Monday, November 18, 2013

Why Sachin Tendulkar Is not God

Sachin Tendulkar is not god. To say that he is god is to take away all the years of work, effort, sacrifice, single minded focus, constant search for growth and improvement in one word and say that he has achieved all he had because he was blessed.

Sachin Tendulkar was one of the many, one who had the same limitations, the same issues, the same problems as a billion Indians. But what he chose to do with what he had - a talent, a competitive spirit, a deep desire - was what made him finally and not some superpower or godlike gift. Credit must go to him and lessons must be learned by us and our children and imbibed. If there is one thing he has done, and this is something that Mahatma Gandhi would have been proud of, is that he has been the change that he would want the world to be. One of effort, growth mindedness, focus on expertise - things that we as Indians need to quickly learn and know before we start thinking of becoming a world power.

What we do as a nation is this - elevate people to the level of gods and put them beyond our reach when even the gods are telling us this - you are god too, if you look inside and if you work at it. But we find it more  convenient to put god on a pedestal, overlook his sacrifice and hard work, his  work ethic and his basic principles, lest we are asked to emulate those. No, we will sit here, fall over and roll on the floor, but don't ask us to work like you did, to make sacrifices you did, to follow the simple principles you did to overcome your limitations which were the same as any child in Mumbai. Let me then look at what I think Sachin Tendulkar achieved from the context of how he did it and look at lessons that each one of us can learn and practice.

The Friend and Mentor
As a child with prodigious talent, Sachin was picked early by his brother Ajit for the attentions of an expert coach. Full marks to the brother for making that step, for taking on extra responsibility because every step brings more work to the support system. Instead of remonstrating or wanting to play around in his neighbourhood, young Sachin realized that here was an opportunity to grow, to compete, to see how he fared against bigger and better players. That marks the beginning of the sacrifices on every side, of exchanging playfulness and childhood fun to the rigours of serious competition, to the making of a champion. It is serious business, requires commitment and sacrifice.

The parents and being released from their expectations
In his farewell speech Sachin has begun by thanking his father for amazing clarity of advise that he gave the young boy when he was 11 - go after what you wish to do but do not take short cuts. And whatever you do, be a good human being. You cannot get better advise from a parent and surely all over the world, many parents are giving the same advise. What makes Sachin different from most others is that he took his father's advise seriously, went after what he loved and never took the short cuts. In fact he explored the entire field so early in his life that he soon became an expert. Sachin, if you listen to his farewell speech, kept his mind uncluttered and followed the simple and basic rules without doubting them. Lesson for parents, release the children early from the burden of your expectations but guide them with the right values of hard work.

The correct guidance
The third element in this trio of excellent mentors was the coach Ramakant Acherkar who exemplifies all that a good coach is about. Why is he not at the head of wise men at the NCA I cannot understand. Sachin says in his farewell speech that Ramakant Achrekar has still not said 'well played' to him even till date, fearing that he might become complacent. Instead of making the young prodigy feel like a genius, Achrekar pushed him, from nets to matches, ensuring that the lad got enough time to apply what he learned everyday. Another wonderful thing that Achrekar did was not to change all that was good with Tendulkar's batting - not his infamous grip either which every single coach would want to correct. He believed in keeping all things natural as they were as long as they were working - Tendulkar was obviously hitting the ball well, from the middle of the bat and was none the worse for it. So why change. Lesson here for coaches, and a huge one at that.
The fast learner that he was Sachin pushed himself to the limits - and again as he mentioned in his farewell speech - there were times when he was falling asleep from being tired when his aunt would feed him. That is the extent to which both coach and pupil drove themselves.

Support system
The other decision by the parents to send the young Tendulkar to his aunts house so he could be closet to cricket practice was yet another thing that comes off his speech. They couple accepted him as their own and grew him in those years. His sister who gifted him his bat and who still fasts for him, his brothers who always gave him good advise and kept him rooted to the ground with strong family values, provided the initial push.

The 10,000 hour rule to gain expertise and Growth-Orientation
Two things came out of these early decisions. One is the 10,000 hours rule for expertise as originally researched by Anders Ericson and made popular by Malcolm Gladwell in his 'Outliers'. Ajit Tendulkar ensured the young man got an early start, his father gave him the right framework and support as did the rest of the family, and the coach gave him the correct technical inputs and the right exposure. No inputs that changed his technique but things that only added value. As he played more and more matches, the young lad's self-belief grew certainly and his preparation was well on the way. The 10000 hours were surely spent up in good time.

In another great study by Carol Dweck in her book 'Mindset - The New Psychology of Success' where she emphasizes the need for growth-oriented work and not mere relying on talent as the real key to success. Sachin, despite his talent, focussed on growth orientation and practice and was kept firmly on track by his support system. No excessive praise (in fact none from his coach), focus on work ethic, on constant growth, on newer challenges, on solutions to process issues and performance issues, on using all resources to learn and grow, of not finding fault and fixing blame elsewhere but with one's own effort - are all the characteristics of growth-oriented people and he has displayed all of the above. It is also petty clear as the book says that champions are those who practice the hardest - so with Sachin.

Good solid preparation pays off
If the early lessons of dedication, of clarity, of effort, of keeping things simple, of pushing limits, of constant improvement, of efficiency, of sacrifice, of preparation and growth orientation helped in the making of the man who was ready by the age of 16 to play international cricket in times that were rather tough for India, what he did with the start was equally or even more interesting for most of our country men.

Building on the Foundation
Having got the start he wanted, Sachin would have evaluated himself as he got off to a shaky start. His was not a soft entry, it was the toughest - playing Pakistan in Pakistan at a time when Pakistan had he world's best bowlers - Wasim Akram. Imran Khan, Waqar Younis, Abdul Quadir. He did not grow complacent but pushed himself to cope, to get better, to handle the international bowlers better. I'd take a guess and say that perhaps, instead of hoping that the selectors will select him or give him a long rope, he was looking at excelling and being the best. Instead of taking all sorts of negative or useless advise, he would have kept his ears and eyes open for good advise, for growth oriented advise and worked it out himself until he was sure. At 16 everyone gives advise but it is to his credit that he realised what to listen to and what not to.

Serve The Game, My Country
Mostly he kept his first principles clear - I am not here to please anyone, I am here to serve my country to the best of my capabilities. So he kept away all his distractions, all the stuff that comes with the creation of the legend, and kept his feet firmly planted on work, on preparation, on the game.

The Game is Bigger
The game is bigger than himself, he realized, and once again he refers to his coach Ramakant Acherkar who taught him the simple value. It is the game that made you, that expresses itself through you and if you are true to it, are humble to it, it will express itself in its fullest. Sachin realized it and allowed it. Something that many others did not and fell away. Again lessons to learn for all those who are easily satisfied, who cannot see beyond the fame and wealth - he was true to the game until the last time when he went out and saluted the 22 yards. Many exponents , unsung carry that devotion and my heart goes out to all of them and their gurus - it is fantastic to see the divine express oneself. And so we have another lesson her - we must carry the same amount of devotion to each craft and trade, to every piece of work we do, give it our devotion, our respect, and only then will it respect us back. Young practitioners who do not respect their work, their profession, who are not grateful to it have no chance of reaching the heights that Sachin did. It is not cool, it is old fashioned, but it has shown the results.

Pushing New Limits, Setting New Targets
As he grew from strength to strength, achieving, failing, not able to come to terms at times with his own demons, not realizing that sometimes one has to let go, his desire to grow and learn never ceased nor sputtered. He kept pushing for the big dreams, the world cup win and so many other achievements that he dreamt of and that defined him. And here he was so good because of his commitment of his basic principles. It must have been so tempting, he had all the money in the world, all the fame - why punish oneself further?

Get the fundamentals clear
First the basic principles about himself. Never has he been involved with a spectator or any member of the media when he could have easily been ruffled and irritated - showing his great respect for people, for humans. Never has he been caught disrespecting even his most vocal critics,- choosing to retain his energies, to use the criticism for him instead of against him. Never has he been caught off guard in the many off field dalliances of most cricketers who are constantly exposed to the temptations  - his focus has remained supremely on the game. Never has he been caught speaking ill of anyone - in such a long career never - and it shows how much he chose to focus on what he does and not on others.
He used all that was good, all that was useful criticism and ignored the rest like some Tao master. As his farewell speech says, it was all about the growth, about cricket and about the country. Lessons for many of our countrymen - focus on your work, be respectful to people, to your fans, to all that made you, the BCCI, the people, use criticism well, do not waste energy on things that do not matter and focus on your own growth in spite of all the temptations. Then, perhaps then, we can think of even getting closer to appreciate what he has done.

The Higher Principles
Then come the higher principles. Of the game and the country. In a delicate part of his career Sachin was once called upon to make a choice between being a Maharashtrian or an Indian. He was very clear then in clarifying that he is an Indian first and then a Maharashtrian. Patriotism is not merely wearing the paint - it is carrying the pride in your work. Even as the multi-colored Sudhir Gautam waves that flag every match one cannot ignore the work that goes into that job he has chosen for himself - to represent the Indian fan and his madness - and it is this dedication that defines what he has learnt from a person whom he idolizes. Do all you can for your country, help it grow, show it through your work, do not criticize. And as he said in his speech, realize how fortunate you are to be in this democracy and enjoying the freedom it gives you. From our leaders to our people, there is much to learn from people like Sachin who have in their own way become foot soldiers for patriotism and there is another great cricketer and an equally great human who espouses the cause of the country, M.S. Dhoni.

A Good Human
To be a good human being is another thing that he mentions in his speech and he tried to live that through his words and deeds, his restraint and his interactions, his charity and his patience. Much to emulate there for many, but well, we are still a the first rung. But to start with gratitude for family, for friends, for colleagues, for the system, for the stakeholders - sponsors, media, well wishers and the fans and not to forget god himself is all that he did in his speech. Maybe we can start there as well.

The Big Shoes
The dressing room will now need a new role model and I believe that the stodgy Rohit Sharma who has now seen the benefits of preparation, of acceptance, of self-realization, of responsibility and higher causes, who has also had the benefit of watching Sachin Tendulkar prepare and conduct himself to take up the role and carry on where he has begun. In fat so can Kohli in his own way, and the likes of Pujara too. The tales of how Sachin prepared for matches, the extent of detail he put in through a mental checklist, his constant discussion on cricket and how to improve and get better and prepare for every situation, the seriousness with which he took each match, the immaculate showing up like a soldier for every game, every presentation, are lessons for all youngsters playing for the country. Be proud and grateful that you have an opportunity to play for your club, your state.
And again, as he mentioned in his farewell speech the instance when he arrived from New Zealand at 4 in the morning and showed up to play for Mumbai. Contrast that with many dishonest players who wish to walk off at the slightest discomfort, who have their personal agendas greater than the teams, the games. Sachin was there with Mumbai as it won the Ranji Trophy last year - despite severe setbacks like being beaten by a rookie Hyderabad team in the initial rounds. How many younger players do not play for their state now.

The Path To Follow
Sachin Tendulkar then exemplifies to us the virtues of Dedication, Effort, Search for excellence, Focus, Efficiency, Desire to get better, Not Being Complacent, Sacrifice, Gratitude, Sharing, Humility, Preparation, Growth orientation, Clarity and Awareness. These were perhaps the kind of principles that the old fashioned leaders of ours espoused. These are also the lessons one needs to learn and imbibe in our daily life, because every single bit helps, every effort helps, in improving the state of our nation. From being a bunch of loudmouths who are free with our adjectives and who shirk our basic responsibilities, it is time now to learn the lessons someone has taught by living them day in and day out. The best applause is to adopt them ourselves, however old fashioned they may appear. You see, they work. Nothing works really like work. And if nothing else, Sachin represented work.

In that speech one also takes away the image of an aviator wearing Rahul Dravid, looking on stoically at his team mate. As Sachin donned the role of the prodigy and took most of the pressure, Rahul donned the role of the workman who will hold the fort together and Saurav the role of the aggressor. In their midst Laxman found the space to express his considerable talents and one cannot forget that Indian batting side that exploded with one of the greatest batsmen the world has ever seen - one Virender Sehwag who defies description and method. The old then makes way fully for the new and from these people, Sachin more than anyone else for his sheer process and growth orientation, must we find our inspiration and the path.

No comments: