The message is the same

STRANGE how different people can say the same thing in a different way at different times.

AMRIT MATHUR

STRANGE how different people can say the same thing in a different way at different times. Take, for instance, the advise Bishan Bedi, yoga guru Iyengar and Geet Sethi gave to players recently. They spoke from their perspective, stressing what they felt was important but, in essence, their message was the same.

Bishan Singh Bedi is a pragmatic coach and expects total devotion and commitment from his wards. He also believes that only sound work ethics and unshakeable focus will help the trainees achieve their goals. -- Pic. RAJEEV BHATT-

Early one morning at his training camp at Jamia, Delhi, Bishan was standing in the middle of a small group of young kids — the eldest not more than 15 — giving them serious gyaan. You are here, said Bishan who spends considerable time listening to the Osho, because you love playing cricket. "Nobody pushed you into a cricket net. This is what you want to do. So just work hard and enjoy yourself."

Then, leaving the kids with trainer Amrik Singh, Bishan explains why he prefers working with youngsters. "Their energy levels are as incredible as their enthusiasm," he says. "Also, kids have pure, unadulterated commitment and no lust for reward. All they look for is having a great time. They are here because this is what they want to do more than anything else in life."

So what is the role of the coach ? I ask. Nothing more than a facilitator and motivator. "Simply keep the fire burning. Show the way, help them grow, teach them that participation is one thing but performance is another. For this you must compete, and that happens only when the power of the mind is released from within."

A similar message was given by Iyengar to senior Indian players not long ago. "Work on your body through yoga," he said, "to gain physical strength. Only when the body is controlled is the mind liberated. This is where real power lies. The hidden energy of humans is limitless. Free your mind, let it go and it will automatically use the body."

Geet Sethi dwelt on a similar theme though in a different context, using contemporary management phrases (suiting his corporate background) to put his case forward. Success, he said, "is a result of pure, unselfish activity done with focus and complete commitment. It is not measured by runs scored or statistics but by a higher level of consciousness — what matters is a sense of joy and thrill."

Example of this wonderful state, someone asked? "Depends," he replied. "It could be the intoxicating feeling one gets on reaching a hundred. Or it could be the sweet sound of bat middling the ball even when no run is scored, and the ball simply rolls down the wicket for the bowler to pick up. It could be the perfect outswinger that passes the edge of the bat on way to the keeper — no wicket taken but the batsman is shaken."

At a basic level, Bishan and Geet, champions from different fields, are talking about devotion and total commitment. Both are firm believers in sportsmen making their own destiny but realise that help is needed from the umpire up there.

Bishan explains this by citing the example of a precocious 10-year-old who travelled 4 hours each day to come to the net, taking a train every morning at 4! In his opinion the boy is a wonder — "an amazingly gifted left arm spinner, better than anything he has seen ever before. The kid is only slightly taller than the stumps but does everything right. He is entirely self created and self taught". Isme kisi insaan ka haath nahin, Bishan says. "Only God can take credit for him, not me today, nor any Dronacharya tomorrow." But Bishan is no mere romantic with faith in God, destiny and a superior force, which decides the fate of talented youngsters. He is also a pragmatic professional who knows that talent, however awesome, is only one of the many inputs required to make it. A sound work ethic and unshakeable focus is absolutely crucial, that is why he tells his trainees to take pain. Without getting knocked around there is no growth, one must learn from pain.

Disappointments and heart-wrenching failures are part of the game, and there are many examples of young wizards suddenly losing it, junior players who appeared unbeatable disappearing soon after moving into adult company. Cricket has a long list of such failed stars, players who departed and disappeared before they actually arrived. Geet offers a philosophical view about this, says, "sports success is extremely difficult to explain — it is a complex mix of talent and taqdeer. Chance, luck, opportunity, fortune play as much part in someone making it as talent, ability and best endeavour.

A person rises to the top when hundreds of unconnected things somehow fall in place, the whole design is so intricate it can't be adequately explained, understood or repeated."

Compared to this, coping with success is less of a mystery though it is a huge task for sportsmen who acquire sudden fame. A successful khiladi is public property, there is a price to pay because others want a slice of his time. As the besieged star balances various demands (be it an informal social dinner or professional engagements involving media/marketing agents) he gets distracted, his energies diverted from sport. To maintain balance, when pulled in different directions, is a challenge that many can't handle. Geet's warning: "fame is a virus which saps your inside, slowly."

So, ultimately, it all boils down to the mind. All the hours spent training in the gym, the endless nets in the blazing afternoon sun correcting the left elbow position are useless if the mind loses control. A cricketer needn't be an intellectual giant, he does not have to unravel DNA's mystery or grasp the nuances of deliberations of the WTO. But he must keep his mind uncluttered, stay focussed on cricket, exclude anything that is peripheral to performance. Call that discipline, or intelligence.

Besides the power of the mind, Iyengar/Bishan/Geet mentioned another quality of a true sportsperson. All top achievers, they said, "are humble — this is what makes them great champions." Judged by this yardstick Sachin towers above the others.