Keeping the focus right

Dr. Amit Bhattacharjee is concerned about the ignorance of mental training in Indian sports officialdom.-K. PICHUMANI

Meet the man behind Abhinav Bindra’s mental fortitude. Dr. Amit Bhattacharjee has already notched up three PhD degrees and has now set his sights on a second goal for Bindra at London 2012. Over to K. Keerthivasan.

One of Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra’s closest confidants, Dr. Amit Bhattacharjee can be called the shooter’s alter ego, one who shares his emotions and disappointments in equal measure.

As Bindra’s personal mental trainer for over a decade now and having travelled with him to three Olympics, beginning Sydney 2000, Bhattacharjee has learnt the nuances of the mental side of the sport on the job. He has completed three doctoral theses and courses on core management, disaster management, behavioural hypnosis and chiropractic.

“Especially in shooting, the difference between success and failure is slim, and a mental trainer helps to bridge that gap,” says the 42-year-old, employed as a research officer at the Post Graduate Institute of Medicine and Research (Chandigarh).

Bindra’s growing shooting abilities spurred Bhattacharjee to master the mental side of the homosapiens. Unwilling to be satisfied by reading books, he, in an effort to widen his horizon, visited several institutions and people to understand the dynamics of the mind. “I learnt the software which reads human brain frequency when it’s under pressure. I learnt muscles stability, breathing pattern which form the backbone of shooting. I spoke to numerous people and institutions based in the USA, South Africa and Germany,” he says.

For sportspersons competing at the highest level, a good mental framework is very essential, he says, as they face extreme stress during competition. And under such pressure, only a mental trainer is able to get the best out of them.

There have been instances of sportspersons taking a wrong turn and committing suicide, unable to handle stardom. “Motivational words are not enough,” says Bhattacharjee, “They have listened to them umpteen times. The solution lies in handling the problem individually based on statistical analysis.”

Born in Kolkata and raised in Chandigarh, Bhattacharjee’s association with Bindra began when the shooter was in Std. VIII. Bindra’s parents had hired Bhattacharjee, who was then a teacher in Vivek High School in Chandigarh to take science tuition and do a bit more. “At that time I was preparing for Indian Administrative Service. I taught science to Bindra and also tried to balance his involvement in academics and sports,” he says.

The association blossomed over the years and Bhattacharjee, enthused by Bindra’s excellence in shooting, wanted to learn more about the mental aspect of the sport. By the time Bindra qualified for the Sydney Olympics, Bhattacharjee had almost completed his doctoral thesis on alternate therapies in indoor games — 10m air rifle. He went on to complete two more PhDs in sports psychology and health management. It would be naïve to associate Bhattacharjee with shooting alone. He has successfully trained Mohun Bagan SAIL Football Academy and East Bengal senior side and relishes his tenure with the latter. “Before I took over as a mental trainer, East Bengal had lost to Mohun Bagan seven times in a row. Subash Bhowmick, the coach, was concerned. He said, ‘technically my team is very good and better than most. But they are failing. I don’t know why.’ After my sessions, East Bengal started to win,” says a proud Bhattacharjee.

His other wards include the likes of Sayantan Das (chess), Asavari Tayal (shooter) and Zorawar Thiara (horse rider).

Though Bindra’s success automatically catapulted Bhattacharjee to dizzying heights, failure in Athens Olympics taught the mental trainer quite a few lessons. A slightly bent board, where the shooters place their rifles before shooting, was one of the reasons, it’s said, for Bindra’s poor performance in Athens.

“At that time we lacked disaster management.” And again in Beijing, Bindra and team encountered another problem when the shooter’s rifle malfunctioned. “We handled the issue exceedingly well,” says Bhattacharjee. “In fact when Bindra told me about the incident I said not to worry. He went back to his place in a zero state of mind, what I call Thetha mind — using the sub-conscious mind — and came up with good scores.”

Bhattacharjee is concerned about the ignorance of mental training in Indian sports officialdom. “Indian sports policy doesn’t have a space for mental training. There should be courses on mental training, which will enable more people to specialise in related fields,” he says.

Bhattacharjee, whom Bindra credits for his calm and unruffled nature, says it’s high time a centralised system for training shooters is also put in place. He says the facility should have a technical coach, a mental trainer, a sports physiotherapist, yoga instructor and a proper gym with neuro and bio-feedback machines. “These are reasonable demands which can be met,” he says.

His expertise has already been tapped by the Indian Army which has asked him to train its best shooters for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, and Bhattacharjee has already started working, without charging a dime. For him, there are miles to go and promises to keep. “My ambition is to help Bindra win a medal in the 2012 Olympics,” he says.