Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

The goal should be to win the title, not just the next match: Lakshya Sen

Shuttler and Commonwealth Games champion Sen on the value of discipline, turning around from eight first-round exits and why one needs to aim higher

Kathakali Chanda
Published: Jun 15, 2024 09:15:00 AM IST
Updated: Jun 20, 2024 09:32:49 AM IST

Lakshya Sen of India competes in the Men's Singles Second Round match against Kenta Nishimoto of Japan during day three of the Indonesia Open at Istora Senayan on June 06, 2024, in Jakarta, Indonesia. Image: Shi Tang/Getty ImagesLakshya Sen of India competes in the Men's Singles Second Round match against Kenta Nishimoto of Japan during day three of the Indonesia Open at Istora Senayan on June 06, 2024, in Jakarta, Indonesia. Image: Shi Tang/Getty Images

All of 22, Lakshya Sen already has a World Championship bronze and a Commonwealth Games gold to his CV. But his key life lessons are learnt from a phase where he saw eight first-round exits. "I was training well," says Sen, "but just wasn't getting the results in the tournaments." It was a time when he started doubting his abilities till a pep talk by badminton icon Prakash Padukone turned things around. In this interview with Forbes India, Sen reveals the conversation the two had and how he's building up to his first-ever Olympic Games. Edited excerpts:

''Discipline is key at all stages of your career''

We are a family of badminton players across multiple generations. My dad was a coach, and he had the knowledge. He saw me playing and knew I could play well. For me, it was very clear from the beginning that I wanted to play badminton. When I was around 10, my brother and I shifted to Bengaluru and got admitted to the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy. I had spoken to Prakash sir a couple of times back then, and he always said that we have to be very disciplined and professional. A lot of that remains relevant for me.

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''There are multiple stepping stones to success''

As a kid, I always wanted just to play badminton and nothing else. I didn't like the fitness or mental training sessions so much—I just wanted to pick up the racquet and hit the court the whole day. When Prakash sir saw this, he told me that everything is important in a game, and one must have an all-round development. Playing a sport well isn't just about the game; it starts with waking up on time and following all the processes the way they should be. They all add up to make a difference in the long run.

''Aim higher''

Post the Commonwealth Games 2022 has been a tough phase for me. Last year to this, I had eight consecutive first-round exits—from the China Open to the India Open. I was training well and doing the right things, but I wasn't performing well in the tournaments. There were some niggles here and there, and there was also the added pressure of qualifying for the Olympics. I was really low at that point and started doubting myself, but Vimal [Kumar] sir and Prakash sir were very patient with me. I remember Prakash sir sat me down and asked me, "Do you want to just qualify for the Olympics or do you want to win a gold there? If you want to win a gold", he added, "You have to stop looking at the rankings—your aim should be to win the tournament". That brought about a change in my thinking. I realised I don't have to play a lot of tournaments unnecessarily just for the sake of rankings; I have to prepare well and go there to win each tournament. From there on, things started to change, not immediately, but in another one and a half to two months.

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''I put myself through match situations in practice''

Because of my first-round exits for eight consecutive tournaments, I wasn't getting that many matches. So, I tried to spend more time on the court during practice, where after each training session, I would play a game or two extra. A week or two before we were supposed to leave for tournaments, I would play more games, emulating the situation of the matches because all the first-round matches I was losing were really close. So, playing a lot of games with situations like where I'm down 16-14 or just playing the last few points of the game also helped me. Last year onwards, I faced a bit of niggles here and there, but I got a good training period in December and January, and post that, I was fit to do certain kinds of training. My trainer introduced me to a lot of plyometrics training to absorb the shock. That has helped me be stable on court, especially in defence and going all-out in smashes.