Will have time to get form, fitness and touch back: Sharath Kamal
Anxious young table tennis players dialling Achanta Sharath Kamal in these troubled times, got positive vibes. Along with tips to stay calm and learn to defocus.
“I told the younger players that we need to accept the situation. Of course, we’ll lose shape, form, fitness, touch… everything. But, we will have time to get all that back once we come out of it (lockdown) as tournaments are not going to start anytime soon,” says the world No. 31.
What Sharath - as he is known in the international circuit - has done is pass on tips from Dr Swaroop Savanur, mental conditioning and peak performance coach with Lakshya Sports. Savanur has taught Sharath, 38 in July, how to stay calm at a time when it is a real challenge for top athletes used to a regimen of training, travelling and games.
Mental imagery technique
“The challenge during lockdown is unique because normally athletes are talking to me with the goal of a competition. But right now those goals are distant. The Olympics have been postponed and that uncertainty is leading to a lack of focus,” says Savanur.
“I am currently focusing on their metal imagery techniques by which they can maintain muscle memory, which is very crucial. So, when lockdown gets over, they will realise their muscle memory is not too far from what they thought would be after lockdown.”
“The way forward for elite players (like Sharath) in these times is to defocus. I tell them to defocus from the game, except for 3-4 hours when they should be doing what their trainers want them to do. They should become normal persons after that where they are not thinking about anything remotely connected with their sport. Because if you try to think about the game too much, uncertainty can get to you,” says Savanur.
It did get to Sharath when with an Olympic qualifier in three weeks, India enforced the lockdown in March to deal with Covid-19. He was in the middle of a good run, having bagged silver in the Hungarian Open and won the Oman Open. The qualifiers were in Bangkok from April 6 and with the world trying to combat the novel coronavirus, Sharath was struggling to cope with fear of infection even as he was trying to get ready for an important tournament.
“For me, personally, there was a lot of anxiety about qualifying for the Olympics. The corona situation added to it. But then I was told (by my mental trainer) that I cannot be anxious about things not in my control. The important thing is to keep yourself positive which is very important, especially in these difficult times. While earlier the goal was about improving my game and mental toughness, now it is more about sustaining ourselves, remaining positive,” says Sharath, a record nine-time national singles champion.
“We are not alone in this race; all the players around the world are not able to practice as they would want to. But we will have time once things clear up… If we start training in June, we’ll have three solid months to (July, August and September) to get back in shape before the competitive season begins,” he says.
Which is why Sharath isn’t really keen on joining training now that restrictions have eased. The three-time Olympian has said: “I feel it is too early. Training can wait until the situation improves significantly.”
For Sharath, staying safe is more important. And to that end, he has learnt to adapt. Just like he did when he found himself in lockdown without basic training equipment.
“During the early days of the lockdown, I said to myself, ‘I must do this, I must do that; I must keep myself fit’. I was completely driven towards my fitness goals,” he says.
“But soon reality dawned. Stuck in the apartment with not much equipment, I realised I couldn’t do much. So, the next best thing was: whatever little I do, I should do it to the best of my ability. I kept myself in constant touch with my mental trainer, called him once every week, indulged in a bit of yoga, which was my childhood passion until it got lost in the humdrum of travel and competition.”