Motivational techniques

Published : Nov 17, 2001 00:00 IST

THERE is not the slightest doubt that soccer is the most popular sport in the world. One can play it anywhere and all that is needed is a football. No wonder kids are attracted to it and parents too don't mind as it costs them virtually nothing. The passion that it generates is incredible and even a match between two good clubs has the followers of the sides in a frenzy. With the World Cup due to be played in Japan and Korea next year, the qualifying games have seen some stunning upsets and some fancied teams have had to struggle to keep their heads above water and qualify for the finals. The tension is not confined only to the followers. The players and officials are also edgy and many a statement has been made only to be regretted later. Of course most of the statements are made to get a psychological advantage. They also serve to perk up sagging morale, but at times it's sheer bravado. However, they have made people stop and take notice.

One such assertion is that of the Croatian coach of the Iranian soccer team, Miroslav Blazevic. He has reiterated that he would commit suicide if his team does not qualify for the World Cup next year. One has heard of players and coaches putting their reputations on the line, but this is the first time ever one has heard of a coach actually putting his life on the line. Some may well say that in boxing every boxer who gets into the ring puts his life on the line, some may say that every batsman, though he may be well protected with helmets et al in this modern day, puts his life and limb in danger when playing quick bowlers on a fast, bouncy pitch. For that matter a fielder in a close-in position certainly takes a huge risk standing there. At the highest level there have been instances of fatalities in boxing, but none in cricket, though there have been serious injuries that have terminated a career. In lower level cricket where there is not much protective equipment there have been fatalities, the most notable being that of Raman Lamba, who got hit on the head, while fielding at forward short leg in a match in Bangladesh and passed away in the hospital later.

Sometimes words are said that have to be eaten later. This happened literally in the case of a cricket magazine editor, who wrote that India had no chance of winning the 1983 World Cup and that he would eat his words if they did. He had to do so when the manager of that Indian team insisted that he keep his word or stop writing and made sure that he didn't get away with it. The editor was sporting enough to do so, but that example is a rarity among all the experts who are free with their advice but have zero experience of what actually goes on, on the field.

Critical words can be great motivators, too. My fellow-columnist, co-commentator and former team-mate was once referred to as a strokeless wonder, who couldn't hit the ball off the square. He pasted that clipping on the inside of his kit bag so that he could see it every time he opened it and when he made a comeback to the Indian team he was hitting some of the biggest sixes ever seen. Unlike the manager of the 1983 World Cup winning Indian team, he did not take up the issue with the writer of that article, but his batting was doing the talking in the most effective manner possible. Using criticism as a motivational tool is a tactic that is often employed by coaches and captains, but to do that effectively and get the right results, the player to be criticised has to be understood properly. There is no point criticising a player who has no pride in performance, and is simply content to be part of a team to enjoy the perks and the good life and glamour aspect of the game. It's the competitor who is suffering from a lack of motivation or one who is getting complacent that needs to be criticised, for then he will respond positively and to the benefit of the team.

I remember, when I was the captain, saying that Kapil Dev would not score a 50 in a Test match and this after he had already scored a Test century and some 50s prior to that. I had seen him get to 30 or 40 in no time and then chucking it all away trying to play a shot that simply wasn't there. To me it was a waste of talent and when all my effort of trying to make him understand what wonderful ability he had as a batsman did not work, I wrote in a magazine that he would not score a 50 in a Test match. I had spoken to him in the dressing room, at dinners and at every other opportunity, but he would continue to play cameos that were enthralling, but which were all too brief not only for the crowd but also for the team. The day the article appeared he scored 69 on a pitch where specialist batsmen were struggling to put bat to ball. But Kapil made it look as if he was batting on a featherbed. His was a vital innings and came at a time when India needed it and as he returned to the dressing room he was all smiles. The first thing he said was, "Captain, I got a 50" and my reply was, "Yes, that's what the team and I wanted, even if it meant you shoving my words down my throat. Well played." He played some terrific innings for India after that, some on pitches which were dust bowls.

So, perhaps, the Iranian soccer team coach is threatening to commit suicide as a motivational tactic and hopefully he knows his team well enough to do that. For, if he is not a popular coach and the majority of the team does not like him he may have well signed his own death warrant. Of course, he could have more than an excuse or two to go back on his word, but the best will be for his team to win and qualify for the World Cup next year. We shall soon see.

Miroslav Blazevic has not only put his words where his mouth is, but also his life. Can you ever think of any coach of the Indian cricket team attempting a similar strategy, especially when it comes to the final of a one-day tournament?

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