Planning for mental conditioning
It was in Dambulla where, as Virender Sehwag mentioned, they started visualising the 2011 World Cup final. "We had planned a year ago what we needed to do in order to set ourselves up to win the World Cup," Upton said.
Paddy Upton, mental conditioning coach of Indian team, spoke of the year the team had been through: the anticipation, the preparation, the hard work. "We set on this a year ago. Gary and myself and Eric Simons asked the question, 'Are we ready to win the World Cup?' And we felt we had the team to win it, the skill and the talent, but mentally we possibly weren't ready."
This mental conditioning work done for carrying the burden of such monumental expectation makes this 2011 world cup win a more special win than even 1983 World cup win. I know two wins are difficult to compare. However winning a tournament with so high expectation ( 2011 World cup) requires a radically different degree of mental effort and skill than winning a tournament with no expectations! This is why in sports it is far more difficult to consistently win for 4-5 years than winning for a year. ( And that is why Roger Federer so highly respected in a tennis world which he dominated for so long!) Skill aspects are easier aspects to learn and prepare; what is more difficult is undergoing the mental conditioning work required for so long a time.
Bearing mental stress
We do not know the details of Upton's mental conditioning work that he did with Indian team, but some of the aspects are visible now in the post-match interviews. For instance, to find a way to adjust to the nervousness, Dhoni said the players tried dealing with nerves in different ways. "We said avoid it, do this, do that," but the strain was always felt. When Dhoni was asked how Yuvraj had been in the dressing room during the tournament, he replied with a smile: "He has been vomiting a lot".
Yuvraj told ESPNcricinfo, as he crossed the Wankhede to return to his dressing room, that he had been physically ill several times during the tournament. "Anxiety, anxiety," he explained. "This was the World Cup and that anxiety can really be heavy."
Some of the players had been struggling to sleep properly. Dhoni added, "If you ask the players, they were not eating well because of anxiety. Not pressure, but anxiety. There would be food in front of you but you wouldn't feel like eating it."
All that mental preparation helped. As Upton said, in his team meeting on Friday,'Guys we have been talking about exactly this for a year, and we have been preparing for it and we know we are ready.' Upton added that 'while there were nerves, we went in with the confidence that we are better prepared than the opposition'.
Release of pressure
The burden that Yuvraj and his team-mates had been carrying around over the last six weeks ( which was simmering slowly for a year) suddenly fell away after the final. Everything had turned into lightness. Harbhajan Singh wept into the India flag, Yuvraj singh and Sachin Tendulkar could not hold back their tears. Dhoni, who normally replies to questions only in English, even when asked in Hindi, switched languages several times on Saturday night in the post match conference.
Lessons for corporate executives from Indian team's goal achievement
Mental preparation is as important as skill preparation in achieving any goal. But in corporate life, how much attention is given to improving the mental conditioning? It is almost taken for granted. Or worse still, mental conditioning work is equated with gung-ho statements like 'Be positive' or ' Be decisive' or some such irrelevant homilies.