It’s terrible to be in a slump when you’re a 14-year-old, and things are worse when you have self-esteem issues. I was one of them.
In my teens, the only thing that gave me pure joy was Cricket. I used to eat, play, sleep, dream, and repeat Cricket all day long. It was that one thing I was the most passionate about and something that I was good at. The school was secondary, but life without the sport was unthinkable.
And then I had a string of low-scoring matches, including a bunch of ducks (zeros), sloppy bowling and fielding that lost games for my team. I went from being everyone’s favourite to becoming the team’s enormous burden (and risk). It was a painful experience.
Since I didn’t have a coach, I had to rely on my peers’ advice, which wasn’t great as they focused on techniques and style. And the harder I applied their suggestions, the worse my game got. I know I tried because of the 107 games I played across all four seasons of 1997; I scored an average of 14 runs a game. That’s beyond terrible for a batting all-rounder.
I was on the verge of quitting when my dad invited a Rishi (a sage) from an ashram (in Chennai) to stay at my home for a week. He was in Delhi to deliver a series of discourses on Yoga and spirituality. The Rishi was eccentric and must have been around 70 years old. And he was passionate about Cricket! When he knew that I was an aspiring cricketer, he was buoyant with joy!
He asked me many questions about the sport, including my favourite players, matches, and statistics of every player playing in the international circuit at that time. He was beyond impressed. And then he asked me about my game and how it’s progressing.
I gave him the details about the phase I was going through and how terrible it has been to cope with my expectations, let alone my team members. He smiled and asked, “tell me what brought you to the sport in the first place?” I told him all about the sense of team spirit, belonging, and achievement I experienced the first time I played it.
And then he asked me the most powerful question, “You said your technique and skills are spot-on; what else might be getting in the way of your performance?”
I shrugged and said, “I don’t know.“
“I can’t think of anything.“
“What do you mean when you say “anything”?”
“Umm… I can’t think of the right thing to do when I’m batting“
“Okay, so, what do you think?”
“I think about the past scores and the possibility that I might get out in the next ball or something else might happen very soon.“
“What will happen if you don’t think anything at all?”
“Is that even possible?“
“You are thinking right now… is it possible for you to not think anything at all? Including the answer to what I’m saying right now?”
“Umm… what do you mean?“
“You’re thinking again… I asked you to stop thinking”
“And do what?“
“But how is that going to help?“
“Can you try not thinking first… we can talk about it later.”
“I’m not getting this…“
“You don’t have to get this when you’re not thinking”
I just sat there in silence. He didn’t say anything either. And I must say the next 10 minutes of silence were the most transformative moments of my life. While the first 2-3 minutes I was thinking and judging the Rishi, the minutes that followed were much calmer and easy. The last couple of minutes were in a state of thoughtlessness.
Little did I know he was teaching me to meditate. And he knew a 14-year-old wouldn’t understand the value of meditation, nor would he appreciate being forced into something as esoteric.
After 10 minutes or so, he asked, “how did the past few minutes feel?” I turned to him and said, “I was so calm.”
“What were you thinking?”
“I wasn’t thinking anything at all! I was listening to my breaths and the surroundings. I was listening to your breaths too. I noticed that my legs almost went numb… but they were relaxed. My forearms were relaxed too. The tension in my face and forehead were gone. I felt soft and easy.“
“How do you feel?”
“I feel good.“
“But why do you think you’re feeling good?”
“Because I wasn’t trying anything? I just was myself… and not overthinking. And as I’m talking to you… I’m feeling much better“
“Hmm… do you realise you can do the same with your game? Instead of thinking or trying too hard… focus on getting on the pitch, holding your bat, watching the ball getting released from the bowler’s arm, landing on the pitch, and rising towards you… and let you do bat do the work.”
“But how will that work?“
“Try it. Play the game for the fun of it… if you evaluate too much, you will become a commentator!” And he laughed heartily.
I had a couple more “not thinking” sessions with the Rishi and felt very good about those small sessions. He shared his passion for Cricket and how he used to play during his childhood days. The conversations were fun.
Before leaving, he wished me all the luck and reminded me to play my natural game and not overthink it. I promised to have fun as long as I could play the game.
What followed next was nothing short of miraculous. I got my game back and started to be that old swashbuckling batsman, a lethally fast bowler, and agile field that I was the year before. And surprisingly, I didn’t change anything but my attitude.
I now played for the fun of it and focused my energies on helping my teammates in the best way possible — there were times I succeeded, and then there were times I failed. No judgements because that didn’t help in the previous seasons.
As I developed my game further, I realised that trying harder doesn’t help. Stepping back and reflecting on the mindset deeply helps reset a lot of things that people would like to think of.
And that’s true not just for sports but for life as well. How many times have you decided to tackle an issue head-on? And how many times have you succeeded?
Have you tried to side-step or step back to reflect on your thoughts? Could it be you’re overthinking? Or trying too hard when all you need to do is show up as who you are?
I know those are a lot of questions for a single post but don’t brush them off, reflect on them. It saved my life once; it might do you wonders too!