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Stuff of Champions

Padma Shri awardee Vijay Amritraj is one of the finest Tennis players that India has produced. He represented India on many occasions and performed brilliantly. Reaching a world ranking of 18.

Björn Borg (b1956 - ) is a Swedish former world No. 1 tennis player. Between 1974 and 1981, he became the first man in the Open Era to win 11 Grand Slam singles titles with six at the French Open and five consecutively at Wimbledon.

In 1979, Amritraj lost in the second round of Wimbledon to defending champion Borg after being up two sets to one and leading 4–1 in the fourth set.

Amritraj despite his great talent and skill failed to realise his full potential and I often wondered why. What is it that makes only some talented people champions?

I got an answer when I witnessed sessions of training at Hotfut Sports (Soccer, Badminton and Cricket) co-founded by our son Pavit along with his friend Nikki in 2011. They set up Hotfut Sports to provide play spaces, grassroots opportunities for sports and personal development and centres for excellence in sports.

When I asked Pavit an avid and active sportsperson what was the approach he was adopting to develop champions while raising the quality and performance level of the sport for everyone, he gave me this enlightening view.

He said "You might have noticed that Indian players in all disciplines are technically very good, but we rarely ever win. Why do you think that was so? What are we doing differently?"

"Traditionally it was believed that technical skills and talent were inherent and only needed to be fine-honed, but is that adequate for winning?"

"To produce champions we have developed the 4 pillars approach. This is the development of

  • Technical Talent

  • Physical Capabilities

  • Social Skills

  • Psychological Skills"

  • What is the use of technical talent but not the strength, style, stamina etc to last the game?

  • What is the use of talent if there is a lack of teamwork or ability to get along or coordinate effectively with team members?

  • Can we win if we do not have the right frame of mind and understand ourselves, our opponents and challenges? Failure to understand and appreciate the situation to counter challenges, seize opportunities and leverage them effectively to win is the Achilles heel of many potential champions."

In my analysis, Vijay Amritraj like many of us pacifist-minded Indians lacks that killer instinct, that is so vital to being a champion in any competition. We play and play well but that is not adequate to be a champion. In any competition, be it in sports or life, we must not merely play but play and engage to triumph.

I am happy to note that Indian sports and approach to life have grown more competitive but more needs to be done to win without losing our humanity.

Sports is more than fun and play, it is a coaching for life.

I have observed over 60 years of my life that colleagues, classmates and friends who have invested some time focussed on playing sports have developed stronger relationships and teams, better physical and psychological health and were relatively more successful.

Pavit has gone on to launch several Ileseum Clubs, where sports are being deployed to re-establish community spaces and provide a higher quality of life.

My faith was further reinforced when The Economic Times awarded Pavit in 2022 with the highly prestigious award of 'Leaders of Tomorrow'.


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