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Women’s football team turns to mental health sessions to sharpen decision-making skills

Gearing up to play in their biggest tournament so far, the India women’s football team is focusing on mental training ahead of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup, which will be held in India early in 2022.

Mental training is expected to improve their decision-making abilities on the pitch and also help them tackle the fatigue of bubble-life as they have now stayed for the better part of the year away from their families.

From technical to tactical training, and strength and conditioning, the team management is taking measures to ensure that the team is prepared to face the best in Asia.

Mental training, one aspect that goes mostly unnoticed, is now part of their build-up for the mega event.

“Footballers are people who like open spaces, and it does affect if you can’t take a break from it all and maybe go out for a walk, or go for a coffee. Giving your mind that rest is important,” India women team head coach Thomas Dennerby was quoted as saying in a report by All-India football Federation (AIFF) on its official website.

“In terms of general training, we try to do different things that help them in that. Fun sessions certainly help, but the simple parts of everyday training that also helps build a team,” he continued. “When players help each other lift more weights in the gym, or push each other to do the extra laps around the pitch, it’s all a part of building the mental aspect.”

When the players eat, sleep, and think football all day, training the mind also becomes important, the report said.

“Bubble life is hard. We were all happy that we’re doing what we love, but sometimes everyone needs a bit of a break. We are literally eating, sleeping, and thinking football every day. That takes a toll,” said fullback Dalima Chhibber.

To overcome such challenges, Dalima, who apart from being a footballer, is also a student of sports psychology, had suggested a simple exercise that helped galvanise the Blue Tigresses.

“The team had gone through a difficult phase, when everybody was being affected by the monotony, and that was reflecting on the players’ decision-making on the pitch,” said the fullback. “So we practiced this activity that is pretty common in sports psychology, where we anonymously wrote down what we liked about each player, and then everyone read out the favourite comments about themselves.”

The results were immediately visible, once the players believed that they had each other’s backing.

Winger Soumya Guguloth, who is one of the younger players in the squad, endorsed the good effects of such a mental health exercise.

“Sometimes, it gets too much. The Asian Cup is massive for us all, and we all want to do well. But when you’re in a bubble for six months, it affects you,” she said.

“You’re always under pressure to perform, and when that happens, apprehensions creep in and you tend to think that you can’t do things that you generally can do,” stated Soumya.

“After such exercises, when we see everyone saying such positive things about us, it gives us a lot of confidence to make those split-second decisions.”

Dalima believes that in a dynamic sport like football, split-second decisions can make all the difference, and in such scenarios, having a well-trained mind helps a great deal.

“Football is a sport where you need to make a decision in a fraction of a second. Otherwise, you’ve already lost it. You may be nervous, but you’ve got to be able to back your own abilities in your mind. Otherwise, you’ve already lost before the starting whistle. That’s where sharpening the mind along with the body becomes so important,” she said.

The AFC Women’s Asian Cup India 2022 will be played at three venues — Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Pune — from January 20 to February 6.

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