G Sathiyan, India's table tennis star, won three medals at Commonwealth Games 2022. Illustration: Chaitanya Dinesh Surpur
Don’t quit if you lose
It was a difficult phase when, in my early days, I was transforming from a junior to senior player. It’s highly competitive and it feels like you are out in the ocean. This is where most people lose patience and quit. Persistence is the key here. You have to just keep working hard. We always connect sports to success, which is unfair. You don’t drop out when you fail an exam. It’s the same for sports. It took me two years to find success, but I stuck at it because I felt I will regret if I didn’t make that effort to push forward.
Detach yourself from results
Training the mind is an important aspect in sport. Mental conditioning isn’t rocket science. You just detach yourself from the results or from thinking about the outcome—try to be in the present and play how you would in a practice session. That will make you relaxed. I started to train in a way that I won’t react much to either winning or losing, so that I could go into the phase of doing my routine irrespective of a competition. That made me mentally strong, and helped me compete against top players. Also read: Squash players were expected to just make up the numbers. I wanted to change that: Saurav Ghosal
Obviously, it’s disappointing when you lose. It took me around three days of sleeplessness to recover from it. What matters is what you do after that. Losing is a great learning process. When you are winning, you can’t analyse how you perform, you tend to get carried away by your performance. When you are losing, you can focus on the areas of improvement. I have come back very well from big losses because they have highlighted the technical aspects I need to improve on. After the Tokyo loss, I backtracked and went back to see what I did before the match, and what I could change from that.
Pressure to perform comes to you only if you are good
Pressure is a privilege. Not everyone gets to experience it. Pressure comes to you only when you are good. That’s the first thing you need to believe: That you are good. Once you believe this, you will start enjoying pressure. The very reason I chose sport over engineering is because I enjoyed the butterflies before the match. And then, you need to separate yourself from that. For example, in the Commonwealth Games, I understood the lessons from the Olympics and how to handle critical moments, not thinking about the crowd or the results. For me, the goal is not to win 11 points, but to execute what I have planned in those crunch moments. Then you win against yourself.Also read: Stay on and finish the game: Suresh Raina's advice to India's T20 team
Consistency is the key to being a champion
A champion mindset is to be developed over time, in the right environment, with the right kind of attitude and consistent work. Champions don’t appear overnight, it’s about doing the same things over and over, believing again and again that you are going in the right direction. Consistency is the key to being a champion; it’s about how you develop attitudes and habits towards your training that eventually makes you a champion.