Sachin Tendulkar’s retiring from the game ends a great era. Even the final match is a milestone: he will be the first to play 200 Tests. Just being the first to achieve something is a great motivator. Trying to be the first Indian to win an individual Olympic gold was perhaps my biggest motivation. And once you achieve that, there’s a great sense of fulfillment. I am sure Sachin will have similar feeling of accomplishment after a career that crossed uncountable landmarks.
Whatever we say or write will never be able to do justice to his contribution to Indian cricket. I wish him the best for his second innings.
I am not going to even attempt to write about the great man. However, I am going to focus on what it takes to last that long and keep performing at the highest level.
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I believe athletes, who keep performing and last that long, are intrinsically very motivated. You don’t need to push them to keep working hard. They are always willing to keep putting in whatever it takes to prepare and get better. All such athletes are extremely passionate about what they do and their biggest high comes from the process of executing their skill.
Yes, external motivation also plays a part. Support from fans, fame, money can all be good motivators but only till a certain level. Until and unless you want it from deep inside, it’s hard to stay a world beater.
Physical and mental fitness
Fitness plays a huge role when it comes to longevity and effectiveness of a sports career. With most sports being asymmetrical in nature it’s bound to take a toll on the body. Advancements in sports science, medicine and bio-mechanical knowledge have certainly played a part in assisting athletes. But fitness is something which needs continuous work. Athletes who go the extra mile to put in the effort especially during the off season have been more successful. Having a good physical base right from a young age has a big advantage as it ensures that you end up having less injuries.
Mental fitness is crucial. Having a balance in life is important as it ensures that you have varied interests and it keeps your mind stimulated to keep going on and on. It also helps neutralise increasing stress levels that follow success. It ensures that while sport means everything, the athlete doesn’t lose perspective on life.
Persistence, perseverance and suffering are traits common in successful athletes. Failures will usually be more than victories. The ability to not get deterred by losses and keep persevering when the chips are down is a trait of champions. These athletes understand that and remain dedicated to their goal a tad bit longer.
Also common with highly successful athletes is to “suffer” during competition. In every performance there are moments which can go either way. It may be the nervous 90s or a superb bowling spell. By suffering, I mean the ability to curb your natural instinct, hang in there and make sure you survive critical moments.
It is probably the time when an athlete gets out of the zone and it takes excessive mental control to survive this period. Successful athletes seem to have the ability to mobilise all their resources during crises and stand up to the challenge.
Flexibility, ability to adapt
If you are going to have a career spanning over more than two decades, you have to have the ability to adapt and be flexible. Your mind is going to change and so is your body. Successful athletes have the ability to reinvent their style of play and yet be equally effective.
Recognising and accepting the fact that things are going to change with age is important. Certain aspects of a person’s game, which came naturally when young, become hard to execute and successful athletes have a way of compensating.
They also manage expectations very well. They remain open minded and adapt to circumstances. They never seem to lose perspective and that helps them come out of the stickiest situations successfully.
Being greedy and selfish
Athletes have to be greedy and selfish to some level. I say this in a positive sense. It is the greed to be more successful than others that motivates them through boring training days, pushes them to extreme limits, through pain. It is the black line at the bottom of the pool for a swimmer, the black blob of a target for a shooter. This is their focus in their self-centred worlds.
Athletes have to make many sacrifices in respect to family and relationships and their sport always tends to take precedence. After attaining a certain level it is pure greed that gives birth to a hunger to keep doing it again and again. This hunger is crucial to performing at the highest level. It is the desperation to succeed at all costs which propels these amazing athletes to victory over and over again.
No right time to quit
Commentators keep talking about retiring when on a high. Having had the chance to discuss this with many great athletes, I can say that it is not the criteria for all greats.
Great athletes keep challenging themselves and it takes a lot of courage to keep trying and putting their reputation on the line. For them it’s almost cowardly to not push themselves even further and they do not give up for the fear of falling from the high.
Sometimes though the writing is on the wall and most modern day sport do not have place for the old. Athletes are conditioned to hope and at times driven by a residue of belief that one last great season can be achieved, it is incredibly hard for them to leave an arena.
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