Today it is our privilege to bring you an interview with professional badminton player, Ashwini Ponnappa. We discuss Ashwini’s personal highlights from her career so far, how her approach to training has changed over time, how to overcome moments when we are feeling demotivated and much more…
How did your passion for Badminton begin and develop?
Before I started training under a coach, when I was little, probably 5 and a half / 6 years old, I remember playing outside with the kids in the apartment where I lived. I loved it. I didn’t have any knowledge of the game of badminton, but I think I was fairly good then and from what I remember, I used a lot of power on my shots even then. After that, came badminton training at a place right next to where my dad worked called theYouth center. I was probably 8 and a 1/2 years old and trained with my first coach Umapathi. At that time, I didn’t like training much and didn’t like competing either and often lost in the finals in the under-10 category. When I was 12 years old, I met Ashlesh Rao, who was an NLP trainer, that my mum met when she did a course. To me he was a great friend whom I could talk to and who taught me how to enjoy the game of badminton. Every bit of it. The training, competing, pressure. And it was thanks to him that I won my first state tournament in the under-13 category. That is probably one of the most important phases in my badminton career, as I realised that you could make the training and competing fun. I have been up and down in my game a lot even after that, but the thing that stuck with me even today, is to enjoy the process and enjoy the journey and enjoy being on court. When that happens, I am know that I would fly on court.
What are your personal stand-out moments from your career so far?
There are quite a few achievements in my career that I am proud of. My personal stand out moments in amongst them are winning the Gold medal in women’s doubles at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi. We were the first doubles pair from India to have done that. Winning the bronze medal in women’s doubles at the Badminton World Championships 2011, which was after a gap of 28 years and a historical moment again. Winning the Asian Games 2014 Bronze medal as part of the Indian women’s team. And my most recent is the 2018 Commonwealth games Gold medal in the mixed team event, which was the first time India has ever won a team gold. The things that are common amongst all these apart from them being historical for Indian badminton is that I absolutely loved every single moment of the events. From the travel, arrival, getting on court for practice and playing my matches to totally unwinding and enjoying myself in between. It’s pretty special when you achieve something, and you enjoy the entire journey towards achieving it.
What advice would you give to someone who is demotivated or doesn’t know where to start with getting into sport and fitness?
I would probably say go back to the basics and getting them strong and understanding why you’re doing what you’re doing. Sometimes, we forget why we started playing. It’s important to go back to the start and remember that we are doing what we are doing because we love it. That is what makes working hard easy.
How has your approach to training changed and developed over time?
It has changed quite a bit. I’ve always been a good listener. So initially when I got onto the Indian National badminton camps, I would listen to whatever the coaches told me. As I got older and gained more experiences, I started understanding what was needed for my game and was lucky to have had coaches to help me do routines that I wanted to do. Which in turn helped me assess my game better and constantly try to see what I could do to improve. In the last couple of years, thanks to my brother I’ve learnt the power of doing things slowly and with a purpose. He basically explained how he learns music and I thought that’s the perfect way for one to learn a new stroke or improve on the ones you have. I have applied it to my training, and it’s worked wonders. The difference when you are doing something slowly, but with complete focus and awareness as to what you’re doing, it sticks in your mind like glue and then when you gradually increase the tempo, your hands move almost automatically. It’s amazing! I love training like that. I don’t get to do that often, as I train at the national camp most of the time. But every time I get to train on my own, I do this and it’s like I can see improvements in just 4-5 days.
Are there any people, books, or experiences that you would be willing to share with us, that have really helped shape your mentality?
As I mentioned earlier, Ashlesh Rao is probably one of the most important person in my badminton career, who helped me in my early teens to absolutely love the game. I loved working with him. Though he was an NLP trainer, to me as a kid, he was more like an adult who was a great friend, who listened to me patiently, stood by me when I cried my eyes out and helped me love the game and bring the best out of my in the tough times. Even today, if I’ve got anything that’s mentally dragging me down, I give him a call and he’s been there to help me.
What advice would you give to someone who is trying to take their passion and turn it into a successful business/ career?
If they are turning their passion into a business or career I would probably ask them not to forget the “passion” part in the process of going after making it a successful business, as that is what would drive them and make it possible to go through hurdles they may face.
What is your approach to overcoming setbacks?
I’m someone who is a venter. Whenever I have gone through tough setbacks, I’ve always vented out with people who are extremely near and dear to me, like my husband, parents, brother, close friends, and they’ve helped me come out of those phases with positive feedback. I’m blessed to have a strong family eco system, who’ve had my back through the tough times.
Are there any specific principles that you try and live by?
Not really. But I do love to constantly learn and grow as a professional badminton player and a person. I love that it’s never too late to learn and get better, and that keeps me going.
What are you goals and plans for the future?
My plans for the future would be taking charge of my life and my game. Making sure that I give it all I’ve got, to the best of my ability and doing whatever it takes to achieve the goals I have set out for myself. If you really want something, you should be ready to get out of your comfort zone. Right now, I am ready to do that.