Nidhi Bhardwaj, a water sports enthusiast from Rohini in north-west Delhi, decided to pursue Masters in Sports Psychology from Manipur Sports University in Imphal. It has paid rich dividends.
The 22-year-old says the two-year course has changed her perspective towards challenging situations.
“I’m able to handle things with determination and also achieve good results in the field of sports,” she adds.
The last 12 months have been highly productive and have seemingly changed her mind-set to resolving issues which were earlier beyond her imagination.
So much so that she excelled recently at a continental competition in Thailand to stay in contention for the Hangzhou Asian Games scheduled to be held in China from September 23.
At the May 18-21 Asian Canoe Slalom Championship held in Rayong, Thailand, Nidhi became the first athlete from Delhi in three decades to win a medal, a team bronze, in the women’s K-1 sprint event.
“Winning a bronze medal in an Asian meet has been a life changing moment for me,” says the promising Delhi athlete.
“I’m so excited to tell the world that I’ve won my first international medal in the women’s K-1 sprint event that will feature in the Olympic Games,” Nidhi told Patriot.
Winning a team bronze at the continental event has improved her national ranking. She is currently ranked third and it has also brightened her chances of staying on course to attending the national selection trials (individual K-1 sprint event).
“The next two months are very crucial for me. I have to attend the national camp. Moreover, I have to do extremely well in the camp to earn a berth in the national team,” Nidhi says of her future plans.
Unrest in Manipur had forced the sports university to change the dates of annual examination to June from May. If the situation is normal in Manipur, she will go back to her university in the second week of this month to appear for her exams.
Nidhi says that the academic staff, particularly the head of sports psychology department Kuldeep Singh Rana, have been very accommodating in terms of guiding her to perform better.
“I’ve learnt to deliver more than 100%. I’m able to set new goals and achieve them without being nervous,” says Nidhi.
“I’m able to achieve a new balance in life.”
“The progress I’ve made mentally and physically in the last 12 months couldn’t have happened without the support of a sports psychologist. And, I now realise the importance of coaching staff in the team to excel at a global level,” she said.
Nidhi says the sports university has further decided to support her practice and there is a proposal to purchase modern equipment, including a boat, so that she could practice while pursuing the course in Manipur.
“There is a water course near Imphal and we can go there during weekends for practice,” the international athlete said.
Why did Nidhi opt for sports psychology in her post-graduation?
During her graduation course from Delhi University, psychology was one of her subjects. She thought sports and psychology will be a good combination for higher studies.
“Until I started the Master’s course at the Manipur Sports University, I never knew the importance of psychology in sports. It is a very interesting subject,” she explains.
Nidhi was an enthusiastic student next door and during her school days she excelled in 100m dash.
“I was a good sprinter in my school days. I competed in 100m and 200m races in age group competitions at the national level,” she adds.
She was among the regulars at Delhi’s Chhatrasal Stadium. However, a hamstring tear put paid to her hopes of continuing athletics.
Despite undergoing treatment, it took a long time to recover and she lost hopes of making a comeback. To keep herself busy, she took to cricket and occasionally went for swimming classes. In cricket she represented the Delhi team at the National School Games competition.
Cricket, says Nidhi, wasn’t as challenging as athletics so her focus shifted to water sports activities that were more vigorous. In 2017, she got an opportunity to practice at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Sports Complex.
“There is a water body and it’s good enough to learn the fundamentals (still water),” she recalls.
“The local canoe polo coach Digvijay Singh did a good job in guiding all the youngsters and it was good fun to learn new things.”
Incidentally, canoe polo practice started in 2016 and closed down in 2018 due to wrangling between officials of Delhi water sports body.
Since the majority of the athletes were boys, she became rough and tough, which helped her later in excelling at the national level.
Since there was no women’s team in Delhi, she represented Madhya Pradesh and won two silver and one bronze in slalom events (main slalom, sprint and team event) at the 2018 national competition. She also bagged five gold medals during the 2018 Delhi State Olympic Games.
When things were going in the right direction, Nidhi’s career got engulfed in petty politics of the local body and for four long years (2019-2022). She couldn’t showcase her potential at the national level.
“It was just struggle and more struggle. So many things happened. I can’t divulge details at the moment as I’m an active athlete. But all I can say is that it was mentally tough,” Nidhi reveals.
“But patience paid off.”
With the support of family and well-wishers, she often went to practice in Kerala and Uttarakhand as both the states have good facilities for water sports.
In 2020, she also travelled to New Zealand to play canoe polo competition. But the biggest drawback, says Nidhi, was that canoe polo doesn’t feature at the Olympic Games.
“My goal was different. I wanted to excel in an event that was organised on a big platform,” she says.
The big break came last year when she shifted to Manipur for academics.
“It was a life-changing moment for me,” she adds.
“There was an advantage of having a psychologist besides you. There was someone to guide you and direct you to pursue right goals,” Nidhi explains.
Nidhi’s next goal is to represent India at the Hangzhou Asian Games scheduled to be held from September 23 in China.
“I’m confident of giving my best,” Nidhi said.