Inspirational Aparna ignites hope for millionsby Opinion Express June 18, 2019 0 comments
My guest today is called shy with a timid demeanour. But underneath all of that, is an aggressive sports girl which we will unearth as we move forward into our conversations with her. She’s internationally recognized as having played and represented India at the prestigious Olympics, the Asian and Commonwealth games. She’s the 9 times consecutive winner, of the senior national championships in India, a feat achieved earlier only by her coach and mentor Mr. Prakash Padukone. It is my honour and my pleasure to have with us, Aparna Popat. Aparna began playing badminton at the age of 8 under the guidance of her first coach, also a National Champion, Anil Pradhan.
Q. Aparna, as a student, how was the feeling to equal the achievements of your own coach and what was your learning to having moved to that level?
A. Well, I think, you know, first of all, when I shifted to Bangalore from Mumbai…that was after my 10th standard, to train under Mr Prakash Padukone. For me, it was just a big opportunity. He has always been my idol. Not only because of the accolades, and because he was world number one or All India champion, but also just because of the way he conducted himself. But training under him and actually watching him play day-on-day, actually made me want to emulate him even more.
Q. So, which is where, as a student, even if we reach the level that our coach has been, somewhere we still remain the students under them.
A. Exactly, that’s exactly what it is. Though still, a lot more learning to gain from him and yeah…I think, I’ve just been very fortunate to have trained under him.
Q. How did you push your physical and mental limits, to go beyond the sport that you had chosen to be in?
A. I think when you’re trying to achieve excellence and try to get to a certain level, in any field, for that matter. you know, you said it right, you really need to push yourselves beyond what is required and it’s not only in certain times of your career, but it’s almost each and every day. And that really comes with an intensive motivation to be better each day. Because sometimes, as human beings we all have emotions and we feel, but you’re trying to achieve something consistently, those emotions can’t affect your place. you almost become very stoic in a way. So there’s a lot of control need to be on that front as well. So yeah, I think, it’s just the motivation and for the love for the game or whatever you’re doing that actually gets to push yourselves to that limit.
Q. So, which is where this question…there are a lot of children begin playing pro-sports. But the difference, with a lot of them falling out of the circuit is when they’re unable to balance between this growing up and wanting to have fun and the friends and the family and the celebrations, the festivals and to be able to commit yourself so much passionately to the sport that you have to kind-off completely change your life palette. How easier, how difficult is it to actually do that?
A.umm…so, for me, it came very naturally because…I love the sport more than anything else. So nothing else mattered for me. It was just badminton as a young, tried to play seven days a week, which left little time for anything else if you consider school and the sport. But yes, it’s a choice that a few youngsters have to make. It’s really your priority, it’s how you look at it and whatever you do should be done happily. So, I don’t like to use the word ‘sacrifice’ because you’re not sacrificing something to do something, it’s just that you’ve chosen to play a sport or have chosen to pursue something over something else and that’s a choice you have to make.
Q. What is the difference between playing on a National circuit, where it is your home turf, it is
your comfort zone and then having to go beyond, to make that little shift, to move to an international platform and go for higher rankings and ratings, what is that thinking that is required to make that bridge ?
A. When you’re aiming to play at an international level that aim and preparation has started at much before. you get your opportunity as you get them. I played my first world junior championship when I was 14. At that point, we were at a stage in Indian badminton where we didn’t really have too much international exposure. So, when I went out it was almost like, awestruck like, where am I? What happened? But, a lot of things have changed since then where today a child in an academy, in a pro-academy and ask what do you want to achieve, what’s your aim? And they’ll start olympic medals downwards. So, that’s a huge mental shift. And now, that is happening in Indian badminton and, you know, the results are there for all of us to see.
Q. What is it that helps to make that transition?
A. I think just the maturity to see it before it comes and not see it when it actually happens, because as I said the preparation is completely different. So, in my case after I won the silver medal and being junior world number 2, to them suddenly realise there’s a senior circuit and now I have to do things differently, by which time, you’ve probably gone three steps behind in terms of the senior circuit. umm…but today, it’s not like that. Today I think, the kids at the age of 15-16 are already looking at senior badminton and then playing and preparing accordingly. So, that’s just the difference.
Q. How stressful is it, mentally, to make these transitions and what helps beyond the physical play…like beyond bettering your game, and technically getting more and more, you know, able to make the difference in the physical aspect of the pain? How much this mental, and like you had mentioned, emotional, how much does that play a role and how do you say coach for it?
A. I believe really, from my experiences through the last 20 years, you know that I played competitive badminton was really sport is really emotion and motion. you feel a lot of things as you’re going along. There’s a lot of anxiety, there’s nervousness, there’s elation, there’s disappointment, there’s frustration, there’s pain, there’s a lot of emotions that go along. And as a sportsperson over the years, we’ve learned to handle them. We’ve not stopped feeling, but it’s just you learn to handle it and for me, the mind is really what dictates your body, the mind tells your body what to do. So, it’s just a HuGE part of sport. And today we have sports psychologists, to actually look into this aspect it wasn’t that many years ago, but it is the VERy, very significant part of the process. And that’s when you come into, you know, things like killer-instinct, like you know, bouncing back from disappoint, and all these things have to be handled and if they’re handled professionally and if they’re handled quickly, it’s just more helpful.
Q. right. So, I have a question. They say ‘bad carpenter only blames his tools’. But, how important are these little aspects like the right racket, or the grip or the kind of shuttles or the kind of coat that you’re wearing and all your gear, how much does it actually also affect some of these games? How important is it?
A. yes, it is very important, because eventually the quality of your equipment will, to a certain extent, affect the output, what you’re putting out. But it’s not the only thing. It depends on which stage of your career you’re in. I think for a beginner, it doesn’t matter. It’s about how you use the racket as opposed to which racket you’re holding, or you know, how much of physical training are you doing as opposed to which shoes you’re wearing, different stages require different sort of equipments and if we, if you could just keep that sacrosanct, again each individual requires different things. So, that just has to be identified. And there’s a lot of technical stuff in the sport today. If we can use technology to help your performance, of course take it. That’s a no-brainer. But, it’s not the only thing.
Q. How much of that belief, the inherent belief in yourself, and the key to what makes you a sportsperson?
A- You know, eventually you’ve got to realise that you’re accountable for your performance. you know, that is the bottom line. As I do a bit of coaching, you see kids coming and saying, you know I hit the shuttle out, I say where was the racket? They say, in my hand. And I say, exactly. And it is IN YOUR HAND. So eventually, you need to take the youness and you need to take the accountability for the outcome. So, if you can be responsible for your own performance, in a very mature and a balanced way, like you don’t have to beat yourself down for every disappointment because we know sport, we can’t win everything. But, if you can be balanced about it, but be responsible about it and very importantly be happy about it, yeah… I think, you should be alright.
Q. Is there a hack that you could share for those down moments? Like you said you don’t beat yourself about it. But, there are times when most of us get there, be it we’re a sport person or anywhere we’re in the life. What is it that you use to get yourself out of these situations? Or especially when you’re on court, when you’ve lost a shot or lost a point…how you kind-off change, in that split second?
A. I think the key is, for me, at least, to find a solution, as to find a reason as to why happened, happened. And if you can identify the reason, you can identify solution. And if you identity the solution, your mind sort-off goes away from the outcome, which is what you want, because you don’t want to be thinking, oh I lost, oh I lost, I lost the point, oh I lost, you know this rally of, you know whatever it be, I’m supposed to be thinking, oh…even if I’ve made this mistake what could it have been due to? So then it takes my mind off the actual outcome and the result of what happened. And that sort-off help me going forward in the match or in the future, as well, as opposed to just looking at the outcome.
Q. How has being a sports-person shaped you as an individual? What aspects of sports have actually been an intensive part of you as a person now?
A. I think a lot of things. So I might say sports, came very naturally to me. I love sports more than anything else and I still do, started off like that and still very much like that, which I’m very thankful for. But, as a person I think, the biggest learning for me is just to be patient, to take success and failures in your stride and I say, success is harder to handle than failures. I’ve seen that. And the third thing is,just as a person, to make me much more confident, because I was a very shy and reserved person. If you ask me to stand and speak to even 3 people, I would probably say I won’t and I run away. And that’s how I was, as a child. But I think sports has put me in a position a lot of times where I had to stand up and speak and today I feel like I finally found my voice somewhere. And I’m still shy. I don’t like too much social interaction. But at the same time, I feel I have a responsibility and that I can contribute back, you know, considering my experience, and I would love to do that when I get the chance.
Q. Aparna, I wanted to talk to you about how women in India, most girls are playing sports as girls and they’re doing professional, they’re doing non-professional, whereas they grow more into their lives and further and they, most of them, sports takes a backseat. Like most guys would have a Sunday out, or a week where today, I’m going out and playing sports, but the women still don’t choose sports as an active part of their lives. So what is that could be a message for a lot of them to be able to see what ‘sports’ actually does for you in your life, to be able to take it forward?
A- Well, the first thing is that, yes, you’re right. I mean, not as many come up. But as we’re seeing the change over the years, where a lot more women are coming out and taking part in various physical activities, which is great to see. But, for me, Sport is really; physically it does great things for you. There’s no question about that. But for me, especially, you know, at a later stage, you know when you finish with school and college and you still want o pursue sports, it’s more about what it makes you feel. Because it does eventually do very good for your confidence, you sort-off along with your physical fitness, you occupy yourself with your friends, you’re networking and having fun, and you build those social circles and I think, it’s more about that. Though, a lot of women go into the competition as well which is absolutely brilliant…
Q. One last question, Aparna. What makes Aparna the woman that she is?
A- Ah…! I think, for me it’s still very much trying to be better each and every day and trying to learn. I’ve always had, you know this motto sort to say, you cannot be the best at everything, you need to go out to learn from other people and other situations and whatever your surroundings are. So, I just love to explore new things, learn, you know from different people, love watching talk-shows, love watching, you know, going to these forums, love watching documentaries… so, a lot of learning. And yeah, as much as I can keep in touch with sports, because that’s what I love. So I do sit as the executive director at the Olympian association of India. I do a bit of coaching in badminton, some mentoring; I do a bit of TV commentary. So, it’s just being involved in sport that makes me really happy. So yeah, leaning and sport, I think. That’s it. Thank you so much being with us: beyond sports and all the best that you’re doing, for us, as a country, to take sports forward.
Thank you so much!
Article & Interview conducted by Sonalli Gupta: She is an acclaimed writer and corporate