Jwala and the art of practicing being confident

“You must practice being confident.”

These words keep echoing in my ear, long after I heard them. And no, it wasn’t a Roger Federer or a Rafael Nadal who shared this motivational manta. Nor, for that matter, was it a Lionel Messi or a Cristiano Ronaldo This simple, but effective, mental strength lesson came from India’s own Jwala Gutta.

Jwala Gutta

It is not often that I have got to speak with such an articulate, if opinionated, Indian sportsperson.  Come to think of it, it is nice to know an Indian sports person who is not satisfied with being World No. 25 or 26 but wants to be the best. “I want to keep working on my game and keep improving as much as I can,” she says, having grown up aware that she needs to give off her best rather than chase success.

“I have been brought up that way, with my father telling me that it is more important to give off one’s best than anything else,” Jwala says, indicating that she would expect everyone around her to become such a combination of mental and physical skills gained from hours of practicing the right way. After all, it’s tough to think like a winner unless you have the capability to be a winner.

It would be a travesty if I heard “Jwala, who?” in response. For, the 27-year-old Hyderabadi is one of India’s best bets in badminton, especially when she teams up with V Diju in a mixed doubles event. And in the past year and a half or so, Jwala and Diju have troubled, if not beaten, many of the world’s top pairs.

Jwala and Diju upset Indonesia’s World No. 1 pair of Lilyana Natsir and Nova Widianto, went within striking distance of beating Olympic champions Lee Yong Dae and Lee Hyo Jung, beat Indonesia’s World No. 6 Vita Marissa and Hendra Gunawan. Thailand’s World No. 8 Songphon Anugritayawon and Kulchala Voravichitchaikul as well as Poland’s World No. 9 Nadiezda Kostiuczyk and Robert Mateusiak.They featured in the title clash of the BWF Super Series Masters Finals in Kuala Lumpur and rose to be ranked seventh in the world.

The left-handed star, who has not hesitated to clash with authority because of her staunch beliefs, insists she  is confident Diju and she have the chance of winning bigger laurels for India. “Yes, even the Olympic Games,” she says. Such confidence is rare and usually dismissed in India as bravado but Jwala and Diju have strung together a series of wonderful efforts to back up her dream of wearing the Indian colours at the Olympic Games. “It was a pity I didn’t play in Beijing but I am sure I will play in London 2012 and will do well there.”

She gave up a singles career because her coach SM Arif wanted her to focus on forging a strong doubles pair with Shruti Kurien. “I would do anything that my coach asked me because my father had made it clear early on in life that I would have to do the bidding of Arif Sir. My parents were not pushy and left my development to my coach.” And when Arif told Jwala she had to work on teaming up with Shruti because India did not have strong doubles pair, she launched herself into the joys of doubles badminton.

The strapping Jwala decided to part ways with Shruti after years of playing together because she realised that the pair had hit a plateau and wasn’t ready to challenge the best in the world. She then asked Ashwini Ponnappa if she would be her new partner in women’s doubles while pairing up with Diju in mixed doubles.

She has always asked herself the question if she is doing the very best she possibly can and if she is doing every single day. She has been able to answer these questions in the affirmative and that is the reason why she exudes such confidence and has been able to extend her career when not a few may have suggested that she should make way for younger players.

Now you know why the words ‘You must practice being confident’ ring so much in my ears.