“A cricketer who used play in the Indian Premier League (IPL) approached me with a problem he faced,” says Alisha Raut-Pimple, a sports psychologist. “He had been dropped from the squad that year and his performance after that had taken a turn for the worse.”
“He came up to me and said, ‘I’m practising and doing everything but when I go out to bat I just give my wicket away.’ He had no idea why it was happening but there were many reasons.”
Alisha, 28, teaches mental skills to enhance performance and help maintain work- life balance for sportspersons. Her job is to understand how various psychological factors affect the player.
“There were many reasons for his (the cricketer’s) low motivation, amongst them a feeling of rejection after being dropped,” says Alisha. “I helped him with his performance anxiety through goal-setting. I used to say, “Don’t focus on the runs you score. Tell me instead about how many balls you faced.”
She also advised a few lifestyle changes and a few months later, the cricket regained his confidence and was picked up by an IPL squad the next season.
Just like him, there are many athletes who need to tackle the increased stress of regular competition. This can affect them in a variety of ways like tension, cold sweats or difficulty in concentration. “That is what has led coaches, teams and players to take an increasing interest in the field of sports psychology. It is like another weapon in the athlete’s armoury in gaining the winning edge,” says Alisha.
Finding her dream job
A basketball player in her youth and an avid sports fan, Alisha initially intended to take up sports journalism until she went to college and took psychology as one of her subjects. A Masters in Industrial and Organisational Psychology, she landed a cosy internship with a multinational conglomerate.
“I realised that I wasn’t happy,” Alisha says. “I never liked it even though it was a dream job for many people. I wanted to combine my passion for sports and love for psychology so decided that I will work in the area of sports psychology, even when there was less scope for a job in that field .”
Entering the world of sports
She began to write blogs, follow people and attend seminars. At one such seminar, she met Anand Chulani, a performance coach associated with several elite sports franchises. “That was my breakthrough. He gave me an internship in the Indian Badminton League and after that, people just knew me.”
Since then, Alisha has been called on several talk shows for her opinion, counselled major teams and players and been featured in a documentary and magazine. “Everybody was fascinated by what I do. Nowadays, my major work consists of individual counselling with players from different age groups and sports backgrounds including hockey, cricket, badminton and kabaddi. I help my clients by teaching techniques that they can use in competitive situations to maintain control and optimise their performance.”
Role of Mental therapy
“It is not just sports,” Alisha clarifies. “Think about it this way - If you are exhausted at work then there is a displaced reaction at home. Maybe you won’t feel like eating or feel irritated but the root is psychological.”
Elaborating on how psychology affects the minds of sportspeople, she tells us about the four aspects that mental therapy addresses - concentration, confidence, control and commitment. “First is the diagnosis. Find out what’s going on in the player’s mind and what problem he or she might have. There are different techniques to address the concern and while it takes time, once they develop it, they can use it in their game.”
Sports Psychology in India
“Every team has a psychologist in Western countries to advise on issues like racism, anger management, teambuilding or ego problems. In India, very few teams keep anyone from the mental fitness department.”
“Once they come to me, most players stay in touch even when they don’t have major issues because they know it will help their game. Many of them don’t tell others they are seeking help because there is a prejudice surrounding mental fitness in India.”
“Now that there are more leagues; players are paid better and can afford to see to their own needs,” Alisha says on the spread of awareness. “Coaches play a big part too as they send players when they see a specific problem.”
“People often don’t look after personality development in sports. They say, ‘Technique theek hai, na? Baki sab theek ho jayega.’ But there are players who face many different pressures and these things are reflected in their game.”