W Power 2024

In tough times, stay positive: Pawan Sehrawat

Superstar kabaddi player and the Indian national captain on the virtues of positive thinking and why learning should never stop

Kathakali Chanda
Published: Mar 23, 2024 09:30:00 AM IST
Updated: Mar 27, 2024 06:17:20 PM IST

In tough times, stay positive: Pawan SehrawatPawan Sehrawat, the national kabaddi captain. Image: Courtesy  JSW Sports

For two consecutive years, Pawan Sehrawat has been the most expensive player to be picked in the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL). In Season 9 last year, the acclaimed raider was picked up by the Tamil Thalaivas for Rs2.26 crore, while he went for a whopping Rs2.6 crore to the Telugu Titans in the recently concluded Season 10. For Sehrawat, more than material gains, the price tags represent his performance and the expectations the franchise has for him. "I look for positives in everything," says the 27-year-old from Delhi. "To me, the price tags validate my potential and performance. And to have that twice proves that my success isn't just a flash in the pan."
The national kabaddi captain emanates a similar positivity when asked if he finds such expectations onerous and if the burden of expectations bogs him down. "Not at all, in fact it motivates me," he says. "Jisse ummeed na ho, usse kya banda hope karega (You don't have hopes from someone you don't expect anything from)."
In this interview, he breaks down the need to learn despite his towering achievements, the power of positive thinking and how, as a captain, he brings together players into a cohesive, winning unit. Edited excerpts: 

'Kabaddi is more a part of my life than a profession'

I started playing kabaddi in school in Delhi. By and by, when I learned what school nationals or open nationals are, I started training professionally. I would go to the nearby Khera village at 4 in the morning and spent nearly ten years there training in kabaddi. Initially, I would cycle or run to the training centre occasionally. Later, when I bought a bike with my income from sports, and then a car, I would drive to the centre—this is just to indicate how long through my formative years I've been training at the same centre. I never thought I would take the sport professionally. My family, especially my mother, would insist that I study, but my father backed my dreams of playing. While I was doing well at all stages of the sport, I never made a conscious decision to play kabaddi professionally. By and by, as I progressed, it just became a part of my life.

'Keep calm and carry on'

I've grown up watching players like Manjeet Chillar and Rakesh Kumar, both former Indian players. They lived near my house, and I used to watch them at all the local tournaments and even the Asian Games. I always wanted to be like that—my ambition was to develop leadership skills like Manjeet or the jump and dubki skills like Rakesh—or even better. Rakesh bhai had immense patience—I don't think I've ever seen him get angry. And he always tells, even now, to control one's temper since it has an adverse impact on the game. 

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'The learning never stops'

As the captain of the Indian national team, I try to take all players and their attributes together. One has to remember that all players have their pros and cons. You help them prise open the plusses and execute them in a certain situation. For example, Arjun Deshwal has a special skill with bonuses, so try to bring the best out of him by making him understand when to do a bonus and when a fake bonus would benefit the team. When a defender handles pressure well, he should be kept in front, or, at some point, you have to decide if you should come in front. As a captain, you have to match situations with the plus points of players, and you need to devote a lot of time to this. I don't think that just because I am the captain, I don't need to learn any more. If I spot some lessons, even in smaller leagues and matches, I won't hesitate to learn from that. There is no such thing as perfection; one has to learn all the time.

'Pressure is a positive vibe'

For me, the pressure of expectations is a positive thing. If someone thinks, "Pawan toh achha hi khelega" (Pawan always plays well), it means they don't doubt my abilities. It's a good vibe. There have been occasions when I haven't played that well, but the opposition is still alert and wary because they know my reputation. Such a thing works in my favour, especially for me, because I never feel the burden of expectations. Overall, I am a positive person, so if someone pins their hopes on me, I feel it's because they know I am capable. Jisse ummeed na ho, usse kya banda hope karega (You don't have hopes from someone you don't expect anything from). 

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'Identify and nurture skills in others'

In one of the matches during the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL), one of the commentators called me a high-flyer, alluding to my ability to jump over a huddle of defenders. How did I build this skill? I learn whatever is good in others. I've watched a lot of old matches of Rakesh bhai, and he used to jump quite well. One of my earlier coaches, too, could identify special qualities in his wards, and he noticed the power I have in my core and legs. So he made me practise the high jumps. And since it worked for me, dodging opposition defenders with high jumps, I used this tactic frequently. But it won't be fair to say that this is the only skill I have, and, over time, I have developed many other raiding skills—just that the tag caught the fancy of the viewers.  

'In tough times, think positive'

I was the most expensive pick in the ninth season of PKL, bought for Rs2.26 crore by the Tamil Thalaivas. But I was injured in the first game and was out for the rest of the season. Such times are difficult for an athlete because s/he begins to doubt their comeback or wonders that even if s/he manages to come back, would s/he be able to attain peak form? During these times, I talked to people—my family and friends—who would only reinforce positive thoughts in me. At times when I had doubts, they would uphold examples of players who had made banging comebacks. And the second thing to focus on during this period is your rehab. I did my rehab at JSW's Inspire Institute of Sport in Bellary, and being in the athletes-centric community was a motivation in itself. So, at times, when I could only do eight counts of an exercise, they would make me do 12.

'Discipline is key in life, and not just in sport'

The sixth season of the PKL was the turning point of my career. I had a disappointing fifth season, where I had got all of 18 raids, and I had given up hope. For perspective, I do 25 raids on average in a single match. In the first match of Season 6, I scored over 20 points by halftime. That was my favourite moment and a life-changing moment in my career. What has the sport taught me? Discipline. And also the fact that life is like a roiling sea, where waves can throw you up as easily as they can throw you down. One must keep their wits about themselves in either situation.

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