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Hockey: 'NWHL will give opportunities to youngsters to show their abilities', says ex-goalkeeper Yogita Bali

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New Delhi, April 26 (IANS) Former Indian women’s hockey team goalkeeper Yogita Bali has expressed her support for Hockey India’s holistic initiatives aimed at advancing the sport across all levels, with a special emphasis on the eagerly anticipated National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL).

Set to make its debut in Ranchi, Jharkhand from April 30 to May 9, the National Women’s Hockey League 2024-25 stands as a landmark event in Indian women’s hockey, promising a captivating showcase of talent and skill. Featuring teams comprising top performers from the 14th Senior Women National Championship 2024, the league represents a significant step forward for the women’s game.

Speaking about the significance of the league, Yogita said, “The National Women’s Hockey League marks a monumental leap forward for the development of women’s hockey in India. It provides a vital platform for players to showcase their skills and gain invaluable experience in high-pressure situations.”

The 36-year-old also emphasized the league’s role as a stepping stone for players aspiring to compete in the Hockey India League (HIL) and said, “With the imminent arrival of the Hockey India League later this year, the National Women’s Hockey League assumes a pivotal role as a training ground for players, providing them with invaluable opportunities to assess their abilities and navigate pressure scenarios. Particularly for young players, this tournament offers a priceless chance to absorb insights and lessons from their senior players, enriching their developmental journey in the sport.”

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In addition to the league, Hockey India’s commitment to nurturing talent is evident through its comprehensive grassroots development program. Bali commended the initiative, particularly the ongoing specialised camps for budding goalkeepers and drag-flickers across the country. “It’s a great initiative by Hockey India,” she noted.

“These camps provide young athletes with the opportunity to learn from former players who have excelled in these positions and have years of experience, thus fostering a culture of excellence and mentorship.”

Notably, former goalkeepers and drag-flickers, among them Yogita herself, have been selected to spearhead rigorous three-day training programs at top-tier national academies across the country. These camps are designed to pinpoint and refine the abilities of aspiring athletes striving to master these critical roles within the sport.

Meanwhile, looking ahead to the 2024 Paris Olympics, Yogita expressed confidence in the Indian men’s hockey team, despite their recent series loss against Australia. “The Indian team stands a strong chance of finishing on the podium in the upcoming Olympics. Despite setbacks in the recent matches against Australia, the series loss serves as a valuable learning opportunity for the Indian team. It has enabled the team to recognize areas for improvement, motivating them to refine their strategies and elevate their performance for Paris.

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“In essence, the defeat has served as a blessing in disguise ahead of the quadrennial event, granting the team crucial insights into the adjustments needed to compete effectively against the world’s top teams.”

–IANS

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How 2 days with Jacques Dallaire helped Watson conquer short ball fear

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New Delhi, May 30 (IANS) Shane Watson had a glittering career of nearly two decades as a premier all-rounder in white-ball cricket, at the international and franchise levels. He carved a reputation for stepping up when needed in big games and tournaments, while juggling to play all three formats for Australia and then transforming into a sought-after T20 leagues batter.

In an exclusive interview with IANS, during a recent hectic period of commentary in IPL 2024 and the launch of his second book ‘The Winner’s Mindset’ by HarperCollins Publishers India, Watson talks about overcoming the short ball fear, having a life-changing meeting with author and performance coach Dr Jacques Dallaire, and how he used his mental skills to play a memorable 117 not out in IPL 2018 final for Chennai Super Kings.

Q. You talk in the book about having absolutely life changing two days with Dr Jacques Dallaire. Can you elaborate on what all transpired in those two days?

A. I was at sliding doors moments in my life when I got connected with Dr. Jacques via Aussie IndyCar driver. Will Power. Dr Jacques’ background is over 50 years of working with high performance people on their mental side, predominantly in Formula One, IndyCar and NASCAR, special forces.

I was going through a challenging time in my life at a point where I was neither performing, nor anywhere near my best. It looked like I was going to retire because I just knew that I couldn’t play the way I used to be able to do.

Having half an hour conversation with him initially, I was like, ‘okay, I think this guy’s going to give me some information that I haven’t heard before, but I think it’s going to really help me’. I was desperate because I was thinking about retiring and flew over to Charlotte, North Carolina to spend two days with him.

The information that he gave me was something I hadn’t heard before, even though I’d been around sports psychologists and mental skills coach from the age of probably 13. How simply the information was explained to me as well by him was just like there was light bulbs going off everywhere, like, ‘Oh my gosh, how come I didn’t know that?’

After that, I flew home back to Sydney and felt between, ‘Oh, I’ve got this, I can turn this around’ to ‘Oh no, I can’t’. It took a lot of work day by day and moment by moment about understanding of what my thoughts were and controlling them. But within six weeks, the issues that I had disappeared, as got them under control and over the next four years of my playing career, I had some of the best performances of my life.

From that moment of implementing those mental skills, and information, which had a huge impact on my performance, I said to Dr Jacques, ‘Well, I need to get this information out to as many people as possible because this information should be readily available, but it’s not’.

Everywhere that I’ve looked, I haven’t been able to find information in a really simple way to understand in a way that I can apply it to any performance. From that moment, I ended up working with him and he taught me how to teach this information. Now I’m very fortunate to have access to his IP to be able to then put it into my own words and get the information out to as many people as possible.

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Q. You also talk about the fear of facing the short ball coming after the tragic death of Phil Hughes. How did you overcome it?

A. It was just one of the biggest, if not the biggest tragedy in world cricket, seeing one of our mates get killed by a ball coming at him. From there, I started to believe and think there’s no reason why the next ball coming to me couldn’t have the same effect on me and my family’s life.

From that moment, the fear of the short ball came into my mind and game, which as a top order batter means you are sabotaging your own performance because of the new mental environment being created via that fear.

Meeting with Dr Jacques made me understand that I could turn things around via one of the rules of the mental road – rule number two, which is your mind can actively process one thought at a time. By deeply understanding that if I put the right thing into my mind at the right time, then the wrong thing can’t come in.

The wrong thing coming with fear of short ball, as a batter, was if you pre-meditate the short ball, then you’re slow on it anyway. If it’s not a short ball, you’re out of position and exposed, which means there’s a good chance you’ll get out.

By putting the right thing in my mind at the right time as the ball came out, and the word I put for me is aggressive because that’s me ready to react and not have any thought of what’s coming down. By implementing that, I’m tapping into all my instincts, and muscle memory that’s so deeply ingrained in me.

Immediately by understanding that, I was like, ‘Oh, I can do that’. I had to develop that trust in my technique of playing the short ball and worked hard it for six weeks to sort of retrain that. But by putting the right thing into my mind, so the wrong thing couldn’t come in, I never had that fear on my game again.

Q. In those last four years, there was that 117 not out in the IPL 2018 final for the Chennai Super Kings against Sunrisers Hyderabad. Going from zero off ten balls to making a century in an IPL final, what did take for you to do it mentally?

A. It was really a culmination of putting all of those mental skills together. I started learning these skills at the end of 2015 and had a couple of years of really just pulling all that information and learning how to be able to make the most of it. Like, what were the right and wrong thoughts in the lead up to the game? What was the best way to maintain & sustain my mental energy without burning it out before a big game like that?

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Even when I was zero off 10 balls chasing in the second innings, every ball was about staying in the moment, being fully focused on the present and it was about breaking down each ball. After I faced a ball, what happened technically, mentally, where was I at? I just kept doing that.

I was just in the process, staying fully present, working through to bring the best version of me as the ball came out. Even five years ago, being none off 10 balls, there would be much chance of me panicking and going, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve got to really get on with this and play a rash shot’.

Whereas I was just pulling myself into the ultimate zone that you’re chasing, I knew every step along the way was getting me closer to that ultimate space you’re trying to get into in performance – the zone. So by pulling myself into it, it took a bit of time, about 15 or 20 balls.

Once I got there, then I just stayed there in the moment and that’s when I had a great day in one of the high pressure games. That innings was just a culmination of my skills that I had been training for since I was a kid at the age of 36 and then applying those new mental skills that I’d been integrating into my performances as well.

That really was a perfect storm – by applying that in a pressure game was again a confirmation that these mental skills are so powerful. I wish that I had this information as a teenager because it would have meant that I was able to perform more consistently and significantly reduce the pressure, stress, anxiety and worry that goes with being desperate for getting the best results every single time.

Q. Do you think that if you encountered these mental skills early in your career, it would have helped you a great deal mentally?

A. There’s no question it would have helped a crazy amount, especially from a Test cricket perspective as well. The biggest issue I see in society now and working with a lot of different people is mental fatigue. There’s so much over stimulation that we’ve always got things available to us, whether it’s messages, social media, or notifications, life is incredibly busy and overstimulating.

Plus, our desire to be able to perform every single time and being obsessed with results, with me certainly being one of those. I wanted to be the best I possibly could be and would put so much pressure on myself to perform because of desperation to get the best results possible. I used to overthink situations in the lead up to a big series like an Ashes or a World Cup.

Ahead of match day, I’d just be, ‘Who am I going to be up against? Who am I playing?’. I would have played the game in my mind before it even started. By the time actual game came, I was mentally so tired and fatigued. When you’re mentally fatigued, then your ability to access deeply ingrained skills reduces, and decision-making becomes so sluggish.

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It’s like you are stuck in the mud, whereas when you’re mentally fresh, you’ve got a lot of energy, and decision making is accurate, crisp, and sharp. That time, I had no idea that the concept around your brain is like a muscle. Once I understood this information around conserving and regenerating my mental energy, I made sure to make the most of it.

So I used a few different techniques to be able to conserve my mental energy even when I was in the moment playing the game. Like, I put a song into my head to put my mind on neutral. Different people have different techniques to just do that, whether it’s focusing on breathing, or like Sir Viv Richards used to chew gum. When the ball’s about to come out, they have all the mental energy in reacting to the ball to the best of their ability.

Q. You just mentioned about using music to put your mind on neutral. How did that come about for you to implement it in your performances?

A. Music has always been something that I’ve loved, even as a kid. I learnt playing the guitar in my early 20s and being on tour, especially with Brett Lee, that was a way to chill out as well. I didn’t necessarily do it to chill out, it was more so I had so much downtime on tour and wanted to learn a new skill.

But the thing I realized when I now look back at a lot of my best performances, even before I knew this information, is I had a catchy song in my head that I was just singing along to – whether it was a song I listened to in the lead up to the game or a song that came on while I was batting. It was just in the background there for the whole time.

Glenn McGrath and Michael Clarke always had a song in their head they used. I didn’t fully understand why they used it, but it worked incredibly well for them. It wasn’t until Dr. Jacques explained to me the power of having something that you can move your mind to and put it on neutral.

For me, songs was something that had worked in the past, that it just happened without me consciously putting a song into my head. From that moment, I was like, ‘Well, no matter what, one, if I start to overthink a situation, even in the lead up to the game, jam a song into my head’.

If I was overthinking a situation in any way, shape or form, I put a song into my head, because that means I can trust my gut instincts, intuition, and also not burn my mental energy, so as to access my super highway reactions and be ready to react when the ball comes out.

–IANS

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Squash: Rathika Seelan enters Hong Kong PSA Challenge Cup QF

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Hong Kong, May 30 (IANS) Rathika Suthanthira Seelan advanced to the quarterfinals of the Hong Kong PSA Challenge Cup – 4th leg with a come-from-behind 3-2 win over local challenger Ka Huen Leung.

The sixth-seeded Indian edged out Leung 4-11, 5-11, 11-4, 11-4, 11-7 in the second round after receiving a bye in the opening round.

The Tamil Nadu player, who won her maiden Professional Squash Association Tour title at the HCL Squash Tour in Indore last weekend, will meet third-seeded Malaysian Sehveetrraa Kumar in the quarterfinals.

–IANS

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Europe Tour: Indian jr men's hockey team registers shootout win over Germany

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Breda (Netherlands), May 30 (IANS) Indian junior men’s hockey team registered a shootout victory against Germany, while the junior women concluded their Tour of Europe with a draw against Oranje Rood.

The junior men triumphed in the shootouts, winning 1-1 (3-1 SO) after Mukesh Toppo (33’) scored in regulation time. For the junior women’s team, Sanjana Horo (18’) and Anisha Sahu (58’) scored in their 2-2 draw with Dutch club Oranje Rood.

After a quiet first half, during which neither the Indian junior men nor Germany could find the back of the net, Mukesh Toppo (33′) scored off a rebound from a penalty corner early in the third quarter. The Indians held their lead until Germany equalised four minutes into the fourth quarter, adding excitement to the game. Despite both teams’ efforts to take the lead, the score remained unchanged at the end of regulation time, leading to a penalty shootout.

India won the shootout 3-1, with Gurjot Singh, Dilraj Singh, and Manmeet Singh scoring. They concluded their Tour of Europe with a victory in their final game.

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Meanwhile, the junior women’s team played a quiet first quarter against Oranje Rood. Early in the second quarter, Sanjana (18’) broke the deadlock for India. Oranje Rood responded well, earning two penalty corners but the Indian defense held firm, ending the first half 1-0 in India’s favour.

Oranje Rood took the initiative in the third quarter. In their search for goals, Oranje Rood pushed India back, earning three penalty corners and scoring twice to take a 2-1 lead. The Indian junior women’s hockey team strove to level the score in the last quarter, achieving a breakthrough when Anisha (58’) scored in the final moments, ending the match in a 2-2 draw.

–IANS

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Singapore Open: Sindhu bows out after second round loss against Marin

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Singapore, May 30 (IANS) Two-time Olympic medallist shuttler PV Sindhu’s Singapore Open campaign ended in the second round after losing to familiar foe Carolina Marin of Spain, here on Thursday.

World no. 12 Sindhu suffered a 21-13, 11-21, 20-22 hard-fought loss in the second round of the BWF Super 750 Badminton tournament.

Earlier, the Indian ace defeated world No. 21 Line Hojmark Kjaersfeldt of Denmark 21-12, 22-20 in the opening round to set up a meeting with former Olympic champion Marin.

The two shuttlers famously faced each other in the final of the Rio 2016 Olympics where the Spaniard emerged victorious

With a win on Thursday, Marin extended her head-to-head record over Sindhu to 12-5.

More to follow.

–IANS

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Latest global sensation: Praggnanandhaa's first win over Carlsen in classical chess sends netizens into frenzy

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New Delhi, May 30 (IANS) After Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa defeated world No. 1 GM Magnus Carlsen for the first time in a classical game during round three of the 2024 Norway Chess tournament in Stavanger, netizens went into a frenzy over the Indian prodigy’s significant achievement.

The 18-year-old Indian Grandmaster beat Carlsen on his home turf on white pieces, emerging as the sole leader with 5.5 points.

Carlsen and Praggnanandhaa had drawn their previous three encounters in this format, two of which in the 2023 World Cup final.

On Wednesday night, the 18-year-old Indian grandmaster punished Carlsen’s risky play. Carlsen never castled and eventually lost as his king couldn’t find a safe haven.

Following Pragg’s win over world no 1 Norwegian, social media was flooded with congratulatory messages.

“Latest global sensation from India!,” a fan wrote on X.

“Waking up to this mind blowing good news. #Praggnanandhaa, India’s 18-year-old chess prodigy, managed to defeat World No 1 #MagnusCarlsen for the first time in a classical game,” another user added.

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“This win is special indeed, defeating Carlsen in his home is no mean feat,” a fan posted on X.

“Here’s the one who is making India proud. He is a hero oh no he is a champion! Many congratulations to Praggnanandhaa! Here’s a game he played against Magnus Carlsen and won. @rpraggnachess thank you,” an X post read.

“R Praggnanandhaa you beauty. We surely have the next Vishwanathan Anand in the making,” another user posted.

–IANS

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