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Mind or Muscle – What Matters More in Sport?

When Mahendra Singh Dhoni decided to hand over the ball to Joginder Sharma to bowl the penultimate over of the 2007 T20 World Cup, everyone watching the match was left in a state of uncertainty. A well-set Misbah belted the first couple of deliveries to the boundary and surely it felt that it was Pakistan’s game. The next ball changed the fortunes of many players in the Indian team.
Misbah scooped the ball to hit it square off the third man. As the ball went up in the air, India held its breath in despair only to see it land safely in the hands of S. Sreesanth. The entire nation erupted with joy as India won the first edition of the T20 World Cup.
What stood out in that final was Dhoni’s decision to let Joginder Sharma bowl the last over even when he had far more experienced bowlers like Harbhajan Singh at his disposal. Dhoni was appreciated more for proving his mettle as a sharp strategist and went on to being appointed as the Captain of the Indian cricket team in all formats of the game.
Joginder Sharma after bowling the winning over at the T20 World Cup in 2007
Joginder Sharma after bowling the winning over at the T20 World Cup in 2007
This one’s an apt example of showcasing mind over muscle.
Often, in sport, there is a notion that it’s the physical strength that trumps mental strength for a player to win matches and perform consistently. Contrary to popular belief, mental strength and mind awareness during the game has often defined the careers of many famous sportspersons.

Unconventional thinking

In 1999, Manchester United was facing Bayern Munich in the Champions League final. For United, a lot was at stake as winning the final would help them win the league final. Yet, United went a goal down in the early minutes of the game and couldn’t really find a way back until the last 10 minutes when their manager made crucial and calculated substitutions.
Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole, both of whom had an outstanding season that year, were replaced by the lesser experienced Teddy Sheringham and Solskjaer. Yorke and Cole possessed far more superior physical prowess compared to their teammates who replaced them. But the two new young forwards were more agile and swift which the manager felt was a trait that would work at that point in time.
The decision turned out to be magical as Sheringham and Solskjaer both scored two goals in the three minutes of stoppage time and United went on to win the Champions League final. The decision of taking out two of the best forwards of the team and replacing them with two lesser experienced forwards was criticised a lot while the match was underway.
The tone of criticism quickly changed to appreciation when the result changed in a span of three minutes. It was hailed as one the best substitutions of all time in the history of football.
Solskjaer wrote his name into United folklore by scoring arguably the most famous goal in the club’s history
Solskjaer wrote his name into United folklore by scoring arguably the most famous goal in the club’s history

Such is the impact of certain decisions that can completely change the outcome for the better. Similarly, certain key decisions taken within a corporate structure can help improve the results of a project or product in hand.

In such situations, what matters is the ability to read the situation and the mental strength to keep composure while making the decision. The results thereafter automatically bring success.

Take, for example the Cleveland Cavaliers, the noted American basketball team. Of course, the team is talented, but talent is never enough. It requires mental strength to beat a team who defeated you the previous year to win the championship.
In 2016, the Cavaliers came back in a National Basketball Association (NBA) final when they were down 3-1, a feat which no team in NBA history had accomplished. They beat a team who had a record-breaking season with 73 wins.
They won the championship in a hostile environment when the opposing team had the most dominant home records over the past two years. And it was mental toughness that became the key for the Cleveland Cavaliers to beat the odds and win the 2016 NBA Championship.
The Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cleveland Cavaliers made history with their NBA championship win in 2016

Mental toughness

Mental toughness helped the Cavaliers despite all the pressure hoisted upon the team. Not only did the team thrive in that pressure-packed championship moment, but the team also looked forward to competing under those circumstances. The Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue expressed the overall mindset of the team when he said after game, “I wish every game was an elimination game.”
The human race has always had the gift of having an evolving mind. Hence, we adapt quickly to critical situations as compared to other living beings on the planet. In any scenario, whether sport or corporate, the mind plays a crucial role in deciding the outcome to be positive or negative.
The ability to make key decisions while maintaining composure is what defines those who attain success in a corporate environment. The mindset has always been paramount in measuring the outcome of a team activity and the success it can attain. So, it’s not only muscles or physical strength but mind and mental strength that matter the most.

Views of the author are personal and do not necessarily represent the website’s views.

The author, Sanjeev Anand, is Country Head – Commercial Banking and in-charge of Sports Vertical, IndusInd Bank and an avid sports enthusiast.

To read more articles by Sanjeev Anand, click here.