In Conversation with Abhinandhan

  1. In brief, can you talk about your competitive journey in shooting?

I participated in Rifle Shooting (10m Air Rifle) competitively from 2015 up until 2019. I played my first national-level competition in December 2016. Unfortunately, I had to skip the nationals of the next year due to my 10th board exams. However, I played nationals again in December of 2018. My score earned me the position of a ‘renowned shot’ and I qualified nationals, allowing me to participate in trials, which were conducted year-round through which the Indian team was selected. Throughout 2019, I was able to participate in 4 trials, traveling to Delhi twice by road. I had to miss the nationals of 2019 along with the CBSE nationals due to the clashing schedule of my 12th pre-board and boards.

Throughout these years, I was also participating in various district and state-level competitions, representing my school and Maharashtra.

  1. What was your journey like? 

Looking back, when I consider my whole journey as a big picture, I get opposing views for it.

Let me explain. First off, I am very grateful to  my parents and my family, who never had problems with me pursuing shooting competitively. They always supported me and made sure I had everything that I needed for the sport. So in this context, I would say my journey was pretty smooth. All the things which were demanded by the sport (and trust me, there were A LOT of things), my parents always fulfilled them. Having played a sport competitively for a good 3 years, I got to see in-person, all the issues faced by those players, whose parents did not support their sporting activities. I cannot describe how fortunate I felt.

However, moving to a different context, playing the sport itself, was not as smooth. The journey was challenging, full of hardships, sacrifices and falls. Shooting is not an easy sport. The mental toughness the sport demands is off the charts. But, in my eyes, these things are an absolute necessity, if you truly wish to understand how tough the real world is. So, I am extremely happy that shooting forced me to get out of my comfort zone and push myself beyond my limits. It was through these obstacles that I was able to develop as a person. Hence, my journey was also gratifying, enriching, character-building and soul-satisfying. 

Throughout my journey, I had to balance sports and academics. And in all honesty, I really think I did a good job. My academics were decent till 10th, but really took off in 11th and 12th. But still, the self-satisfaction that I used to get after a tough practice session, or a nerve-wrecking competition, was way more rewarding than scoring well in any exam. 

The journey also taught me materialistic things like marks, money,etc do not define your self-worth. And in this day and age, knowing that distinction has become super important. 

The last thing this journey taught me was how to pick myself up after falling. We all have heard quotes like ‘Use failures as stepping stones for success’ and what not, but reading those quotes is one thing, and practically doing it is another. I am grateful that shooting made me experience that quote practically.   

  1. Were there any hardships that you came across? How did you overcome them?

So, as I mentioned earlier, I did not face much hardships when it came to pursuing the sport as such.

But keeping that aside, I think talking about my journey should have given you an idea of the other hardships that I had to go through.

One thing which other players will also relate to, is that pursuing sports is not that great in India. The usual cases of corruption is always there, a proper system is not in place, infrastructure is lackluster, there are hardly any schools which properly promote sports, etc., etc. I feel like these sorts of challenges are there everywhere in India, in their own way and form. Another thing which used to be a little troublesome was travelling. So, Rifle Shooting in particular demands you to not only have a rifle, but also have a leather jacket-trouser, shoes, stand and some other accessories. All of this together used to be a lot of luggage, and carrying it from place to place for matches was always a challenge. 

But again, these are like your day-to-day nuances which you deal with anyway. Apart from these, the hardships were sports related only. For example, being perfectly consistent with each of the 60-70 shots you fire daily at practice sessions, spread across 5 (sometimes 6 days of the week), dealing with the nervousness and mental pressure before and during important competitions, being frustrated because things are not going your way, and whatnot. Surprisingly, the solution to most of these things was simple: get control of your breathing, calm down your mind, focus only on your technique and basics, do not care about the end results, and try to enjoy this whole process.

Sounds simple right? But actually implementing this on the field was extremely difficult, and more often than not, the effectiveness of this implementation played a role in the end results of matches/practice sessions.

  1. There must be days when you are not motivated to train, what do you do then? How do you maintain quality in your practice sessions?

Oh, due to the rigorous schedule I had, there used to be sooo many days where I was feeling lazy and just wanted to get home and relax hehe. I remember so many times I requested my mom and my coach to let me off the hook early for that day, but it was very rare for them to budge to my requests 😂. In all honesty though, in most of those situations, my heart was playing tricks to get an early ticket home. Those days, where I had lame excuses to skip training, but could not, and had to train anyway, I was like ‘Well, I’m here now, let’s do my best, all I have to do is train and go home and relax all I want’. This way, I ended up doing well in these practice sessions, and after it was over, the sense of relief hit me like a truck. And above this, I used to be proud of myself, for not training half-heartedly, just because I wanted to get home asap. 

Of course, there were also days where I seriously was not feeling that good and just wanted to just go home. Those days, my mom and my coach did understand, and let me off the hook early. I also had to take some days off if I had some projects to catch up to. 

So in shooting, quality is measured by how consistently you are able to shoot every shot. On an average, we used to shoot 60-70 shots during a normal practice session. Quality was evident when most of your shots would be grouped together. Through weapon calibration and other things, you were able to move the position of the group towards the center quite easily.

So the grouping of shots was extremely valuable. Smaller the grouping, more your accuracy. However, maintaining this grouping was a very tough challenge.

Achieving this accuracy, and therefore the good quality, was only possible through being perfectly consistent with your technique, and focusing on the basics. This was the everyday challenge we used to face, and the quality of each session depended on how much I was willing to mentally focus in order to maintain this consistency. 

  1. Did you ever feel like you were missing out on some life experiences because you spent a majority of your time training? Who was your biggest supporter?

My biggest supporter was by far my dad. He was willing to sacrifice so much just for the sake of my training, it was unreal now that I think about it.

The topic of missing out things has always been a weird one for me. So of course, due to me spending the majority of my time training, I used to miss out on a lot of things. So many times I had to cancel plans of going to a marriage or some other event with my relatives due to my tight schedules. So many times I missed hanging out with my friends. Don’t get me wrong, I used to go out with my friends, for movies and lunch, but it was less frequent than others.

But at the same time, I used to be (and still am) an introvert. I enjoy spending time with myself too. So, I never really had FOMO. My perspective on these things has always been a bit different. Whenever I saw the stories of my friends hanging out, I never thought ‘Oh, I may have been here, I missed so much fun, etc., etc’. 

So no, I never seriously felt like I have missed out on anything. 

  1. Who was your inspiration (if any) / what motivated you to take up this particular sport?

So interestingly, I got into shooting because my parents had told me to try it out.

My mom is a professor, and one of her students was a coach in Gun For Glory shooting academy in Balewadi stadium. During my 8th grade summer vacations, the coach told my mom about shooting, and my mom pitched this idea to me. So, I went to the academy to try something new. And that was how I got into shooting.

I did not have an inspiration or a role model as such, and at the start me and my parents were treating it as an extra co-curricular activity which would be an add-on to my academics. As things progressed though, I developed so much due to shooting, and I think this sense of progression that I used to get, kept me motivated for so long. Also, I was able to do better in studies due to shooting, that it started to feel like my academics were an add-on to my sports. 

  1. What is one memory on court/ field which lives in your head rent free

One memory which continues to live in my head rent free would be the synchronized sounds of rifles constantly firing bullets. Let me explain.

So, the ranges in which we used to play our matches were usually very big. Especially for nationals and trials, these ranges used to have 80-90 lanes. That means, at once, 80-90 shooters are firing together. During matches, talking was not allowed as it used to disturb the participants. So for the whole duration of the match (60-90 minutes), you only used to hear rifles firing shots one after the other. It was so blissful and peaceful in a way. This was one thing I could enjoy even as a spectator, sitting behind watching others play. 

  1. What is one mantra you live by?

Ooh, a tough one, but I will say, for me it is ‘Hard Work never goes to waste’. A close second would be doing good things for others also never goes to waste. 

  1. What do you do to unwind?

As I did mention earlier, due to my tight schedules, I have had my experiences with extreme burnouts. And I anyways did not go out much for leisure time, so there were a few ways through which I dealt with all this.

First, and the most important one, was sleep. Yep, you read that correctly, a proper 8-10 hour sleep at night, was such a good remedy for me. It relaxed my brain, allowed my body to recuperate, and calmed down my thoughts.

Second, was playing video games. Games have been another constant in my life, for more than 7 years now. I loved playing video games in my spare time, it helped me relax and have fun at the same time. Doing random stuff with your friends never fails to entertain.

Lastly, I also had the habit of watching youtube everyday. So, I had developed a sort of a bond with a couple of creators on YouTube, and I used to watch them everyday (I still do hehe). Watching these videos helped me get my mind off sports and everything else, and was another very good source of entertainment.

Meghna Saxena

S.Y Bsc. Economics

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