Book Review

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From Sofa to 5k: A Review

“In the morning of 3rd February, 2007, I was lying naked on a cold metal table. My entire body was being shaved, except the head. I was joking with the hospital attendant that this was a contrast to the tonsure at Tirupati, where the head was shaved and the body hair left untouched!

I was praying hard to HIM that my Coronary Artery Bypass Graft procedure (CABG aka Open Heart Bypass Surgery) should go well. So were my family members who had assembled outside.”

Thus begins the preface of P. Venkatraman’s book, “From Sofa to 5K: A Beginner’s Handbook on Running for Good Health” with a foreword by renowned cardiologist Dr. Aashish Contractor who  is also  an avid long distance cyclist and runner.

Contractor concludes his foreword as below:

“May fortitude hasten you and let temperance chasten you.”

Venkatraman outlines his  story in the prologue describing his family history of heart disease beginning with his grandfather. His father and younger brother too were similarly affected. 

Venkat details how he was always health and diet-conscious throughout his early life. 

The author began running in 2004 and by the very next year was completing half-marathons. All this physical activity, however, could not prevent a 100% blockage of his left artery.  And in Feb 2007, Venkatraman underwent heart surgery.

In January 2008, he ran the Mumbai half-marathon once more highlighting the  second coming of the inspirational founder of You Too Can Run.

You Too Can Run’s mission is ‘To Promote Running For Good Health’.

Venkatraman divested his stake in one of India’s largest BPOs where he was a Promoter Director and founded his social enterprise.

The book is an attempt to inspire others to take up running for their health and is published by You Too Can Run Sports Management Private Limited who have registered themselves as a publisher with the HRD Ministry.

Chapter 5 onwards tackles the actual subject of running for beginners.

IITian and running coach Daniel Vaz is the technical editor of the book while nutritionist Kinita Kadakia is a major contributor to sections dealing with weight loss.

Venkatraman initially  lists the psychological, social and physiological reasons for running.

There follows an entire chapter devoted to getting started—the most interesting part is how to handle aggressive stray dogs. 

Chapter 7 deals with progressive loading and has a beginner’s 5K running plan pull-out.

Most beginners are astounded that they don’t start losing pounds immediately or sometimes for quite a while despite being quite regular and disciplined with their exercise programme. Kadakia answers these questions in the chapter ‘Running and Weight Loss‘ and how losing weight is simply about burning more calories than you consume i.e. a calorie deficit has to be created and maintained.

Finally, ‘Staying Motivated‘ is simply about that—how to keep oneself going and how it all begins with setting a goal.

The book also provides a Daily Health Log sheet that  helps runners cultivate a habit of checking their progress towards their goals.

The book is of value specifically to someone who wishes to start a running regimen.

Recommended for beginners—you could do worse.

Go Sports Foundation’s Handbook for young Indian athletes is a must go-to

In one of my posts on the Lodha Commission recommendations to the BCCI, a reference was made to Go Sports Foundation’s handbook for young Indian athletes and how a similar publication could be off immense help to aspiring cricketers.

Go Sports Foundation is a non-profit trust established in September 2008.

Their mission is to empower India’s future Olympians.

Their board of advisors consists of Abhinav Bindra, Rahul Dravid and Pullela Gopichand.

Their programmes are broken up into two kinds:

  • Athlete Development Programmes that include Rahul Dravid Athlete Mentorship Programme,Badminton Development Programme, Para-Champions Programme, Abhinav Bindra Shooting Development Programme and Athletes’ Education Programme.
  • Ecosystem Projects such as Athletes’ Conclave and Beyond the Finish Line.

The Athletes Handbook 2013: FAQs for the Young Indian Athlete is co-authored by some of the top names connected to Indian sport.

Bhishmaraj Purushottam Bam, a sports psychologist, a former Inspector General of police and qualified coach in pistol and rifle shooting answers questions pertaining to Mental Conditioning.

Sharda Ugra, a sportswriter and currently with ESPN Cricinfo, advises the young athlete how to interact with the media.

Deckline Leitao, a Sports Performance Specialist, replies to question on Fitness Training.

Dr. Korulamani Santosh Jacob, an orthopaedic surgeon specialising in arthroscopy and sports medicine and once team doctor to the Indian men’s hockey side, is all about Sports Medicine.

Nandan Kamath, a boutique sports and intellectual property lawyer and a graduate of Harvard Law School, the University of Oxford (on a Rhodes scholarship) and
the National Law School of India talks about legal and commercial issues. He’s also a former junior cricketer and Managing Trustee of the Go Sports Foundation.

Finally, Ryan Fernando, a certified Performance Nutrition Expert, dwells on Sports Nutrition in the final section.

The booklet’s foreword states:

“Professional help is not always easily accessible to the community of aspiring athletes. This Handbook of FAQs is an attempt to start bridging that gap.”

Some gems from this guide are as follows:

Bhishmaraj Purushottam Bam:

“Dwelling on past mistakes builds a wrong response and the errors creep into your system. This damages your confidence. Focusing on the result of the match makes it difficult for you to handle the challenges at hand well.”

“You need not waste unnecessary efforts in staying focused before the competition. It is your focus during the competition that matters. The pressure that builds up before the match, causing butterflies in your stomach, is actually a good thing as it indicates your keen interest to perform well. Do not link it with failure. Tell yourself that you are going to do very well since you are getting the jitters. Not feeling the pressure before a match is a bad sign, as it could mean that you are either bored with your game or are underestimating your opponents.”

“…form is very elusive and fickle. It can come in one match and disappear in the other. Learn to take every match very seriously. As the saying goes, ‘The better player does not win; the player who plays better wins’. It is your responsibility to play better.”

“If you have lost to a particular player a number of times previously, that is all the more reason for you to play better than him/her and win. Do not take others’ (or even your own) game for granted. Just keep trying to win the point being played and keep your focus on the ball or the shuttle. Look for a chance to meet that player again and again for playing him/her is a test of your mental toughness. Visualise your correct movements and not the mistakes made in the previous matches.”

“Do not be afraid of negative thoughts or doubts. They can cause damage to you only if you focus on them. Keep some positive thoughts ready for introduction and focus on them. If these thoughts are coming from your own positive experience they help a lot. Write a diary of excellence and enter in it only your positive experiences. This will help you build up a positive self-talk for occasions when the negative thoughts attack you.”


Sharda Ugra:

“What the outside world particularly also likes, which you must not forget, is humility. Talking down someone or something else may sound ‘confident’ but as you hope you will have a long career, remember there will come a time when someone may talk your hard work down in the same tone and you will not like it. You don’t need to be awed by your competitors but neither must you look down on them. Be respectful. At least in the media!”

“The first step to gauging trust is to see if the journalist passes the OTR (Off the Record) test: If in the course of a conversation you let slip a comment that you do not want quoted with your name in it, and say, ‘This is off the record.’ If the journalist uses it in their article quoting you and offers an apology like, ‘I was forced to’, ‘my boss demanded it’, or, ‘it was inserted by someone else’, it is necessary to be a little wary in the course of future conversations with them.”

“How do I avoid answering a question that I am not comfortable answering?
Ans: Say exactly – and always with a smile – any of the following:
’That’s not something I want to talk about.’ ‘That’s something I would rather not speak about.’
’I have no comment to make about that.’
’I have nothing to offer on that subject, thanks.’
If they ask the same question over and over again, you should say, ‘I’ve already
indicated that this is something I am not going to be talking about, so let’s move on.’”

“Ideally the media should pursue you, not the other way around and that happens through performance.”

Deckline Leitao:

“One should never go completely off fitness training even in the off season. It is always good to maintain 50% fitness during this period as it will help you get back in shape more quickly when the competitive season starts.”

“Remember the saying – Anybody can train when he/she feels like doing it, but a champion trains even when he/she doesn’t feel like doing it!”

Dr. Santosh Jacob:

“The primary role of the physiotherapist is to prevent injuries, and he/she should be able to identify problems in posture/technique and remedy them before a serious injury is sustained. When an athlete is injured, the physiotherapist plays a key role in aiding rehabilitation, helping the athlete regain peak fitness and return to the competitive arena at the earliest; and also prevent re-injury.”

“P.R.I.C.E.S. is the acronym for best practice in first aid that is internationally accepted. It stands for:
Splinting (to provide an external support to an injured portion of the body usually by the use of a brace or a well wrapped bandage strapping. The aim is to immobilize, to reduce pain caused by movement or muscle contraction).”

“A healthy athlete should be able to recover completely from donating blood in eight weeks, but he/she may lose some of the ability to train for the first few days.
Following a donation of one pint, blood volume is reduced by about ten percent and returns to normal in 48 hours. For two days after donating, you should drink lots of fluids and probably exercise at a reduced intensity or not at all. There is a definite reduction in peak (maximal) performance but it does not appear to affect training (submaximal) performance after 48 hours. So, the take home message is: if you are an endurance athlete or are about to enter an elite competition, do not donate blood. However, if it is off-season or an event is not lined up for roughly 3 months, it should be perfectly safe to do your social duty.”

Nandan Kamath:

“Early on in your career, you will be tempted to take every commercial offer that you receive. This approach may not always be in your long term commercial  interest. At the beginning of a career, it is best to focus on a small number of high quality sponsorships and endorsements. These do not come knocking often and one must often wait with some patience for them. The ability to refuse the wrong relationships early on increases your long term brand value and makes you far more attractive once you are an established international athlete.”

“…contracts are not “take it or leave it”. A contract presented to you by someone else will be drafted in a manner most favourable to that person and the first draft offered to you should act as a starting point and not the last and final offer. There is (almost) always room to negotiate the terms and conditions of such a contract and it is very important that you make sure all of your interests are protected and documented in the contract. It is customary to provide your comments and feedback on a contract and to attempt to have the contract reflect the positions you want through a negotiation process. A failure to negotiate means that you are likely to leave a lot on the table and lose out value that you might have otherwise been offered were you just willing to ask. An athlete who is aware of his/her rights and is willing to stand up for his/her own interests is always likely to be taken more seriously and, in the long run, will always get a better deal.”

Ryan Fernando:

“If the duration of the activity for an individual athlete is fairly continuous for 1 hour or longer, a sports drink is the better replacement fluid. However, if the activity lasts less than 1 hour, water is the best option. In either case, an athlete should have about 6-8 ounces of fluid replacement every 30 minutes during strenuous, continuous activity.”

“Unless a particular athlete has an allergy to milk or is lactose intolerant, there is no reason to avoid 1% or skim milk. These are an excellent source of both carbohydrate and protein with very little or no fat. Having 250 ml of skim or 1% milk or yogurt up to 2 hours before a competitive event can even help boost blood sugar (forms of carbohydrate) for the early minutes of the competition. The protein will kick in with additional fuel a little later.”

Michael Mandelbaum: An understanding of the experiences of team sports

The Meaning of Sports

What is the meaning of sports? Why do they mean so much to us?

Why do you and I invest so much time, money and emotional energy in following them?

These are some of the questions Michael Mandelbaum attempts to answer in his book, ‘The Meaning of Sports: Why Americans Watch Baseball, Football, and Basketball and What They See When They Do.’

Mandelbaum’s publication is divided into four chapters, three of which devote themselves to each of the team sports that dominate the American hemisphere. The first chapter deals exclusively with the questions outlined at the beginning of this article.

I have attempted to present a synopsis of this segment of this work.

Team Sports

According to Mandelbaum, baseball, basketball and football are modern creations.

Team sports have become popular as childhoods have grown lengthier in the modern age. Children no longer help out in farms and at work and thus have more leisure time than earlier. Childhood is now the most enjoyable phase of an individual’s life and it is nostalgia for a pleasant, carefree time of life that sustains interest in games into adult lives.

Schools have taken over from hearth and home when it comes to teaching skills that need to be used in the workforce. It is also the institution where organized  games are first encountered.

The growth of American cities are crucial in the rise of team sports.

The transport revolution made these sports a national phenomenon. This also led to  a series of similar formats and uniform standards given expectations of similar quality.

Sports and Organized Religion

Mandelbaum compares sports to organized religion.

Because they share the following features:

  1. They address needs of the spirit and psyche rather than those of the flesh.
  2. They don’t bear directly on basic needs namely food and shelter.
  3. They are outside the working world.
  4. They are a welcome diversion from the routines of daily life, models of coherence and clarity and have heroic examples to admire and emulate.

Drama and Coherence

Sport is a way of ‘disporting’ i.e. diverting oneself.

Human being need to be diverted from the wears and cares of modern life.

We seek diversion in staged drama.

Drama is simply tension and its release, that is, uncertainty ultimately relieved by a definite conclusion.

Sports provide audiences compelling drama.

Outcomes are unknown—for both individual games and the season.

Team sports are epics. Their protagonists overcome a series of challenges to meet their ultimate goals.

Coherence is another basic human need.

All cultures seek order and intelligibility.

Team sports is a low or “mass” form of art accessible to the majority of society. They are supremely coherent. They provide a haven from the vagaries of modern life.

Games are models of coherence.

They are transparent and they are definitive.

Hence, their appeal.

Sports and Hollywood

Team sports have evolved much like Hollywood.

At first, the major production companies were all-powerful. They decided which movies were to be made and who would feature in them.

Now, it is the actors who are arbitrators. They rule tinsel town and command astronomical fees.

Similarly, team owners were omnipotent—at first. But now, players rule the roost and decide which sides they turn out for.

Labor in movies and sports cannot be readily replaced. The best performers enjoy enormous leverage. The public pays to watch them.

Sports stars, unlike movie stars, are real and spontaneous. Sports supplies heroes.

Heroes are objects of admiration and emulation. They can be exceptions or exemplars. The latter embody virtues that everyone can aspire to and everybody can practice.

Sports stars are both.

Extraordinary mortals yet role models.

They display diligence and performance under pressure.

These are qualities much suited to the modern world. Who wouldn’t want to be described as diligent and yet graceful under fire?

Sports stars, however, possess a narrow range of skills. They are specialists—outstanding ones.

Equality and Competition in Sports

America is a democratic country.

Costumes (uniforms) worn by participants reflect its social egalitarianism. They express equality.

Team sports also express the principle of merit.

No side begins with an advantage. The score is always 0-0 at the start.

Preference is for achieved status.

Team sports is a division of labour.

It has two main parts: Specialization and Interdependence.

No player can win a game singlehandedly. Each team needs to cooperate within themselves.

Each game and each series also embody the opposite principle: Competition.

This is a parallel to modern life.

Everyone who works in an office or factory is a part of a team. These teams compete with other teams to survive and prosper in the marketplace.

Rule of Law

Rules are overridingly important in sports.

Rules, like laws, have three main properties:

  1. Universality: they apply equally to all players and citizens.
  2. Transparency: they are known to all.
  3. Legitimacy: they are accepted as binding.

Referees and umpires are the equivalent of judges.

Clarity and simplicity of rules in these three sports distinguish them from individual sports such as diving, gymnastics, figure skating or even boxing. There is very little discretion applied by officials.

Questioning and protesting an official’s decision is actively discouraged. Players can be removed from games if they are felt to have transgressed a certain boundary.

The most serious attack on the integrity of the game is not when an individual or a team tries too hard to win but when a player or group of players deliberately set out to lose.

When a contest is ‘fixed’, its outcome pre-decided, it is no longer a game. Cheating is thus the ultimate sin. This is the reason why doping in athletes is met with virulent condemnation.

Equality and Merit

Equality of opportunity and merit are deeply ingrained in North Americans.

The US is more deeply committed to ensuring the wherewithal needed to take advantage of opportunities.

The amateur draft and salary cap are the mechanisms used in professional leagues to restrict the role of the free market and make teams more evenly matched on the field.

European societies, on the other hand, are more committed to equality of results i.e., draws or ties are more common in games like soccer, cricket and rugby.

Integration and Division

Overseas, identification with teams has a polarising effect.

You support one side and rail against the other.

Team sports reflect and aggravate social and political divisions.

Not so, in the States.

They are both sources of integration and division.

They promote social solidarity.

American team sports do not have international competitions. They are self-contained.

These games are barely played elsewhere.

There is very rarely violence visited on team competitions. If fights break out, they occur over high school games.

Geographic mobility is a part of an American’s life.

He or she will move for college education and jobs—several times in their lives.

So too sportspersons.

High school teams may have co-located players.

But colleges and professional sides draw upon persons from all over, even overseas.

Professional sports are also melting pots for various ethnic groups, much like the larger cities.

Sports is thus a microcosm of cosmopolitan America.

The above are similes and metaphors for why sports is so important to sports lovers and what it actually means to all of us. Some metaphors could apply to other societies as well. It would be interesting to compare the reasons why sports in gaining traction in India as an industry to its evolution in the States. The proliferation of leagues in multiple sports as vehicles to promote them and provide means of livelihood to many is a recent phenomenon. Are there more parallels than differences?

Some metaphors may resonate with you more than others. Some of them might make you think. Aloud.

I know it certainly struck a chord with me and opened my eyes as to how and why sports can be a way of uniting rather than dividing. Sports recognizes no class barriers—in theory.

I hope you enjoy reading this piece as much as I did Mandelbaum’s chapter. If you don’t, blame me and not Mandelbaum!

Sir Donald Bradman’s Summer Of Delight

From Bradman.jpg — Don Bradman — Source: http:... Image via Wikipedia

Donald George Bradman made his Test debut for Australia at 20 against the 1928-29 visiting England side.

Although Bradman aggregated 468 and played in four of the five matches in the series, there was very little inkling of what was to follow in the summer of 1930 when Australia toured England.

The Summer of 1930 is recalled as “The Summer That Changed Cricket”. Christopher Hilton in his book “Bradman and The Summer That Changed Cricket: The Amazing 1930 Australian Tour of England” documents Sir Donald’s innings and the reactions to his stupendous Test aggregate of 974 in five Tests; a monumental feat that has not been surpassed in eight decades since.

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Corporate Governance

Corporate governance has been in the Indian news headlines quite recently in connection with the scam perpetrated by Raju on Satyam shareholders and employees. Interestingly,  Satyam was the recipient of numerous corporate governance awards. Just goes to prove that just because processes are in place, does not imply that the processes are being followed. The spirit of the law  is more important than the letter of the law. But then India is a nation that loves it’s forms, it’s idiosyncratic processes and customs,it’s  bureaucratic ways and any change is greeted with derision, disdain and shock. Processes are meant to be traditionalized, embedded into the culture of the company and not uprooted without a by your leave! Who minds it’s clutter?

For more laid-back news followers, Satyam was just another scandal in just another family-run business.Satyam despite all its protestations , was just that – a family-run business though it’s shares were listed on the Indian stock exchange and available via ADRs.The more engrossing and entertaining corporate scandal has been the IPL imbroglio and it’s many running installments in the Indian media rumor mill.

Now, the IPL has a governing council which is equivalent to a corporate board of directors. In theory, a board of directors is an independent body that oversees the management of the corporate body or entity. It is there to make sure that the right processes are adhered to, that due diligence is carried out while executing strategy and no hanky-panky or unethical acts are carried out by any of the top management honchos.

But in practice, this is easier said than done. Most corporate boards are appointed with inputs from the incumbent management and thus cronyism is the name of the game. The typical board is populated with members who thus tend to be hand-in-glove with top  management. This seems to have been the case with the IPL governing council. Despite the presence of luminaries such as Ravi Shastri, Sunil Gavaskar and M A K Pataudi on the governing council, the BCCI finds itself facing a scandal of gargantuan proportions with conflict of interest and high-handedness tarnishing the fabric of IPL governance.

Quote of the day:
If you can find something everyone agrees on, it’s wrong. – Mo Udall

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