By Atul Maharaj:
Indians have had a great track record at home. No matter what sport it is, Indians are always ‘sher‘ (lion) at home. Be it the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 or the commonwealth games, we have done exceedingly well in such tournaments. Though there have been some hiccups during such tournaments, the teams have performed well during the tournament on a whole. However there have been times when the Indians have ‘choked’ at crucial stages. How about the infamous loss of the Indian Cricket team against Bangladesh that knocked them out of the World Cup? Or the loss of the Indian Men’s Hockey team against arch rivals Pakistan in the recently concluded South Asian Games in February 2016 ? Indian teams choke at the world stage, take Rio 2016 for instance. Indians tried hard but their efforts ended with only 2 medals.
Even though this year India had sent in the largest Olympics contingent which should technically have improved our chances of winning medals, things were headed south since the start of Rio 2016. Most of the matches the Indians played at Rio 2016 have been close fights – from the 3-second goal loss of the Indian Men’s hockey team to Germany, the close fight of the Women’s Archery Team against Russia or the tiebreaker (read heartbreaking) loss of Abhinav Bindra for bronze. On the flip side, there has been some bad games at the Shooting arena and the Tennis court, which everyone would surely want to forget !
There are a lot of other things which lead to failure of the teams at the time that matters the most. Here are a few points I would put forward as to why Indians choke at the big stage especially at Rio 2016.
Indian teams do participate in various World Championships and other international games. However, it’s only for these events that the teams fly out to alien environments where they have to prove their mettle. There aren’t many ‘friendlies’ taking place round the year in various sports – especially outdoor sports. Sports like hockey, archery, trap shooting and other field games should have more foreign exposure so that they get more practice in different environments. This will ensure that players get accustomed to various environments that will help them perform better at the stage when it matters the most and not choke.
Further, there was a lot of pressure and expectation from players. Hardly anyone would have known Dattu Bhokanal, Atanu Das or even Dipa Karmakar before the start of Rio 2016 (heads up, Dattu Bhokanal is only the 9th Indian rower to feature in the Olympics and the only one to qualify for Rio 2016. Atanu Das is an Ace Indian Archer while Dipa Karmakar is the first Indian woman to qualify for the finals of a Gymnastic event at Olympics ever). Today these rising heroes face an uphill task due to the high expectations of a billion people. Hopes of the entire nation were on these players to win. Be it on social media sites like Twitter where most of these players have been trending during their events, or at the venue, they had a strong fan support. It is this ‘pressure cooker situation’ that these players haven’t been exposed to ever during their career. Not only the young debutants but also the experienced folks fail to deliver at crucial times due to this ‘unseen’ pressure that they have to cope up with. Indian fans, even with nil knowledge of a particular sport, turn into critics in a matter of minutes of watching a game and soon into a coach !
Also the lack of experience is an area of concern. Most of the Indian teams have young legs but lack experience of playing at big occasions. Unfortunately, it’s that time when many experienced players are retiring from the sport leaving the team vulnerable and hence they tend to choke at crucial moments. Most of the teams are in the transition period – as it is called in sports – when young players join the team and senior pros hang up their boots. And frankly there’s not much we can do about this. It would be nice if coaches are always on the lookout for taking new players and giving them the opportunity to play. That way they will gain experience of playing at the world stage along with getting valuable insights from senior pros in the team. This will also ensure that the ‘transition period’ doesn’t last long and we have the perfect balance of agility and experience.
This post was originally published on the author’s personal blog.