From Hobby to Passion (Part II): Inside the Mind & Sport of Muskaan Khan, 17-year-old Badminton Prodigy

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Refer to Part I of the interview here.

Muskaan, let’s continue our interesting discussion. So, it seems like you have got a good mix of the upcoming aspirants in this industry around you? That keeps adding to your skill sets, isn’t it? 

Yeah, it’s actually very important to train with different people. I think I picked up most of my skills from watching other people play and by playing against them. Like, I learned that if one does slow draw, why don’t I try it as well. And that helped me pick up on some strokes. So, I have been picking things up from various different people I played with or against.

You are training at Suchitra academy. Tell us more about it. 

As you already know, I won the first singles Open tournament in Hyderabad. We spoke to a lot of coaches and got to know the schedule here. So, this particular Academy stood out to us, which was Suchitra. The facilities were very good and there was a school inside the campus as well. It’d be really convenient for us with school and even the fitness center in the same campus. It was just one place for me for our parents to drop us off and we could finish on our entire schedule and then come back.

The training is also really good. There are foreign coaches, there are two Indonesian coaches and recently we have got a Malaysian coach. Hafiz Hashim, who is also the coach of PV Sindhu, is also tutoring us and he is excellent with his skills. So, it’s like a mix of different coaches, very professional, all experienced.

So, how do you manage your studies with your practice? What is your routine like?

My normal routine as of now starts with Yoga sessions in the morning 5:20am. We normally finish the yoga by 6:00-6:15am, and then our fitness routine starts which goes on till 7am.  We do our fitness from 7:00-9:00 and then we have our onboard session.

Different schedules for different days and our coaches take care of that. After 7-9am session, I personally go for another session to get more on-board practice and then I come back home to eat lunch. I have my breakfast at Suchitra itself. After some rest I go for fitness sessions at about 3:00-3:30pm which lasts till 4:30-5:30pm. So, we have alternate days at the gym and running. Tuesdays running and Wednesday gym…like that.!

Muskaan smashing her way to victory on the badminton court, bringing home well-deserved medals

Gets tiring towards the end, and so I will take early night sleep, and allow enough time for body to recover. As for my academics, I normally study before the exam. I have taken arts with biology which is quite unique.

So, I have taken this very unique variety of subjects in Suchitra. I find them very interesting so studying is not even that tough for me.

Moreover, sport is such a thing that you’re very concentrated all the time. Needs lot of focus and determination, and probably that helps you grab some of the academic concepts better. 

From the days of Prakash Padukone who is such a star, to now when things are so competitive, what kind of changes you see which has happened in the sport, how do you relate then and now?

Back then we had much less support from the parents and the society as a whole in sports. So, in that sense, a lot has changed. Obviously, the competition has increased, everyone is playing much better than they did earlier. Things have drastically improved.

In the Pullela Gopichand Academy, there are three different courts, its grand, multiple floors, everything you need in that one space. So, I think the infrastructure has huge importance and has improved our game.

We have learnt a lot about this sport now. Great exposure playing in different countries, foreign coaches etc. Also getting great exposure digitally through social media platforms. The information flows these days is huge, if used wisely.

We have lot more competitions now. One thing which is common across generations is the amount of dedication and hard work one need to put into the sport. Once we do that, we will get due support from everywhere. And personally, in my case, my parents are very, very supportive and keeping me on track.

They keep me focused on the sport and I don’t have to worry about anything else.

What aspects of your training routine do you find the most challenging? How do you overcome them?

So, I hated running from when I was young, my legs just couldn’t take it. I just couldn’t run. I had to develop my stamina to be able to sustain in Badminton.

Now, I’ve just instilled it in my head that, yes, I love running and I will keep doing it. I love going to the gym and follow other fitness regimes quite well.

Tell us about your preparation during challenging tournaments, keeping yourself motivated mentally to perform well.

Meditation is quite important for me. I learnt it the hard way. It helped me develop mental strength and build more patience in the game. There is still a lot to do to improve. But yes, I have improved over the years.

I think mental strength comes with experience. In the beginning I used to be nervous before the matches. Sometimes I used to puke as well, but now as we play more things have got better.

We should not be thinking about whether I’m going to win or lose. As players we should rather think about how I’m going to play this match, about strokes I’m going to implement etc.

As players results are the key, but the process is lot more important. So that’s how I cope with everything. It took me a lot of time for me to reach this mental stability. And I hope I become better with time.

How do you improvise after you lose games?  How do you respond to the advice of your coaches and everyone’s suggestions or criticisms?

My parents are very open, very blunt on my face if I don’t play well, regardless of win or loss.

I also record my matches, review them and seek advice from my coaches. I just write down everything that happened during the match. It helps me collect my thoughts and helps me identify areas to improve.

Has there been any life changing match for you, which changed your perspective towards your game?

I recently played a senior national tournament, where I played against one small girl, not a senior player. I don’t know what happened to me that day, my strokes were not going through and everything was just so frustrating. I just gave up full of regret.

I spoke to one of my coaches who really motivated me and changed my perspective towards my game and life in general. I also played another state tournament against a national player where I won the match and that too was also quite life changing for me. It boosted my confidence, and I became lot more aware of my strengths. 

Are you following the world championships going on right now? HS Prannoy has been doing quite well, what are your thoughts on the same?

Yes absolutely. We all were watching the match and cheering for him from here. He plays spectacularly well. To beat Axelsen, who is such a consistent player, was phenomenal.

I have been following his matches for quite some time and he has been one of my biggest inspirations. His grit and determination towards the sport is phenomenal. He is at the peak of his game.

Muskan: A fierce competitor on the court, a true champion in the making

Who are some of your role models or inspirations in the world of badminton?

I believe PV Sidhu and Saina Nehwal are two of my role models, who have been winning so many medals in the international circuits. I find Sindhu’s game very attacking, she makes full use of that height. Her smashes are so strong that the opponent has no chance of retrieving.

As for Saina Nehwal, I love her determination. It doesn’t look like she’s going to take the shattering but at the end she just gives it her all and the opponent is not ready. Moreover, Priyanshu Rajawat, Srikanth Kadami and Lakshya Sen have also been doing quite well, and an inspiration for our generation.

Away from badminton, what are your hobbies or interests?

Earlier before playing professional sport, I used to go for dance classes, Bharat Natyam, ballet, Arabic classes and Badminton. Moreover, I also like painting and reading. Arts being one of my academic interests.

Any plans for doing your Bachelors or Masters.

I have taken Biology with Arts where there are five subjects: English, math, media, sociology, psychology and biology. If badminton doesn’t work out, mass media and psychology could be something I will go for. Not given much thought about the higher studies yet, but I will probably go into a degree with a psychology field after completing my 12th.

Tell us about your experiences from Japan, China and Mongolia.

All the places were really beautiful. Japan is especially exquisite. During my visit there for my tournament, I witnessed a huge communication gap and we had to use Google translator to communicate with the locals. I played my very first match under the World Junior Championship title, where I played against the Japanese player who was world#1 in the U-19 circuit last year.

Playing against her was hard reality check on how much I needed to improve on my game and upskill. It was an excellent experience which provided me great insight, on where I stand in my game right now and where I aim to reach. 

Exploring the world, one tournament at a time – Muskan’s international travels are as inspiring as her badminton skills

China was average where I played against the Malaysian#1 player. She is playing in the World Championship now, and that game was also instrumental for me in realizing my potential.

Mongolia was a good one, as I reached pre-quarters for the first-time outside India. I played two rounds in qualifications. In the main draw, it was against the fourth seed, where I upset her and then played against the top seed Japanese player who eventually bagged the title. She was much better than me honestly, and I appreciate the learning curve, from playing in different countries and conditions.

In Japan we visited the Universal Studios. Mongolia was not much to do beyond some sightseeing. It was overall a great experience I can say. 

FUN QUESTIONS ROUND

One skill you wish you could master outside of badminton.

I would love to master art.

Beach vacation or mountain retreat.

A beach person definitely. Though I haven’t been to a lot of beaches, I would love to go to a clean beach with soft sand. 

One place in the world you haven’t been to but would love to visit.

My dream travel destination would be Paris as I have heard so much about it. I am a big foodie, so I want to visit places with great cuisines.

So, what’s your favorite cuisine.

My favorite cuisine would be Italian. 

One word to describe your playing style.

It would be attacking.

Most challenging opponent you’ve faced so far.

The most challenging opponent I have met so far is Tanvee Sharma. 

Favorite badminton memory outside of tournaments.

It is normally spending time with my friends.

Any guilty pleasure food.

I have a big, sweet tooth so maybe brownie or ice cream. I count my calories, though I do have cheat meal once a week. 

One thing on your bucket list that’s not related to badminton.

I love traveling, so I would love to go out of India with my cousins or friends.

Last book you read.

I am mostly into crime novels or romance comedies. Some of the authors I read are Agatha Christie and John Grisham. I read a novel called Snap recently which was great. 

One thing you can’t travel without.

One thing I can’t travel without Mustard oil and Epsom salt. My coach guided me as I usually need a heat pack after the matches. I generally carry a heater which is electric powered. So, I heat it and use mustard oil and epsom salt to destress myself. 

– End

Refer to Part I of the interview here.

CynergySports thanks & wishes Muskaan, a safe health & a great success in years to come.

Onwards & Upwards…!! We thank you for your time & your support to the badminton community.

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