It was an all-time low for me; my morale had hit rock-bottom. I was in the 11th grade, and had been playing football for the past 3 years in the school girls' team, and was proud to be known as part of a winning team. Football was a passion for me and my team mates too. Yet, this year suddenly nothing was working for us. We weren’t performing, we weren’t winning. We were being criticized, laughed at, teased all the time – this having some of the most talented girls from Pune come together. We were not able to perform due to the level of stress and depression that people around us had created in our minds.
Many had dreams of making a career in the sport; for some it was going to be the last two years of our football career. Looking at our performance where we as a team were not going anywhere we almost gave up after a year full of losses. We could see our dreams come crashing down. It had come to such a point that after we came back with a loss of 10 goals to nil,the school authorities and sports heads were planning on hammering the final nail in the coffin by not sending us for any more tournaments.
Somewhere, we realised that not being sent for tournaments is not going to help us in any way. Guidance, mentoring and coaching was needed. Most of the girls’ careers were at stake. We had to pull up our socks and look for solutions to get back on track.
Then suddenly out of the blue, came a knight in shining white armor for us! It was that year when Liyaan Akkalkotkar a very senior player had just returned from the UK after finishing her Masters in Sports and Exercise Psychology.
Ever since she started coaching us, practices became interesting with new drills and exercises. Liyaan always made sure she sat down with the team after every session and spoke to us not only about our weakness, strengths and improvements but she also made every one feel like a family come together every day and speak about every other thing that was disturbing us on the inside. She made us work together as a team more than improving on an individual’s game. Often, we had breakfast or lunch bonding sessions after our training; on holidays when the field was not available we had fitness training on the race course.
The team started showing improvement and everyone looked forward to a new day and were present on the field early with the excitement of learning something new. Being a footballer as well as a sports psychologist she also took counselling sessions where she explained the importance of balancing studies, mental health, goal setting and injury management along with sports through motivational videos and presentations. It was then when we got our act together and got back on track. Everyone was back to being highly charged and motivated and we started to ignore the negative talk, and focussed on the game which would ultimately prove the people around us wrong.
We saw how sports psychology played a very vital role in enhancing the performance of a sportsperson firsthand.
What is sports psychology and why is it important?
Sports Psychology is about improving your attitude and mental game skills to help you perform your best by identifying limiting beliefs and embracing a healthier philosophy about your sport.
Sports psychology plays a very important role in controlling the emotions of sportspersons during practice, competition, as well as on- and off-season. Generally, these emotions may bring spontaneous changes in the behaviour of sportspersons. It helps in balancing the arousal of emotions which further improves the performance. At the end of just one month of being coached by Liyaan, we were all convinced of the importance of a coach who is an expert sports psychologist.
Liyaan Akkalkotkar, a sports and exercise psychologist has a postgrad degree in sports and exercise psychology from Loughborough University, United Kingdom. Having been a sportswoman throughout her life, she has understood the importance of sports psychology in today’s world and decided to take it forward as a profession. Liyaan’s passion is to work towards spreading awareness among people, players, and coaches involved in any kind of sport, about how important it is to be mentally tough in sport and how it plays a major role in your sport. She aims to use performance psychology in the business sector and help build mental strength among the masses even in their work environments.
Liyaan moved on from coaching school football teams and now works with Bengaluru Football Club (BFC) - a well known club in Indian football - as their sports and exercise psychologist. Alongside she often conducts workshops and counselling sessions for the team players.
We were very fortunate to have Liyaan come in at the right time, to help bring back the zest in our game and therefore in our lives. That was a crucial year for most of us on the team – as 12th graders, we were also giving our board exams and the high morale and resilience we built has helped us in our lives, and continues to serve us long after we have moved on.
Sakshi Holkar is a management student at the Pune University specialising BBA in Hospitality and Facilities Management.
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