Whenever he feels under pressure or unsure of himself, Vikas Krishan Yadav talks to the kind of friends who tell him that he is a “special boxer”. Besides coaches, who make him feel better about himself, to hear his own praise from buddies is not an ego prop for the 29-year-old, but just a confidence-boosting reaffirmation of his abilities in the ring.
He emphasises that boxing is not just a demanding physical sport but one that requires strategy, concentration and an understanding of psychology. “My aim is to get into my opponent’s head and I don’t think anyone can get into my head because I am mentally strong,” says the Haryana policeman.
The pugilist from Bhiwani, who won a gold medal in the 60kg category at the Guangzhou Asian Games in 2010, doesn’t do any specific mental exercises besides yoga and everyday training because he feels he does not need to.
“There is pressure on us,” he says about competing. “But that’s not on me alone. The opponent is under pressure as well. If he is under duress, how can he beat me? That’s the kind of logic I use to make myself feel better before getting into the bout.”
“I usually talk to my friends who are sportspeople too, especially (professional boxer and close friend) Neeraj Goyat, before a fight so they can tell me how great I am, to pick up my morale.”
Krishan, who won a bronze medal in the 2014 Incheon Asian Games in the 75kg category, says he has not sought help from a mental conditioning coach or spoken to a sports psychologist. “I am tough and mentally strong—I have been since childhood,” he says.
Even though the life of an international sportsperson is dominated by travel—for competitions and training—he considers that to be a seamless aspect of his life and therefore not a challenge or pain point. “Being lonely is good sometimes, so you can think about yourself, think about what you are doing… Travel and being lonely is good,” reiterates Krishan who got a third place in the 2011 AIBA World Championships in Baku.
While the pandemic cost sportspeople valuable training and practice, postponements of competitions—like the Tokyo Olympics that moved from the summer of 2020 to 2021—scuppered well-laid plans. Krishan, who last March became only the second Indian boxer after Vijender Singh to qualify for a third Olympic Games, sees the delay in the multi-sport event as a positive change. “I have an extra year to prepare. I am on my target, on the right track and I will win the Olympic gold (medal),” says Krishan who lost in the first preliminary round of the 2012 London event and in the quarterfinals at Rio de Janeiro four years later, making Tokyo perhaps his last shot at the sport’s biggest prize.
He considers that loss in Brazil the lowest point of his career. “But you have to deal with it. Every time you cannot win,” he says. “I have realised my mistakes. I started working on what I was not doing right and I am now ready for 2021.”
“A tough loss… it’s a part of life and sport,” adds Krishan, who won a gold in the 2018 Commonwealth Games. “Your performance cannot be stable all the time.”
Krishan had turned professional in late 2018 but returned to the world of amateurs in a bid to win an Olympic medal. In boxing, only amateurs can participate in the Olympics while being a professional is more lucrative.
As part of the switch, he spent nine months training in Newark, US, made his professional debut in January 2019, and won the two pro-bouts he participated in. But the lure of an Olympic medal was too strong and he returned to his earlier status. As part of his Tokyo bid, he dropped weight into the 69kg category on advice from Goyat and secured a Sports Authority of India’s grant under the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) for a training stint in Virginia last year that helped him add new boxing skills. The experience of professional bouts and the training stint abroad, he hopes, would have made him a better boxer.
One of the aspects he improved, he says, is his endurance. Krishan finds fitness—”to be fit all times”—to be the most challenging aspect of being a sportsman. “You can’t eat junk food. You can’t hang out with friends late in the night. You have to be in shape all the time—physical and mental.”
'Mindgames' is a series on the mental health of sportspersons and how they perform under intense pressure