‘It’s All In The Mind’: Sports Psychologist Daewon Nongrem On Mental Fortitude In Nagaland Athletics - Eastern Mirror
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‘It’s all in the mind’: Sports psychologist Daewon Nongrem on mental fortitude in Nagaland athletics

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By Thejoto Nienu Updated: May 27, 2024 11:57 pm
Daewon Nongrem
Daewon Nongrem

KOHIMA — In the world of sports, mental fortitude is just as important as physical prowess, said Daewon Nongrem, a Counselling and Sports Psychologist at the Khelo India Centre for Sports Excellence (KICSE) in Kohima.

A former boxer himself, Nongrem has experienced the mental challenges of an athlete firsthand. His 18-year journey in sports, fuelled by a desire to overcome childhood bullying, led him to becoming a certified sports psychologist, he shared during a recent interaction with Eastern Mirror.

Having faced bullying in school as a young student, his athletic journey started in Jammu and Kashmir, where his father was serving in the army. He was introduced to boxing through the Sports Authority of India (SAI) and went on to compete in national and other tournaments until an injury forced him to retire in 2020.

But that didn’t take away his passion for the sport. Discovering the emerging field of sports psychology while he was pursuing a degree in counselling psychology, he pursued certificate courses and other training from Delhi, Noida, Bangalore, and other locations, before eventually becoming a certified sports psychologist.

Roles and responsibilities

As a sports psychologist at KICSE, Nongrem’s primary focus is on the mental well-being of athletes, build confidence, overcome failures and get rid of negative thoughts. He assesses the athletes’ motivation and anxiety levels before a game and helps them navigate these issues, noting that some have a low self-esteem.

He monitors the athletes during games, conducts group and individual sessions, and collaborates with coaches to create strategies for overcoming performance anxiety. He also looks into the athletes’ overall well-being, especially during the demanding tournament circuit.

Sharing his observation, he said that Nagaland athletes are physically strong and well-nourished but their mental game needs more attention, pointing out that they perform well in the state but tend to get distracted on bigger stage.

On this, he said the department of Youth Resources and Sports is working with specific targets.

Tailoring approach

Nongrem, who is currently working with archers, boxers and wrestlers, said that every game has its own dynamics.

On wrestling, he said that is a physical game that requires quick thinking, as a wrestler must not only attack but also predict and counter the opponent’s moves within seconds. Mentally, they should be very quick and highly motivated due to the intense physical demands of the sport.

On archery, he stressed the importance of mental wellbeing in this discipline, saying that the archers should be calm, clear and focused on their game. Meanwhile, he said boxing requires both physical and mental strength, because of which he encourages athletes to draw inspiration from elite boxers like Mike Tyson, Conor McGregor and Khamzat Chimaev, who were known for their ability to shift into a different persona when they enter the ring.

Expounding that mental preparation is as important as physical training, he said athletes, across all disciplines, struggle due to self-imposed pressures and external expectations.

Based on his interactions with athletes, he develops strategies after taking their individual visions, goals and motivations into consideration. He also helps them set individual goals, pre-game mental preparation, emotional regulation during the game, mindfulness, and post-game recovery.

Keeping the mind on track

Observing that challenges during a tournament are largely related to the athlete’s mindset, he said a player could lost a game mentally even before a match begins if he or she assumes that the opponent is a prominent figure. In such scenarios, the most challenging aspect is keeping the mind on track and maintaining focus, he added.

Noting that athletes from Nagaland improving, he said comparing with athletes from other regions and perfectionism — too much focus on winning and too much concern about what others will say — can be detrimental to sportspersons.

Inside the court or arena, it doesn’t matter where a person comes from, how many days they have practiced, who is watching, or their personal background. What matters is giving their best and having the mindset of a champion, he asserted.

Post-tournament and recovery

While acknowledging that it is rare for an athlete to immediately come to terms with a loss, setback or underperformance in a tournament, he said adopting a positive and growth-oriented mindset, focusing on learning from mistakes and striving for improvement, is important.

When faced with such scenarios, he conducts individual sessions with athletes to remind them that failure in sports doesn’t reflect their worth as individuals, nor does a coach’s frustration equate to a personal failing. He also helps athletes navigate their emotional challenges by providing a space to express it.

The sports psychologist went on to say that one’s state of mind plays a vital role injury recovery and rehabilitation, as athletes often fear they won’t regain their previous level of play, leading to a focus on negative outcomes.

While physiotherapists, strength and conditioning coaches are essential, an often-overlooked aspect is psychological support in the recovery process, he said, adding that besides physical exercises, athletes must also cultivate a positive mindset and believe in the benefits of their efforts.

Encouraging words and support from experts are also crucial for instilling hope and contributing to their psychological rehabilitation, he maintained.

Sports psychology as a profession

While acknowledging the increase in awareness about mental health issues in Nagaland, Nongrem said that there is still a prevailing reluctance towards sport psychology counselling, often due to misconceptions.

Stressing the importance of recognising mental health as equally vital as physical health, he urged the people to seek help when needed, adding that seeking assistance is a sign of strength, not weakness.

He went on to encourage students to explore sports psychology as a career path, citing its growing scope in India amid the emergence of events like Khelo India and Nagaland Olympics in recent years.

As sports gain prominence, the demand for qualified sports psychologists is expected to rise, he maintained.

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By Thejoto Nienu Updated: May 27, 2024 11:57:03 pm
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