Mental health has been an integral part of every sport but rarely does it get treated on par with physical well-being. Sound physical and mental health is imperative for any sportsperson to perform at his or her best. It’s in recent times that the athletes have started talking about it more openly and the management has also put it on top of its priority list.
Moving ahead in the same direction, the Royal Challengers Bangalore have taken a massive step to deal with players’ mental conditioning as the franchise enters the inaugural edition of the Women’s Premier League (WPL). Going out of the box, the management has roped in Indian tennis superstar Sania Mirza as the team mentor for the season.
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People might call it a mismatch – a tennis player mentoring a bunch of cricketers. But before classifying Sania on the basis of the sport she played all her life; it has to be considered that at first, she has been an athlete. A player who never gave up on her dreams, toiled relentlessly to reach newer heights and the rest, as they say, is history.
Sania’s journey in tennis lasted more than two decades and she comes into the RCB camp with immense experience, surely not in playing cricket but to deal with the challenges that come with playing sports at a professional level.
“I know nothing about cricket. I thought (when I was made mentor) what I am going to do, what am I going to talk to the girls. I recently retired, last week actually. So, I was thinking what’s my next step in life. So, my next step was to try and help women athletes around and in India,” Sania said while addressing the RCB contingent.
“I was in an individual sport, so photo shoot, media attention everything I handled on my own, so I thought ok I can actually give something to the girls. It’s normal to feel the pressure but you just have to know how to deal with it, block the noise a little bit and Indian media is tough,” she added.
Understanding mental health from a cricketer’s perspective
Who would explain this factor better than a cricketer who has played the game at the highest level? Ahead of the WP 2023 opener, former India captain Anjum Chopra interacted with select media where she addressed the matter of mental health.
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“Mental health has always been important. It’s just that it’s getting attention as we see it happening with other sportspersons. People are coming out and saying that it’s important. But if you ask a player, he or she will say that you need to be match-fit. Now, what does that mean?” Chopra replied to a News18 Cricketnext query during an interaction facilitated by the official broadcasters Sports18 and JioCinema.
The former Indian captain cited the example of the current Indian women’s cricket team which brimming with talented young players but the unit has been failing repeatedly to get the better of Australia, especially in the ICC tournaments.
“You not only have to be skilfully there but mentally as well. When the girls [Indian team] face Australia, what’s that one element to breach the Aussie wall? It’s not that the girls are not mentally ready to do it in big tournaments. Either a skill deficit or a confidence deficit, so these are the small elements when you are competing at the highest level
“So, once it’s identified, mental health becomes an important factor but it shouldn’t just overpower everything else.
“Wo to coach bachpan mein hi keh deta hai ki aap zayada time do practice mein, (the coach says at the very beginning that you need to grind a bit more), so that’s nothing but mental well-being,” Chopra further explained.
Is Sania’s involvement in cricket justified?
This question might have crossed several minds out there and thanks to Anjum, who explained it beautifully. She called it a ‘nice move’, adding it is a great gesture to value the champions of the country, irrespective of the sport they play.
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“Sania Mirza coming in, I see it as a very nice thing. Probably the franchise has an association, she is a local person and definitely has a connect with the down South. It’s nice as a nation that we are valuing our own international athletes, who have brought laurels to the country. It doesn’t matter whether they have played cricket or not,” Chopra told News18 Cricketnext.
The former Indian captain underlined the example of Tokyo Olympic gold medallist Neeraj Chopra who was at the stadium cheering for Team India during the Under-19 Women’s T20 World Cup in South Africa.
Anjum says a champion athlete can very well understand what a player would go through prior to a crucial game.
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“We saw Neeraj Chopra cheering for the Indian girls at the Under-19 World Cup final. That’s a brilliant thing to do. A champion can associate with what exactly a player is going through a night or day before the final. I love the fact that we have become a nation where we are valuing our champions and it’s very nice for RCB that they have done it,” Anjum concluded.
The Smriti Mandhana-led RCB women will open their campaign in WPL 2023 against Delhi Capitals women on Sunday afternoon at Mumbai’s Brabourne Stadium.
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