Engaging sports psychologist will help Saina in Rio: Prakash Padukone

Mumbai: Badminton legend Prakash Padukone says that in order to improve on the mental aspect, which he feels will play a vital role in clinching the gold at 2016 Rio Olympics, top shuttlers Saina Nehwal and P V Sindhu should engage the services of a sports psychologist at the earliest.

“I think Olympics is a test of mental character. Whoever is mentally strong will probably win the gold, not just in women’s singles but in any sport.

Olympics is a different ball game. You can win all the other tournaments, but if you are mentally not strong you can never win the Olympics,” said Prakash in an interview to PTI here.

“It’s important that you prepare well mentally. I would advise Sindhu and Saina to focus a little more on the mental aspect and, if required, take the help of some sports psychologist, if they feel comfortable. But they should start right now because one month or so (before the Games) won’t help. It would need six to eight months.

“If I was in their place I would probably take the help of a sports psychologist as all other aspects like specialist trainer, physio and coach are being taken care of. Some people believe, some don’t that it might help. I believe so. Ultimately Olympics is a test of character.

“It does not matter how well you perform the week before or the week after, (but) you have to make sure you reach the peak during the week when the badminton event is happening.

It’s extremely difficult to predict who will win. The difference is so little at that level. Whoever is strong mentally will win the title,” the 1980 All-England men’s single champion emphasised.

Prakash is wary of predicting who, from among the Indian shuttlers, can finish on the podium at the Rio Games, but feels 2012 London Games bronze winner Saina and two-time World Championship bronze medal winner Sindhu have a better chance, having beaten all other top shuttlers at one time or the other.

“We have a good chance, specially in the ladies singles. The top two – Saina and Sindhu – have beaten all the top players at one time or the other.

It may not be necessarily in the same tournament; that should happen now,” said the Bengaluru-based Prakash whose academy is into its 21st year of existence now.

“Of course, it won’t be easy as everyone will be trying to peak during that period. It will be a draw of 32 and a lot would depend on the draw too,” added the 60-year-old badminton great.

While not ruling out the chances of men, including senior shuttler Parupalli Kashyap who reached the quarterfinals in London, the former great said that the first priority for them was to qualify for the Rio Games, unlike Saina and Sindhu.

“They have the potential, but whether it happens will depend on them remaining injury-free, trying to reach the peak during that period and having a lot of self-belief.

In men’s singles, compared to women’s, it’s a little tougher as they have not beaten all the players.

“It does not mean they don’t have a chance, but it will be tough. This is (also) the best chance we have.

Initially for men, at least, the key for them would be to make sure they qualify before the April 30 cut-off. May be one or two may qualify. For women that issue is not there. For men, it’s still open.

“It could be a toss up between K Srikkanth, P Kashyap, who is injured now, (H S) Prannoy and Ajay Jayaram, two (among these) have a good chance to qualify (for Rio Games),” said the 1978 Commonwealth Games singles champion.

Asked about the women’s doubles combination of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa, who have in the past won a bronze medal in the World Championship, Prakash felt the duo has an outside chance to finish on the podium.

“I would say (they have an) outside chance, unless there is drastic improvement. They need to put in a lot more effort in these last eight months.

They have a lot more support now. OGQ’s (Olympic Gold Quest, of which he is a co-founder with billiards ace Geet Sethi) support, TOP (Target Olympic Podium) scheme support, a specialist doubles coach etcetera.

“It’s now entirely up to the players. Specially Jwala needs to concentrate a bit more on physical training. On her day she can make a big difference.

If she is physically fit it will make a big difference with her height,” said Prakash, who won the National men’s singles title 8 years on the trot.

“They have beaten good players but in the past and not recently. It may be tough, but they have an outside chance. These are the three medals (we can look for).

If we can get in others (men’s and mixed doubles), then it will be a bonus, but it’s not being realistic,” he explained further.

Prakash was also in favour of sending the Indian sports-persons, in badminton and in other disciplines, at least a week prior to the start of their respective events as he feels such a move would maximise their chances of doing well.

If I was in charge I will send them a week to 10 days before their respective events. At least a week before, for sure. Just to be there in the time zone, recover from the long flight.

Just go to the hall, or shooting range, or hockey field or whatever else, five-six times.

“Weather (in August in the southern hemisphere) is not an issue as they have played in winter in other places but time difference and long flight would take one day to recover.

I hope they just don’t go only 2-3 days before. This event comes once in four years and I don’t want the government to be miserly after spending so much.

Compared to what they already have spent over the last four years (in preparations),may be 5 to 600 crore, may be 4 or 5 crore extra will have to be spent as only a handful will qualify.

“They should send them one week before their event. It’s about giving them, not only badminton but all others, a realistic chance to perform to potential. That should be the aim.

“Whether it happens or not is a different issue but the aim should be to rule out uncertainty, provide the best playing facility and prepare properly. And then hope for the best. The chances of getting a medal gets better.

“If they want OGQ will support for the extra 3-4 days’ (stay), but I hope it does not come to that and someone in the (Sports) Ministry will take a call. I would prefer that everyone reaches one week before their event.”

Looking back at 2015 which is drawing to a close, Prakash sounded generally happy with the display put up by all the men and women in singles, though he added that with better planning results could have been better.

“It’s been a satisfying year. I don’t think one can complain. Still it could have been a little bit better, (though) that’s being a little greedy. Overall they played well.

“Some of the players, especially men, could have been probably a little bit more consistent. They had good victories followed by bad losses which could have been reduced. In that sense things could have been better.

“But on the whole, it was a satisfying year, especially in both men’s and women’s singles.

Women – 2 in top ten – Sindhu would be around that. Men – 6 in top 50 – which is a good achievement, but they should not be satisfied and look to better it in the new year.”

While praising world no. 2 Saina’s overall display during the year when she became the first from the country to become the world no 1, Prakash said with better planning she could have won the All England and World Championship titles, instead of finishing second-best to Spain’s Carolina Marin.

“I think she has done better than before, reached the All England final for the first time and got silver in the World Championship for the first time. But I still feel she is capable of doing better.

“She’s capable of winning the big tournaments if she can plan her tournaments and focus a little more on the bigger events and prepare for them properly, by not worrying too much about her ranking. That will be the icing on the cake.

“She has already done well being the world no 1 for a fairly long time – for the fist time. Can’t complain, but considering her potential she could have done better. That’s my reading on Saina.

“Sindhu also has done reasonably well,. She could have been a little more consistent and also came off an injury. But she is still very young and will gain with more experience. She will be more consistent,” said Prakash.

He also advised all the players to be more choosy in picking the tournaments to figure in and ensure proper rest in between events.

I hope all Indian players would be more choosy in picking their tournaments and have rest between tournaments. Like I keep saying, the key would be to remain injury free. For that good planning is necessary.

“If you choose your top tournaments carefully, you will perform better, remain injury free and ultimately will improve your ranking,” he explained.

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