Jayanta Talukdar of India releases an arrow in the bronze medal match against Taiwan during the men's team archery competition at the Aoti archery range in Guangzhou during the 16th Asian Games.
Next time you are under the shower, try this. Run the shower. Trace the concentric circles made by the perforations in the shower base. Trace it to the centre. Now concentrate on the line of water coming out of the centre. Focus on it till you can actually visualise every drop separately that is coming out of it. Impossible, it seems.
This is just one of a series of routine concentration exercises practised by our London Olympics-bound archers.
“There are more like this,” said Jayanta Talukdar, who will spearhead the Indian men’s archery team at the Lord’s cricket ground from July 27. “I think of my best shot ever. I try and visualise it in my mind: from the draw, to the release, to the hit right at the centre of the yellow ring. There are times when I play matches in my mind.
“All these help increase focus and build muscle memory,” said Talukdar, who had already qualified in the individual category even before the India men’s team achieved qualification in Ogden, USA.
“Another important thing is the breathing exercise. Between ends, I usually keep repeating ‘Om’ to myself. This helps settle the nerves and controls breathing which is very important for a perfect release of the arrow,” Talukdar said.
Cut across to the fifth edition of the Indian Premier League. During an informal chat with journalists in the city, Kolkata Knight Riders’ mental skills coach Rudi Webster recalled how through mental training he surprised doctors on way to recovering from a bout of paralysis in 2006. He also spoke about a golf session with Desmond Haynes and Malcolm Marshall in 1999, just two months before the West Indian pace legend lost his battle with cancer.
After struggling for the first 14 holes he said, Marshall overcame his physical weakness and pain to win the next four. “‘Doc, I believe in myself and in my game. In my mind, I saw myself winning those holes and once that happened, you were gone,’” Webster recalled Marshall telling him after the game.
Cut across to the South Korean archery camp ahead of the Beijing Olympics. Agencies reported the world’s top archers cleaning sewage, staying up all night staring at dead bodies in a crematorium, handling snakes, meditating at a Buddhist temple and walking through a haunted house full of actors in ghoulish outfits as part of their training. They also had physical endurance tests at military camps.
“We know they do all such weird stuff. But the idea is to prepare them mentally. Learning to overcome the fear within is what the Koreans have been trying to achieve and they have been successful at that, completely dominating a precision sport like archery for years,” national coach Limba Ram said.
Mental training coach Vaibhav Agashe, who had worked with Abhinav Bindra during his preparation for the Beijing Olympics, does sessions with Talukdar’s teammates Rahul Banerjee and Tarundeep Rai. “He has been very helpful so far. We have done a few session and we are constantly in touch over phone,” said Banerjee.
“Archery is a precision sport and a lot of it depends on staying calm under pressure. Mental conditioning is the key to success. At the Olympics, there would be hardly anything to choose between teams. There are no weak opponents. Our form has peaked at the right time and now we need to hold our nerves,” said Rai, who won individual silver at the Guangzhou Asian Games two years back.
The men’s team, which has a good chance of winning a medal after a series of good performances in the build up to the Games, has recently changed its shooting order. Talukdar and Banerjee have switched positions and now the former opens the shooting for India.
“Rahul’s form was not that good leading to the Final Olympic Qualification at Ogden. So, we decided to switch places and it has worked well. A good start is crucial in team competition and Rahul was putting himself under undue pressure trying to go for a 10 every time,” Talukdar said.
Now the team’s challenge is to settle down into the Olympic match format. Unlike in other competitions, at the Games all elimination matches are in single-arrow format. This means that an archer can shoot only one arrow at a time and leave the shooting line for his teammate.
“In other competitions, we hit two arrows at a time except for in a medal play-off match.
“That means after hitting the first arrow an archer can make necessary adjustments gauging the wind speed and direction. But now we can hit only one arrow at a time and so communication between the team members becomes crucial in getting the team into a rhythm,” Banerjee said.