Viswanathan Anand knows a thing or two about pressure. And the burden of expectations. As he had tweeted a couple of days before last year’s World Championship tie against Magnus Carlsen: “As the first game draws near, you breathe differently. Normal life seems like a photo on Whatsapp to remind you there’s a world out there.”
In the last two decades, he has learnt how to get a grip over his emotions. Shlokas, music, movies, a small vacation before a major tournament are some of the stress-busters he uses ahead of a major tournament. “It helps me relax and focus before a big match,” he says.
Over the next few months, Anand will also indulge himself in researching on other sports like boxing and shooting. The five-time world champion has taken up the responsibility to mentor a few Indian Olympians ahead of next year’s Rio Games, along with former billiards world champion Geet Sethi.
Olympic Gold Quest CEO Viren Rasquinha says the idea is to ensure the performances do not drop during non-Olympic years and keep them in good frame of mind. Anand’s role will involve more of psychological training than looking into the technical aspect.
On Tuesday, Anand met shooter Jitu Rai and boxer Sarita Devi, understanding their mindset and sharing experiences. “I am a bit hesitant at the moment because I need to understand more about shooting or boxing before I can say a lot more. So I am also trying to learn. But it’s more about pressure, how you feel five minutes before a match… these are the things common to all sports,” Anand says.
Handling pressure and dealing with unwanted distractions is an art as intricate as the sport itself. Despite all the talent they possess, Indian athletes have been notoriously guilty of faltering at major events, buckling under pressure. “If there’s too much pressure on someone, they wilt. Everyone can chill a bit more,” Anand says.
Rai, sitting next to Anand, nods in agreement. At the Asian Games last year, he suffered a panic attack of sorts when his regular pistol malfunctioned hours before his event and he had to resort to a back-up weapon. “I somehow maintained my composure and did not let that affect me,” Rai, who won seven international medals last year, says. “When we look at people like him (pointing towards Anand), there is so much to learn. Most importantly, though, they can tell us how they deal with such situations and psyche themselves up for a big tournament.”
Anand says taking a week-long vacation just before a major tournament can be helpful in gathering thoughts and strategising, thinking about different scenarios that may crop up during a match. However, he insisted it is crucial for athletes to give themselves space in the lead up to the tournaments. “You learn a few things with experience. For instance, if I have three days between two tournaments and I know I don’t have the energy to do any work, then you need to have confidence to not do any work. But it is more important to enjoy these three days of rest. May be, you need someone to tell you that it’s ok to relax and you don’t have to feel guilty about not working. So these little things that you learn over the years that you apply over the situation,” Anand says.