New Delhi: In his moments of anxiety during or ahead of major events, is it the coaches who help Vijender Singh lift himself mentally?
"Not really," said the Olympic and World Championship bronze medallist boxer while opining that it is ultimately the athlete's own strength of character which helps him tide over turbulent times.
The world number one middleweight boxer won a gold medal at last month's Asian Games despite fighting with a dislocated thumb in the final bout against a two-time world champion.
The 25-year-old's triumph in China last month further raised his profile after the historic bronze in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
At a panel discussion on 'mentors and mentees' organized by Forbes magazine here last night, the Haryana-lad was quizzed about how much of a role coaches play in making an athlete mentally strong.
Not the one to mince words in expressing himself, Vijender had an audience comprising corporates in splits when he said, "Sometimes the coaches are more anxious and scared about what might happen than even us.
"I remember before my quarterfinal bout in the Beijing Olympics, my coach came to me and said 'what will happen Viju?' he was very skeptical about the outcome. I had to counsel him by saying 'don't worry coach, I am there. We are going to win this one'."
Indian boxers are coached by Gurbax Singh Sandhu and Cuban B I Fernandes at present. The two have been associated with the team for a long time now.
Vijender said the key to dealing with the stress of being an international athlete lies in being expressive about the emotional turmoil that is a part and parcel of any sportsperson's life.
"You have to get it out of your system. There is no other way. Share your feelings with anyone you are comfortable with. It strengthens you mentally. I had a psychiatrist friend in Hyderabad who told me how to go about it some years ago.
"Visualise yourself as the best. All these techniques are very helpful. After my semifinal loss in the Commonwealth Games, I was very upset but then this self-therapy helped me immensely."
Ace shooter Gagan Narang, however, does turn to his coach in times of any mental turmoil.
"Before the CWG, I was expected to perform and the pressure was immense. I was not in a very good frame of mind. Ultimately I got the gold medal and yes it is about how you handle the pressure but my coach motivated me," he said.
"Sometimes the mentee can become a tormentor for his mentor," he laughed with coach Stanislav Lapidus by his side.
Lapidus also recalled Narang's troubled frame of mind ahead of the CWG and how he had to jolt him out of the slumber.
"Just days before the vital competition, he told me 'I am not too sure about my performance'. He was struggling because when he is in a bad frame of mind, he does not even like to touch his rifle. I had to remind him that 'you are Gagan Narang the champion, go out there and shoot'," he recalled.
Adding perspective, billiards legend Michael Ferreira, who is now a coach, said, "The worst ever coach is the one who cannot get into the mental space of his ward. As a coach you have to be nimble mentally."
First Published: Saturday, December 18, 2010, 14:27