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  • Writer's pictureAustin Coutinho

The Inner Games that Champs Play

Let's take a look at notable athletes like Usain Bolt, Carolina Marin, Virat Kohli, Lionel Messi, and Neymar, who epitomize the x-factor in their respective sports. Usain Bolt's unparalleled success in sprinting and his ability to remain relaxed and enjoy the competition are testament to the power of mind-body harmony. When Virat Kohli steps onto the field, his wide-eyed yet expressionless demeanor sets the stage for his trademark cover-drives that make bowlers seem ordinary and fielders appear sluggish. Lionel Messi and Neymar effortlessly navigate through defenders as if they are mere obstacles, finding open spaces with ease. The x-factor is the force at play in their extraordinary performances.

The x-factor is not something inherent but can be cultivated through hard work and training. Usain Bolt, for instance, is known for his rigorous workouts in the gym and on the track. His coach plays a vital role in mentally and physically preparing him to surpass his competitors. Bolt had to conquer his fear of losing and injuries, cultivate a fearless mindset, and learn to savor the joy of competing. His secret lies in simplifying his approach, avoiding excessive technical analysis, and ultimately running for the sheer pleasure of it.

In sports training, repetitive practice leads to instinctive reactions to specific cues. For example, Virat Kohli's ability to instinctively respond to deliveries pitched outside off stump, even in high-pressure matches, is a result of countless hours facing similar deliveries in the nets. Mental toughness training equips athletes to lower their heart rates and employ various techniques such as visualization, goal-setting, and self-hypnosis to simulate event conditions without succumbing to heightened stress levels.

To enter the desired state of mind, athletes strive to achieve the Alpha state, characterized by slower brainwave rhythms. This altered state of perception allows athletes to experience time as slower, granting them a competitive advantage. Staying present and fully immersed in the moment is paramount for optimal performance. Athletes in the Alpha state often feel a sense of ecstasy and unity with the universe.

To illustrate the x-factor in action, let's revisit the Rio Olympics badminton final between Carolina Marin and Pusarla Sindhu. Marin's complete dominance in the match, dictating the pace and systematically dismantling Sindhu's game plan, is a testament to her ability to maintain a trance-like state. Her strategic returns and deceptive shots forced Sindhu into an unfamiliar style of play, limiting her chances for a powerful smash. Marin's victory was evident when she fell to the court in tears, overwhelmed by the realization of her Olympic triumph.

In conclusion, the x-factor represents the harmonious integration of the mind and body that propels athletes to extraordinary levels of performance. While all world-class athletes possess remarkable skills, it is the effective utilization of the x-factor that distinguishes champions. Through hard work, mental toughness training, and the ability to enter the Alpha state, athletes can enhance their performance, alter their perception of time, stay fully focused in the present moment, and experience a profound connection with the universe. The x-factor is a potent tool that propels athletes towards greatness.

This piece was written for 'Firstpost' a few years ago.

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