There’s a certain meditative calm about HS Prannoy these days. After every rally, he seems to withdraw into himself, shutting himself off from the tumult around. His steps in between points are slow and deliberate; he doesn’t even celebrate the way he used to.
To consistently deliver in the fifth match of a team event requires nerve. Prannoy did that not once, not twice, but in four matches, anchoring India’s historic title-winning campaign at the Thomas Cup.
Since then, Prannoy has carried that same calm on court as he made semifinals at the Indonesia Open and the Malaysia Masters. While Prannoy has always had the physical and technical ability for this level, the Indian has upped his game in the mental department.
As he prepares for the TotalEnergies BWF World Championships 2022, Prannoy details just exactly has how he has gone about it.
Excerpts from a recent interview:
Tell us about the work that you’ve been doing, on the mental side.
I’ve been working with a company called Invictus; it’s related to strength and conditioning. They have something on the behavioural side as well, working on psychology and breathing and the mental side of the game.
They have everything in one place. All my needs are taken care of – strength and conditioning, food, my mental conditioning. I just started mental conditioning six months ago, but I was working with strength and conditioning earlier, since 2019.
How do you work with them when you’re travelling?
We get on call every single day. We try to be consistent because I’m very bad with breathing and focus, and I tried to skip many sessions. This is one thing I’m uncomfortable doing. To sit for 20 or 30 minutes is really tough to do breathing (exercises), to be focused on what they’re saying. When I started I realised that you have so many things to do in a breathing session and in a focus session and I think that slowly built up the patience and the trust to work on something very different.
That is one thing I needed, to be focused throughout the game. The mind needs to be in the present but a lot of times the mind keeps wandering here and there, especially in crowds like the Istora. We think so many things which are not needed and you will not realise that five points have gone in a flash, and that’s where the game slips. I had a lot of experience like that in the past so I thought this was one thing which I needed to work on.
I now feel much more focused throughout the game. The results are probably 10 per cent better than what I had from last September, so there’s a lot of scope. It works. People will generally neglect this side of the game but I think it’s really important.
Gopichand used to talk about these things as well when he was playing… so how new is this practice?
This is different, I’d never done this in my life. I started doing this because I had pain in my ribs and I wanted to try everything. My breathing was all over the place.
How does breathing help during a match? Is it only about calming yourself down?
To calm yourself down; it’s also very important that you have a very systematic way of breathing; it just cannot be up and down and very very fast. I used to breathe really fast. I needed to calm down a little bit.
Isn’t breathing something you let happen automatically rather than controlling?
It’s something which has been with you throughout your life and it’s automatic, but if you work on it there’s a lot of scope to get better, and you will know that you are breathing much slower, and then your heartbeat gets much slower whenever you’re on court.
Otherwise when you’re having a big match, at 14-all or 15-all you can feel your heart rate going higher, to 160 or 165, even though you’re not tired. But because of the breathing techniques and the things we’re working on, it helps me to be a little bit more focused on the game. At the end of the day more than breathing it’s about how much you can be focussed. Through breathing we’re trying to get to that level.
So it’s not just to calm yourself; breathing has a physical impact as well, on how tired you’re feeling, for instance?
Maybe… I don’t know. But then it’s a process where you prepare yourself; it’s not something which you do for a day and get right. I’ve been doing it for the last six months and am probably 5 per cent better, but there’s a lot of space where you can improve your lung capacity and all those things which you can work side by side through training. We generally neglect it. I wanted give it a shot. It has helped in me being a little bit calmer and sleeping better at night.
Is expertise on this topic new to India?
It is. It’s just coming up. There are not many places where these kinds of things are happening, and you need the right people also. It’s about how much they understand you as a player and as an individual, because I’ve worked with a lot of psychologists. They get into a lot of off-court activities which doesn’t help. I would say you just need to stick with what makes you play better on court.