Recently, The Conclave hosted a Red Sofa conversation with the celebrated mental conditioning coach Paddy Upton, moderated by Rita Bhimani. The event also served as a launchpad for his new book ‘The Barefoot Coach’. The man so instrumental in India’s winning of the World Cup in 2011 shared without restraint his insights into the world of cricket, the challenges one has to face, as well as the pleasures one reaps from honest and good work.

Rita introduced Upton, talking about how he had successfully worked with over a hundred athletes, and along with Gary Kirsten, had undertaken the onerous task of training the Indian team, and is still a part of India’s cricket scene as Head Coach to the Rajasthan Royals.

Upon being asked why his IPL team did not fare well this season, Upton replied with candour that due to budget cuts, the team only hired the young and emerging cricketers. While this gave fresh talent a chance for exposure, the younger players tended to get eclipsed by the older, experienced giants of the industry, and sometimes may be too nervous to perform well enough to earn a victory. Yet, Upton said, that his aim was to only be supportive to these inexperienced players, and give them all the confidence that he could, because his job as a mental conditioning coach came was first and foremost.

When he was made Head Coach, he rejected the thought of hiring several other coaches for different areas of the game, deciding that his team’s “collective wisdom” would get them through any challenging situation, as he had complete faith in their abilities. Good leadership comes with humility, and not an attempt to indoctrinate. Upton said that he didn’t believe in an authoritative form of coaching that he particularly associates with the Australians, because despite his expertise, a coach cannot know everything. He humorously remarked that only Siri knew all.

The recurring issue of sledging in cricket was discussed, where Upton expressed his utmost contempt for the disgraceful practice. Being abusive on the field, to him, only is a power move, to assert dominance. Losing is far more respectable than leaving the field without one’s dignity, he affirmed.

Upton made an interesting point about how both Kirsten and himself possessed an “intuitive leadership”, that is, the ability to identify a problem despite the language barrier between the Indian team and the South African duo. It was agreed that players would be treated like adults, and the coaches would not function as baby-sitters. Here, Upton mentioned an interesting anecdote about Yuvraj Singh, and how the beloved cricketer threw a bit of a tantrum one time, but then came around and apologised for being so due to being treated like a thinking adult.

Perfect mental strength, to Upton, is an overrated myth. He assured the engrossed audience that the mammoth figures of the sporting world are also regular human beings who have fears, and get nervous. It is how one combats the fears and uses it to motivate himself is what is of consequence.

The Indian psyche, he claimed, is not one that is easily knowable. He spoke of how India famously, as a political power, has never fought any wars outside her borders as she isn’t an agitator. He reads the team like this too, performing magnificently within her borders, but sometimes faltering outside.

The conversation was immensely interesting, the audience wholly thrilled by Upton’s frankness and charming sense of humour. Rita splendidly facilitated a breezy flow of conversation. The spirit with which Upton answered all the questions posed to him, without hesitation, warmed the audience. The very intimate setup made his interesting anecdotes about experiences with other stars of cricket like MS Dhoni, Sachin Tendulkar and Anil Kumble even more pleasing to hear.

All of these fascinating experiences can be found in his book.