‘I think being a cricketer myself, mental strength is one aspect which many times is not given enough importance and it’s often ignored in the budding stages of many people’s careers. So through this initiative, I am hopefully trying to spread awareness about mental strength.’
It is not always you see a 17-year-old trying to start a conversation about mental health, which has definitely become one of the biggest issues to have plagued human society. Aryan Joshi, a Class 12 student of Bangalore's famous Mallya Aditi International School and son of former Indian spinner and current national chief selector Sunil Joshi, understood the long and short of the phenomenon very early in his life when the pressure of living up to the standard set by the world got to him. From as early as his U-14 days, Aryan has been in close scrutiny for what he does and what he doesn’t on the cricket field due to his surname and the ramifications that come with it. A run was never enough, he had to push harder, create a niche and take a leap.
“Since my father was a cricketer, everybody knew a bit about me coming into the U14 set-up in Karnataka. I felt there was some sort of pressure on me to perform as they would usually end up comparing me with my father because most of the coaches have seen my father play. It was the biggest challenge I faced as everybody would be like, ‘Oh he has to perform like this’ and everything,” Aryan told SportsCafe.
The understanding of the very notion helped Aryan big-time to have a healthy sense of perspective on how to approach his own cricket and be in the right frame of mind to perform on a consistent basis. It was just a couple of years ago, Aryan combined with Rahul Dravid’s son Samit Dravid and made everyone sit up and take notice in a KSCA BTR Cup Under-14 tournament match. Aryan hit a fluent 154 to complement Samit’s 150 to help their school to a 422-run win in a 50-over match. That also put him up in a position of no return - the expectation of replicating the same time and time again must not have been easy for the then 15-year-old but Aryan decided to bank on his abilities more than anything else.
Recounting another experience, Aryan said, “In U14, we had the league stage matches and we had four games and my team had already lost the first two. So I didn’t have good scores while batting. With only one match left, I had to score big runs or take a lot of wickets in order to be selected for the next stage. The morning of the fourth game I directly went to my coach and asked him if he was okay with me opening the batting because I felt that day I could score more runs if I opened the innings. I had made up my mind that once I reached the crease, I would be there for 50 overs. I think that was one challenge and I scored 200 in that game.”
When the nation-wide lockdown was announced in late March, it was the time to give cricket a break and do something productive. Aryan told his parents about the project he was thinking to work on. Sunil Joshi, who was just appointed as the national chief selector, was almost free from his job for the time being. Aryan’s mother, the very affectionate Dr Ravneet Joshi, joined the duo for the conversation as Aryan detailed the plan to make the talk on mental health main-stream.
“I have always believed the issue regarding mental health has always pushed to the back-burner in the fragmented idea of mental toughness. It’s time we need to talk about it and I am extremely proud that Aryan is trying his bit,” Sunil Joshi told SportsCafe. “The fact that his parents are high-achieving individuals in their respective fields doesn’t really put pressure on him in my opinion. From our end, we have given him the independence on whatever he wants to do with his career - if he wanted to go for medicine, or any other academics, we would have supported him as much as we do for his cricket.”
“As a coach, cricketer and now a selector, I understand the challenges athletes face at different stages of life. When I was young, I had to travel 120 kms a day for practice as we didn’t have proper facilities in our home town. Although Aryan has that facility sorted with the state-of-art training facilities in his academy and school, cricketers of his age have different sorts of challenges which need reinforcement. With Mental Health Matters, Aryan is trying to make a difference, at least in one major aspect of an athlete's growth.”
Ravneet Joshi seconds her husband’s opinion on their son. Being a mother, Ravneet has a different shade of understanding her son, as any mother would, while having to know the dynamic between the father-son duo. When Aryan was a 12-year-old, Sunil decided to have a conversation with him regarding the former's career choice and his son was sure to follow his footsteps.
“I honestly feel that we gave him a positive environment at home from our side trying to sort of support him and never tell him what to do. It was always his choice whether he wants to take sports seriously or sort of whether he wants to take academics seriously. But the only thing we were focused on is to be sincere in whatever you are doing. Like be honest with yourself and that’s what he has been always with academics and sports and he balanced it quite well. It was a no-pressure environment. I think from our side at least we told him very comprehensively that do what you want to do and whatever happens in life, your parents will always support you. That type of love he got at home and he never had to prove himself.”
After chalking out the plans, Aryan got in touch with athletes from various sports to tell stories of how they overcame tough challenges in their life and how mental strength helped them overcome those phases. Sourcing those videos, Joshi put them up on his Facebook page called “Mental Strength Matters”.
“I am lucky that a few of my close friends and relatives are sportsmen so they were very open with me and I could question them. It started off as a discussion and then I felt that I could turn this into an interview maybe. I came up with a small questionnaire. The first question was would you be able to appreciate the challenge and how did mental strength help you to overcome it and lastly what message would you like to share with the youth with regards to mental strength. This project is not targeted only for athletes. I think everybody can learn from this,” Aryan added.
So far, in three seasons of MSM short clips, Joshi has brought in the some of the finest sportsmen like Virender Sehwag, KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Yuvraj Singh, Kuldeep Yadav, Mithali Raj, Pankaj Advani, Zaheer Khan, Robin Uthappa, Harbhajan Singh, Jhulan Goswami, Veda Krishnamurthy, and Vinay Kumar among others. The budding youngsters like Prithvi Shaw, Shubang Hegde, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Priyam Garg also shared their experience to make the profile a richer one for anyone who wants to understand and learn the secrets of how inspirational athletes overcome the challenges pertaining to mental health.
“I myself tried to understand what mental strength is. I personally took videos of athletes so I could share with anyone of my age or younger who wanted to become professionals. But then when there were so many varieties from cricket, football, driving, golf and other sports. I realised that everyone faced different challenges and those were not pertaining only to their sport. So we could’ve faced much bigger challenges in personal life. So I realised that not only athletes but most people can learn from this project.”
Bringing Tim Paine’s words to the context, the spike in mental illnesses is not just a cricket problem as it is one of the biggest issues to have wrapped the humankind. 17-year-old Aryan Joshi - the age needs a reinforcement here - has started a much-required commentary. Embracing the idea might help create a revolution and more importantly, a conversation.