Smriti Mandhana: Balancing Cricket, Routine, and Mental Health

In an episode of the Mind Set Win Podcast by Red Bull, Season 3, Smriti Mandhana shared insights on her routine, mental health, and life balance as a professional athlete in an interview with Lisa Ramuschkut.

Smriti Mandhana Balancing Cricket, Routine, and Mental Health
Smriti Mandhana Balancing Cricket, Routine, and Mental Health

REFLECTED ON HER ROUTINE AND SCHEDULE

Smriti Mandhana discusses the varying schedules of different cricket formats and the flexibility required to adapt. One-day matches start around 1:30 PM, lasting 7-8 hours, while Test matches in India begin at 9:30 AM, and T20 matches start in the evening around 7:00 or 7:30 PM. This variability, especially within a single series, necessitates a flexible approach to routines and sleep schedules. Smriti admits that her past rigidity in following routines caused her trouble, but now she embraces flexibility. She emphasizes the importance of a calm hour before matches for her morning routines, freshening up, and a brief 10-minute meditation to clear her mind. Additionally, she spends a few minutes visualizing the crowd and entering the stadium to prepare mentally. This adaptable yet structured approach helps her stay prepared without being hindered by the constantly changing match schedules.

She mentioned, “The only thing I need is like one hour before the match, which is really, really calm. I don’t rush into anything all my morning routines, or you know, just freshening up, I need to really take time in everything. I can’t rush anything and just a 10 -minute meditation.”

APPROACH ON MEDITATION

Smriti Mandhana further elaborates on her meditation practices, explaining that she prefers guided sessions because she finds it challenging to meditate without direction. When left on her own, her thoughts drift to mountains and beaches, making it hard to refocus on cricket. To maintain concentration, she uses apps that provide guided meditations, often with a motivational focus. Her sessions typically last seven to ten minutes, where she sits quietly, closes her eyes, and focuses on controlling her breath. This practice helps her achieve the calm necessary for batting, where clarity and focus are crucial. Smriti emphasizes that she doesn’t aim to enter a deep meditative zone; instead, she seeks tranquility and breath control. For visualization, she spends about three minutes mentally rehearsing her pre-batting routine, like taking her leg guard, rather than the act of batting itself. This preparation ensures she is mentally ready and calm when she steps onto the field.

She said, “Being quiet for the seven to 10 minutes just at one place and closing my eyes and calming me and especially I think having control over your breath. I think that’s the only thing which I look forward to.”

ZONE WHILE BATTING

Smriti Mandhana describes her approach to staying focused during T20 matches, acknowledging the intensity and short duration of the game. When she’s at the non-striker end, she intentionally avoids overthinking about her upcoming turn to bat. Instead, she looks around at the crowd or focuses on a point to maintain a balanced mental state. Smriti believes that trying to maintain constant intense focus for the entire three-hour match isn’t suitable for her style of play. She finds that when she puts too much pressure on herself to concentrate intensely, it can negatively impact her performance. Therefore, she strives to strike a balance between staying focused during critical moments and allowing herself mental breaks to stay relaxed and composed throughout the match. This approach helps her perform at her best without becoming overwhelmed by the pressures of the game.

She stated, “I do all of those things to not really focus a lot because three hours of complete focus can, it’s not, I don’t think it’s meant for me as some people do that and are really successful. But when I focus extra, I think I end up not doing well. So, so for me, it’s just about finding that balance.”

INVESTING ON BODY

Smriti Mandhana places a high priority on getting eight hours of sleep daily, regardless of when she goes to bed or wakes up. She adjusts her schedule to ensure she meets this requirement, even if it means taking naps during the day. Lack of sleep can make her irritable, affecting her overall mood and focus. Additionally, to manage her gut health during extensive travel, she now travels with a personal chef who prepares home-cooked meals according to her needs. This change has helped her avoid digestive issues caused by hotel food, ensuring she stays physically and mentally fit for her cricket commitments; she further emphasizes the critical importance of investing in her body as an athlete. She compares it to financial investments like stocks and mutual funds, stressing that the best returns come from prioritizing and caring for her physical health. Smriti believes that when her body is functioning at its peak, she can deliver her best performance for the team. Reflecting on her approach, she mentions how she initially managed her nutrition independently, consulting with a nutritionist to optimize her diet. Transitioning to traveling with a personal chef has further enhanced her ability to maintain her health and performance levels consistently. Smriti acknowledges that having these resources isn’t always feasible for everyone but asserts that such investments can significantly impact an athlete’s career and overall well-being.

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She affirms, “It’s like the best investment for an athlete is in your body. And if your body is at the hundred percent level it is only when you’re going to be able to perform or give the best for your team.”

LIFE BALANCE AS ATHLETE

Smriti Mandhana acknowledges the challenges of maintaining happiness and motivation as a professional cricketer, particularly during extended periods of travel and intense schedules. She admits there are times when she feels fatigued and desires a brief break from the sport to recharge. Managing her physical health, especially her gut, is crucial for sustaining her energy levels and overall well-being. Despite the demands and occasional lack of personal freedom that come with her career, Smriti maintains a positive perspective. She understands that her time as a cricketer is limited, estimating around 10 more years in the game for her from now, so she would end up playing 20- 25 years as she started at a young age. This realization serves as motivation to stay dedicated and positive throughout her career. Smriti embraces each opportunity to excel and enjoy playing cricket, knowing that this phase of her life is brief and she wants to make the most of it while she can.

She asserts, “Only motivation I keep telling myself is that you know maybe this X number of years I have to be motivated and I have to feel happy and positive about everything and after that you know even if I miss coming back I would want to come back to play I would not have a chance to come so that’s what I keep telling myself that you know these are these are my Years and I really want to go out there and focus and do whatever is possible.”

REACHING OUT FOR PSYCHOLOGICAL SUPPORT

Smriti Mandhana values the camaraderie and support within cricket as a team sport, highlighting how her teammates have become like family due to the extensive time they spend together throughout the year. She mentions the diverse age groups among her teammates, ranging from 18-year-olds to older players, which she finds enriching. This mix allows them to share a wide range of emotions and perspectives, fostering a supportive environment. Acknowledging the role of team psychologists, Smriti explains how these professionals contribute not only to mental health but also to enhancing performance. She emphasizes that seeking guidance from a psychologist isn’t solely about addressing problems but also about improving and refining one’s approach to the game. In the past year or two, Smriti has personally benefited from working with a psychologist who has helped her establish effective routines and introduced visualization techniques. These tools have been instrumental in managing the mental aspects of her game, helping her navigate different mental states such as being in the zone during scoring periods and adjusting during less successful times.

Smriti reflects, “One major thing which I’ve been working is, you know, setting my routine, right, which I feel, you know, I was trying to do that a lot individually without her, but then since the time, you know, she’s guided me to do these things, you know, visualization stuff and all of that, she’s introduced me to these things.

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……She further added, So just for someone who’s had that experience and for you to share those things with them or someone else telling you that, you know, maybe you’re trying to think a lot, maybe you’re not, all of these things really help and, you know, gets you back to that normal place where you understand that, okay, I’m going the wrong way, I have to just come back to the right way.”

OPINION ON RIGHT AND WRONG

Smriti discusses her journey in understanding what strategies and approaches work best for her in cricket. Initially guided by coaches’ teachings, she used to believe there was a definitive right and wrong way to play. As she matured, Smriti realized the importance of individuality among athletes, noting how each teammate succeeds in their unique style. She stresses that what works for one person may not work for another, emphasizing the need for personal exploration to determine one’s own path. Smriti highlights the influence of social media in shaping perceptions but asserts that everyone is unique and should define their own standards of success and correctness.

She reflected, “I just feel like humans, everyone is different in their own ways, and it’s really important for them to find out what’s right and wrong for their own selves.”

SOCIAL MEDIA MANAGEMENT

Smriti emphasizes the importance of setting priorities in her life, particularly her goal of winning a World Cup for India. She discusses her approach to managing social media, highlighting the use of two phones—one dedicated to social media and the other for essential communication only. This strategy helps her limit screen time and maintain focus on her cricket career without being overly distracted by social media. By delegating social media management to her managers, Smriti emphasizes on the balance between engaging with fans and maintaining mental clarity needed for her sport. She views social media as integral for athletes in building their personal brand but stresses the need to control its impact on her daily life and performance.

She mentioned, “I think there are two things you’re wanting. Yeah, because like, the only thing I want is to win the World Cup for India. And that’s the biggest thing for me. And I think if you set your priorities like right in your life, I think these things won’t affect you a lot.

She further added, athletes have become a brand also thanks to social media. So, you can’t even avoid it. But knowing that our sports are such a mind’s worth, you can’t be on it too a lot. So, you know, you have to find the balance. And I think if you set your priorities like right in your life, I think, you know, you’ll find your answers to it.”

CHANGE AFTER THE PANDEMIC PHASE

COVID-19 provided Smriti with a valuable opportunity to reassess her priorities, particularly in terms of mental health and family time. For the first time in nearly a decade of continuous cricket, she spent an uninterrupted six months at home, deeply enjoying the moments with her family and taking a break from the relentless cricket schedule. This period of reflection has led Smriti to actively carve out time for family and to recognize the importance of occasional breaks from cricket to maintain balance and well-being. She has since adopted a more structured approach to managing her commitments, ensuring she can fully dedicate herself to both her career and personal life with renewed perspective and energy.

Smriti says, “I do take those breaks from cricket because before COVID, I just felt like you’re just like a machine and you’re just running and running and running. And then, of course, after COVID, now I do understand how much it’s important to take that time off.”

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