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Shooters to bank on "mental warm-up" besides skills in Paris Olympic Games

Shooting is a mental sport and therefore besides the latest high-class rifle, a shooter requires tremendous focus, a high level of concentration during tournaments

Shooters to bank on mental warm-up besides skills in Paris Olympic Games
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 India's rifle shooters 

MUMBAI: When they line up for their respective events in the Paris Olympic Games, India's top rifle shooters like Sandeep Singh, Ashwary Pratap Singh Tomar, Swapnil Kusale, Elavenil Valarivan, Ramita Thapar, Sift Kaur Samra, and Anjum Moudgil will be banking on their newly-acquired skills of mental warm-up to help them to climb onto the podium.

"Mental warm-up", is a technique to calm their mind and steel nerves, that the shooters have added to their armour in the last three years since they failed in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics when an ultra-strong Indian shooting contingent had returned home empty-handed.

In shooting every breath counts. So, if a shooter exhales a millisecond here or there while about to pull the trigger, it will have an impact on his shot, the aim could be off and the shooter may drop crucial points.

"So it's really about how each of my young athletes is able to have a command and control over every single breath that they're going to breathe on that day (when they shooting in the final). Because even one breath, if you exhale one second later than usual, is going to cost you a decimal point. And one breath that you exhale earlier can also cost you your point," says chief national rifle coach Suma Shirur.

Shooting is a mental sport and therefore besides the latest high-class rifle, a shooter requires tremendous focus, a high level of concentration during tournaments, and the ability to control one's breath and muscles to achieve pin-point accuracy in tough competitions.

It was shortcomings in these mental aspects of the sport that were considered among the reasons for the Indian shooters' failure to win medals in the 2016 and 2020 Tokyo Games despite a large number of stars earning the quotas.

"So going forward, I think the biggest effort is of the mind and we are really, really focused on that. And with our expert team in place, this is the main stress that we are going to stress mainly on this because all the work, all the other work I can say is kind of done with now it's only about repetition, repetition, repetition and repeating what they already know, but at the same time, finding tools and developing tactics where they're able to keep their mind in the present moment," said Shirur during a panel discussion on India's chances at the Paris Olympic Games, organized by the Sports Journalists Association a few days back.

Thus in the last three years, the Indian shooters, as per a special programme set in place by the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) have worked on the mental aspect of the sport, with the expert coaches introducing "mental warm-up" for the shooters, which they believe will help them climb the podium in Paris.

"So a good physical warm up is what they've always been doing. But this time our team has also introduced a good mental warm-up and something that they added, which everyone is doing, and mindfulness meditation. Young kids never like to do it, so, but this is something that has been introduced and each one is into the process," she added.

Shooting is the second-most successful sport after hockey for India at the Olympics. While India had ruled hockey competitions at the Olympics, winning eight gold medals, one silver, and two bronze medals, the shooters, thanks to Abhinav Bindra's historic first individual gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, have bagged four medals in all -- 1 gold, two silver, and one bronze. Shooting besides hockey and athletics is the only sport in which India has won a gold medal at the Olympics.

In Paris, a 21-member team of shooters will be representing India. The team comprises eight members in Rifle, seven in Pistol, and six in the Shotgun discipline. Including the mixed events, the team will have 28 starts at the quadrennial sporting extravaganza. The team was selected after four grueling rounds of tough trials involving the most talented shooters besides the quota winners in each category.

The entire shooting community has high hopes for this contingent, which has made the country proud in various competitions including the various World Cups and World Championships besides the Asian Games in the last three years.

"So we've shooters who have shown their skills over the last three years where we've been winning consistently major competitions, and the biggest test for each one of them was during selection trials. And they have come out successful, they've all done their best," said Shirur.

The top shooters of the country have prepared extensively over the last three years, constantly testing themselves in competitions and working out on various aspects of the sports with the experts.

Besides that, the NRAI has last month organised a camp in France, very near the place where the shooting competitions will be held in Paris. They will again be reaching France well before time so that the shooters can get acclimatised to the conditions.

So, the shooters have also worked on managing things on their own when at the shooting station, whether in competition or practice.

"At the end of the day, on that day, the athlete is there all along. And so our effort has been in not making dependent athletes.

"Our effort has been in making them independent so that they can stand out there taking responsibility in their hands and go out there and make those bold decisions and be able to stand tall no matter what the situation is and come out of the that's what the effort has been. And I'm quite sure that each one will make us proud. Whether we win a medal or not," said Shirur.

Having spent a few days near the venue, the shooters have a fair idea of what to expect in terms of climate and conditions and in terms of competition too. The shooters are now in a phase in which they can visualize the conditions and competitions in Paris and prepare their minds for the competitions.

Though Shirur said she would not like to comment on the medals that the shooters would win in the Paris Olympics, she was confident that each of them would give their best during the Olympics.

"Today I really can proudly say that we are far ahead technically in terms of the process than what we were four years ago. We work diligently on every detail. And today I can say that they are all working. They are one of the best in the world, and I feel so proud. Now I don't have to talk about one or two champions. Each one of them is a champion in their own right, and they can win," she said.

Now that the members of the Indian contingent have prepared well, and have the best equipment and pallets, it now comes down to what the shooter does at the shooting station, how he handles the stress and pressure of a top-level competition.

IANS
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