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Cricket news - Enjoying the present in IPL, the Upton way

"My only advice to young stars in the IPL is to enjoy the present and then see how the pressure reduces" - Upton

An advertisement for the Indian Premier League being aired by the host channel sees a young cricket enthusiast, determined to leave a mark, being egged on by none other than Indian skipper Virat Kohli. With eyeballs of the entire cricketing realm descending upon India in the coming months, hordes of upcoming stars selected in the event have a ripe chance of making an ever-lasting impression.

Walking away from the world of backyard cricket and crossing the ropes into a world of fame might provide a surreal rush initially, but it can also turn into intimidation in no time. With innumerable international stars stating that the pressure of playing an IPL match is unparalleled, for the domestic cricketers it tends to get even more frightening.

"The international stars have personal pride at stake in every televised game while domestic players have pressure of another kind. The young players arrive to a fresh environment and it is their first exposure to big crowds, big games and a pressure environment," Paddy Upton, head coach of Rajasthan Royals and the mental conditioning coach of the Indian side that won the World Cup in 2011, tells Cricbuzz. "There is pressure from parents and the community. For some, it might be the pressure of performance so they get selected for the next game, and some might have financial strains, so the pressure to keep their contract might affect them."

However, instead of seeing anxiety as a complex phenomenon, the South African has a rather simple solution - redefine what pressure is.

"The neuroscience of pressure is exactly the same in all humans. It's just that different things trigger our pressure response. A lot of the time, pressure is just our brain thinking we are in danger but the reality is that other than when someone is bowling over 150km/h on a cricket field, no player is actually in danger. So helping players realise that what they are experiencing is just a mental conflict and not a valid pressure can reprogram their definition of pressure."

Crucially, overthinking a potential result in the future and the possible repercussions if a young players fails is something that Upton warns against. "Pressure can only be experienced when the mind is focused on the future and is worried about a future result. When a player wants to desperately do well in the future, or is too scared of doing badly, it causes anxiety. Hence my only advice to young stars in the IPL is to enjoy the present and then see how the pressure reduces."

Anand Chulani, a success and mental conditioning coach who has worked with Kings XI Punjab, Pune Warriors and Rajasthan Royals - along with various Olympic gold medallists and Grand Slam tennis champions - agrees with this theory. He asks a player to derive energy from a vision in the future. "See what you want and what you don't want in the future," he suggests.

"There are three mindsets that a cricketer comes equipped with - a mindset of self-doubt, an achiever's mindset and a champion state. Only if you can derive energy from the past and get rid of the matches that you did not perform in, can you be a champion. There is a mantra that I follow, 'where focus goes, energy goes', so what you focus on can either pull up or push down your career. That is why players like Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ravichandran Ashwin are so successful. They are the few Indians who have developed this champion mindset."

Of course, completely removing a player from thinking about the consequences of his performances is next to impossible. While a young domestic player always dreams of winning a match for his franchise by excelling in a crunch situation, it often also pans out in the contrary. Upton treads caution while dealing with a young player who might have directly contributed to the team's defeat. "In a one-to-one meeting, give him lots of support. There may be one or two things that he did not do well but highlight the good he might have done in the match," says Upton.

"Give them perspective by telling them that cricket is a game of failure. You are expected to fail. Batsmen will always fail more than they will succeed. Bowlers will always give more runs than they want to and fielders will always drop catches. It is just how it is. So don't worry about failure. Just be interested in pursuing success and know that failure will happen along the way."

For Chulani, the way success is viewed in India is what hampers cricketers. He urges players to adopt a different set of goals for the IPL. "Rather than cricket being a champion sport in India, cricketers have an achiever's mindset - if they deliver they feel great and if they don't, their confidence is at an all-time low. So instead of growing, contributing and aiming for consistent improvement, they want instant results. This only heightens the pressure.

"There is pressure in the IPL but it is a different level of pressure. If a player is bought for a high price, there is pressure to deliver and if he does not deliver, the IPL can be very unforgiving. So my advice is play in the IPL for growth. A player should not think of the money and instead think of how he can contribute, grow, adapt and learn."

Along with the pressure to excel, the cricketers also have little recovery time between games, spending a major part of the tournament in transit. Last season, Royal Challengers Bangalore played four games in eight days, travelling from Bengaluru to Mohali and then back home. After playing an 8pm game against Sunrisers Hyderabad they got just a day's break, which was spent travelling to Jaipur where they took on the Royals in a game that started at 4pm. Upton admits that the league can get physically and mentally taxing, and effectively tackling that is important.

"We have to ensure that the cricketers are managed physically very well. It means the right hydration, good sleep and lots of healthy and organic food."

Also understanding that each person has a unique blueprint and coaching them according to their demands is a critical aspect in the IPL, according to Chulani. "Our job is not to motivate them, but to activate them; to challenge the cricketers to grow and take them to the next level."

Even though the IPL might appear a larger-than-life spectacle with diverse players and cultures interweaving together for 60 matches, at its very core, it is an event where every cricketer - legendary or novice - yearns for success. Fighting inner demons and self-doubt, shedding off unnecessary burden and uniting for a greater cause is what the tournament ultimately is all about. In the end, the mindset that a player possesses goes a long way in determining his and the team's success.

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