The Playknox spoke with Prashanti Singh, former Indian Basketball team captain and India’s only basketball player to be awarded with the coveted Padma Shri Award. She is also the recipient of the Arjuna Award and Rani Laxmibai Bravery Award.She led the national team to the Asian Games in Guangzhou 2010 (the first time India women’s team participated since 1982), played the Commonwealth Games in 2006 and powered the team to its best ever position sixth at the Asian Games 2014.
As a sportsperson, how difficult do you think their Covid-19 era is for athletes?
Well, the Covid era is as bad it can get because we have ever faced such a deadly pandemic. Yes there was Spanish flu way back but this in on another level. And in the older times, there was no global sporting culture like it is now. Covid-19 has affected athletes in the worst way possible because as we are staying home away from the courts/fields. We all know sports is something we don’t excel at in a day or two. It requires continuous effort and practice throughout the year to play at a certain level. Athletes don’t have a life long shelf life. They have limited time and peak time is even shorter. For athletes who qualified and were preparing for Olympics, its a huge blow for them. Also, sports is not just about the athletes but rather an entire ecosystem consisting of coaches, associations, leagues etc. who are all suffering because of Covid.
What has been your lockdown fitness routine? Tell us about your diet.
Initially, when the lockdown started initially I had made up my mind to train at home itself with some gym equipment for strengthening exercises which many athletes keep with themselves. It was quite tough I would say because of the relaxed atmosphere at home unlike gym/court where everyone trains together and motivates each other but still I worked on my strengthening and agility. You know how basketball is a team game and doing everything alone was not easy but I did it anyway. Even though not as rigorous as can do at the gym or court but basic exercises to keep myself fit. Well, my diet was almost the same as it was before. I didn’t change much because I believe that sporting discipline is in my DNA now and obviously whether we are playing or not, our system automatically triggers guilt when we go overboard with eating
Do you think mental fitness is an aspect where players and organisations still have to put a lot of focus on? How important is it? What do you do for your mental health?
Yes, definitely. Mental health/fitness is very important for athletes and organisations must play their part too in raising awareness and including the same in sports curriculum. Especially now more than ever when there is so much uncertainty with regards to tournaments and sustaining financially.
Also, It happens most of the time that athletes don’t realize that other’s perception is putting them under pressure. For eg. in a team game like basketball where 12 players are playing but the limelight is only on 3 or 4 players who are performing well while rest are not being talked about. Its just those 3-4 that are praised when the team wins and criticizes when the team loses. I believe other players must be given importance too. Also such situations creates a lot of pressure and stress. And I think this has to change. What I personally do and would encourage others to follow is the need to know when to switch off or on. We need to keep our professional and personal life’s separate. It helps me a lot. Being with family and friends keeps me balanced. The best thing is to stay away from people’s perceptions and have faith in yourself and your own abilities. I think this is very important for mental strength.
We saw NBA matches being played in India. Do you think Basketball’s popularity has increased in India? What can be done further to improve it?
Basketball has been a popular since we were kids. I still remember when my eldest sister Priyanka use to play and we use to see and hear about some top teams compete at school level in Varanasi (Banaras). So the sport has been very popular at school and college level. In schools and colleges it is easily available right from the start as the courts are small and schools/colleges can provide that much area. Basketball is also an entertaining sport and 10 players can play at time with 5 each in every team. It is a team sports, a rigorous sport and a physical sport which makes it very interesting.
Globally, its a very popular sport as well. However, to further improve the popularity of basketball in India I believe we need to have a more commercial approach and organize leagues like NBA. I think there is a dire need to engage people at a domestic level because not everyone gets an opportunity to play at a higher competitive stage. So to engage more people, more leagues at junior level should be organised so that the players can play some competitive basketball as early as possible. We all know not everybody cannot play India so there has to be some other way to improve the sports. I think players, association and sponsors all will have to come together to achieve a positive result.
Why do you think more brands and sponsors should come forward to support both the sport and athletes? Tell us about the brands you are associated with.
Brands sponsorship is very important as it will not only help the brand grow but also the sport. But I believe that there is no actual investment in the basic structure of the game. When talking about investment I am not saying on paper but actual investment. What we currently see is that the playing opportunity is only in metro cities or the grade A cities , basically capitals of state which have good basketball courts but if you go beyond that like in any rural area, you will not find proper courts. I think that has stagnated the growth of basketball in India. Because it’s being played only in the top 10 cities which are well equipped with the right infrastructure. There has to be uniformity to bring a sporting culture in India because we know how much talent we have in small cities.
Do you think more sportspeople should leverage their fan base and popularity to act as influencers?
I think its important for athletes to leverage their fan base and for organisations to leverage athletes to promote sports. A great eg. of how an association leverages its players to promote sports is BCCI. Cricket isn’t an Olympic, Asian Games or CWG sport but cricketers are presented as heroes by BCCI. BCCI is perhaps the best sporting organisation there is and have a brilliant structure and other organisations can learn from that. Saina Nehwal after winning the Olympic medal changed everyone’s mindset about Chinese domination in badminton which encouraged more girls to take up the sport. Organisations should be wise enough to leverage their athletes for the promotion of sports.