The point is, in sport as much as in life, the journey itself is the destination
As always, the thoughtful, clear-eyed Rahul Dravid is right. Decrying the great Indian obsession with results and results alone in sports, Dravid said at a function in Bhubaneswar the other day that Indian sportspersons would do well to concentrate on the “process” instead.
Of course, what he meant was obvious. If you prepared yourself well and gave yourself the best chance to maximise your talents, the results are bound to come. On the other hand, if you are nervous all the time, looking at the goal ahead instead of buckling down and getting ready for the job, success might prove elusive.
The point is, in sport as much as in life, the journey itself is the destination. If the getting-somewhere obsession dominates your psyche, you would probably end up getting nowhere.
Surely, Diego Maradona was not thinking about scoring a goal when he put his foot to the ball near the halfway mark in that unforgettable match against England in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. Not long after the infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal, Maradona scored another that has been widely hailed as the greatest goal in World Cup history.
Yet, watch the great man set out on that glorious, almost impossible run, and you’d immediately realise that Maradona was concentrating on the process. He was not thinking about scoring a goal, going past a bunch of hunky English defenders. Each delicate tap of the ball was part of the process.
The thought of finishing that dream run in style might have occurred to Maradona only after he got past the last of the five English defenders. Dravid talked about the “quest for self-perfection.”
There cannot be a better example of that than the most celebrated goal of all time in the World Cup. Well, well, well, I know what’s on your mind. How can you compare the vast majority of average players — the ones Dravid was perhaps addressing — to a genius like Maradona?
But then, it does not really matter who you are and what your abilities are. What Dravid was getting at was, if you concentrated on the process, then you would surely be able to optimise your results.
It is perhaps the Aristotelian self-fulfilment through personal excellence that Dravid was talking about. And this is within the reach of every sportsperson.
Not everybody can be a Maradona; but every single sportsperson on the international stage can strive to realise his or her potential, to do the best that he or she can possibly do. Nobody can ask for more than that.
And concentrating on the “process’’ is as important when you are preparing for a big game as when you are actually playing it.
Twelve years ago, after Pete Sampras rose from hibernation to beat Pat Rafter in the Wimbledon final to get past Roy Emerson’s record of 12 Grand Slam titles, he was asked what was going through his mind on match-point.
“Nothing,” said Sampras. And he was speaking the truth. In the event, nothing means something at the top level in sport. For, at that moment, Sampras was concentrating on doing the best he could with his second serve — which turned out to be an ace.
Stillness of mind and being present in the moment… sounds simple but it takes a lot to achieve this state.
Dravid himself would know all about staying in the Zen Zone in which Sampras was that evening. He is all too familiar with it.
But getting into that elusive zone time after time when the situation demands it, is not an easy task. This is where Dravid’s “process” comes in — something that is as alluring to many Indian sportspersons as well as administrators as daylight is to a vampire.
This is precisely why most of the predictions made by putative experts before big sporting events go wrong.
There is far too much focus on the number of medals rather than the manner of preparation. And quite often, all it takes to trigger nationalist euphoria is a single silver medal.
But you cannot blame the sportspersons alone for this. Our sports administrators have consistently failed to help talented young men and women get the best out of themselves by providing world class facilities. There may be an exception or two here but that hardly matters.
Dravid chose the American college sports system as a great example of how sportspersons can be offered the best of both educational and sporting facilities. For, education is indeed a “buffer,” as he pointed out.
It is not beyond the Indian sports and education systems to come together to offer something similar. This is certainly not a utopian ideal. But it takes some doing. And it requires men who control the purse strings to steer clear of avarice and look at enhancing India’s sporting culture — if we do have one!