Interview With former U-16 Women’s Football National Team Player and Sports Psychologist, Kunashni Parikh

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3) From playing on the field to pursuing sports psychology full time, what made you shift to sports psychology?

I have always been interested in the human mind, how our thoughts influence our behavior, our performance. So I had the opportunity to study science where one of my subjects was psychology. So as I got a chance, I took further interest and went abroad to study at the University of British Columbia, Canada. I studied the subject of Neuroscience which is the science of the brain, the science behind our thoughts and our emotions. I was lucky to get a full scholarship as a part of the International Leader of Tomorrow award given by this university to a few students around the world. So I had this opportunity and I just wanted to take it and go there. Once I went there I had my science subjects, I had psychology. I was studying and learning.

I also took part in research, studying the human brain from different angles, attention, memory, and things like that. I was working and learning with professors who had won prizes in the science community all over the world. At the same time, I played football over there as a part of the Vancouver United Football Club with the senior women’s team. I remember the level of play there, their style. So many things were different, there was so much to learn. I got the best of both worlds. I could play my matches at the weekend and train in the evening. During the daytime, I could attend my classes and work.

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So talking about how I went from playing to sports psychology, besides being a player and giving everything on the field I still knew that there is this one aspect that needs to be enhanced further. That is the player’s mindset. When I was playing, I still remember there were a lot of times when my confidence was down, when I felt nervous, scared not sure of what to do. I felt like the fear of getting injured over again and so many things going on in my mind. At that time we didn’t have the psychology help with a mental coach that is there now.

Later when I got introduced to the field of sports psychology I realized that this is what I wanted to do. So for my passion for sports and my passion for the human mind I thought there is no better way these could be put better together. When I came back to India after completing my master’s and I started working in psychology, sports psychology was something I found my interest in. Whatever I have learned about human emotion, human behavior if we apply that to sport there is so much far ahead our country can go in each and every sport. So that’s how my journey went from being on the field to help the people who are now on the field playing for the country.

4) How important is psychology for any footballer or a sportsperson in general? Do you feel psychology should be implemented in normal day to day life too?

When we think of football we think of our feet, our legs. For the goalkeeper, we think of our hands. We have to learn how to kick, pass, shoot, catch the ball, throw, all these things. That is all the physical stuff. Also, our speed, our stamina, and everything have to be there. But we forget that to eventually play the match you have to be mentally strong. You have to be in a place where your anxiety is low, your confidence is high, your concentration is up and there is no extra thought in your mind. Now to develop this, people say that haan ye toh aa jayega(that will come on its own), but you have to feel confident, just believe in yourself. It’s very easy to say that.

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But just like you train your body to be able to play football and kick in the right top of the goal, corner of the goal, wherever you want it to go you have to train yourself and your mind to be fearless in any situation. It doesn’t come naturally. There is an immense amount of pressure, an immense amount of external factors that are putting pressure on you and throwing you off your game. If you don’t train your mind on how to beat all this, they are going to beat you at the end of the day. So it’s not the opponent who is going to win the match against you. It’s your own mind that will win the match against you. So you have to first conquer your mind before you can conquer your game and your performance. This is what I tell the athletes.

So as you are asking, psychology is super important. If you don’t understand your own psychology, you cannot control your own performance. Definitely, it should be implemented in normal day-to-day. It’s not that there is something wrong with my mind and my performance then I need to consult a mental trainer or a psychologist. Everybody faces some or the other kind of issue in normal day to day life. So if you address this, start working on your psychology, go through mental training, or work on some normal tools and techniques it will make you a mentally strong person and eventually a mentally strong player too. So talking of implementing this in day to day life, yes it’s needed. It’s not just the players or the coaches who need this. Everybody faces some sort of pressure so everyone needs to have it as a part of their day to day life.

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