS: I would like to see me at the top of the world.
PVS: Youth stands for youth. There’s nothing that we can’t do if we set our minds to it.
Q: Cheeky moment in school. Any breaking rules?
PVS: No, I was a very good student.
Q: Who inspires you the most?
PVS: My parents are my inspiration. They were both volleyball players, and they worked hard at it
too. And the sacrifices they have made mean a lot. Earlier on, their support meant defending my choice of career and my chosen sport. They believed in me from the start and that is why they inspire me.
Q: Your message to school students who wish to pursue success?
PVS: It’s very important for students to start any sport at the grassroots level. Exercise is important. Keep fit. Spend one or two hours every day doing exercise or playing a sport.
Q: Thank you for having such an openhearted conversation with me, inspiring all of us to follow our dreams fearlessly. On behalf of everyone here I wish you continued success at the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. All the best.
Interviewed by SATYA SAHAY
May 31, 2020
May 31, 2020
May 31, 2020