Indian team coach Harendra Singh probably caught even his captain Sreejesh PR off-guard during a media interaction in Mumbai on Friday when he spoke about the “negative vibe” behind the idea of employing a psychologist to sort out the mental weaknesses of the team and why they won’t work with one.
Sreejesh stood there with a stone face but the statement was in contrast with the views expressed by the team’s high performance director David John, who has been advocating the need for a travelling psychologist with the team since the Commonwealth Games debacle. The Australian iterated the need after India lost to Malaysia in the Asian Games semi-final during an interview with Scroll.in.
But on Friday, Harendra completely dismissed the idea of working with a psychologist despite admitting that mental strength was lacking in players when it came to crunch situations in high-stakes matches.
“The word psychologist itself carries a negative vibe and the players feel that they are doing something wrong for which they need to consult a psychologist,” he said on the sidelines of the team’s jersey launch.
“In any team the biggest psychologist is the coach and you yourself. If I’ll not motivate myself then no one in the world can motivate (me),” said Harendra.
And this is where the Indian team coach is wrong as he’s probably confusing between a psychologist/mental trainer and a psychiatrist.
The difference between the two is similar to the role played by trainers and physiotherapists as against orthopedics. While the former work on physical strengthening of the players on a daily basis, the latter is only consulted in case of a serious injury or a long term problem.
And just like the trainers and physios, a mental trainer or psychologist works in tandem with the coach and a sportsperson to train the mind on how to tackle pressure and control their emotions when nerves start to get the better of them.
Harendra is perfectly right that the first psychologist to work with any sportsperson is their coach. But even the world’s best have understood the need for a psychologist to address specific problems that hold them back through breathing techniques, visualisation, etc.
London Olympic gold medallist Andy Murray was convinced to take the help of sports psychologist Alexis Castorri by his then coach Ivan Lendl and the Scot had admitted that the decision changed the direction of his career and contributed in him winning Grand Slam titles.
Back home, even the likes of Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar took the help of Bhishmaraj Bam when the concept of working a sports psychologist was pretty alien to many Indian players.
Today, some of the world’s best take the help of expert psychologists to sort out issues that can make a difference between winning and losing.
As Harendra himself said in the media briefing, “The Indian team is second to none in the world in terms of skills and fitness. But the difference between winning and losing is about the mental thinking process and that mental fitness needs to be improved.”
And working with a psychologists (or for more positive vibe – a mental trainer) should be the most logical solution to achieve that goal.