Life Lessons From Sport - Shruti Kurien talks with You & I

She’s been playing badminton since the age of 9, and can’t imagine life without it. Shruti has won many accolades in the course of her impressive career, and credits her victories to the relentless mental and physical discipline that competitive sport demands. While her professional achievements are noteworthy, it’s easy to also admire her humility and grace. We caught up with the elegant lady to chat about badminton and the rest of her life’s trajectory.

Tell us a bit about yourself and what your journey has been like so far?
My life has had many facets and trajectories. I’ve had the privilege of growing up with access to wonderful opportunities and a school that provided me guidance and the freedom to choose what I wanted to do in life. I’ve always been the off-beat kind; I’m a creative type, and finding capriciousness in art and music is something I fondly look back on. However, my childhood presented another path. My father got us temporary membership at the Nizam Club. Everything that followed happened very organically – from playing a club tournament, to playing at the state level, then at the national and international levels. Training and practice was fun! I really looked forward to getting on the court. For those low-energy days, my father was always there to get me going. No one tells you this, but the journey of any professional athlete is actually the journey of the entire family. My badminton career lasted about 18 years. It encompassed everything. Camps, travelling, training, and pushing boundaries. But the journey taught me life itself. Sometimes you learnt that it took an equal amount of skill to handle winning a match as it did losing a tournament. This taught me the value of consistent hard work, dedication and rigorous discipline. Above all, this lifestyle kept me grounded.

If I had to describe myself today in five words, they would be: grounded, pragmatic, adventurous, pensive and grateful!

What have been the highlights of your career?
Well, the most obvious highlights are tournaments won: Bulgarian Grand Prix, CWG medal, other podium finishes, my best ranking at 21 – a first in the doubles event. But more than that, I think there were numerous little instances of skill and personal development that happened through the sport,which seem more significant for me now. Truth be told, the focus was so much on getting better and improving, that the results seemed the most natural and only motivated me to push further. I would probably call them stepping stones.

What are some of the most exciting and challenging things you encountered over the course of your life and career?
My life and badminton career are two completely separate entities. The challenge is only about staying focused and consistent in my effort to improve my skill – on court when I was playing, and off court as a person. That challenge still continues, and drives me to get better with every passing day. Progress only happens when you keep pushing your own limits, so every day brings new challenges. That’s life! And that is what makes it all exciting!  

Did you grow up knowing that this is what you wanted to do?
No, I didn’t. I think it was how it panned out for me. The journey started as something I did to keep busy, but soon turned professional. But thanks to badminton, I know what I look for in life and my career.

Any sport, especially at the competitive professional level, requires a huge amount of discipline and dedication. What do these two virtues mean to you?
Everything! No one can achieve anything without discipline, dedication and lots of hard work! And most importantly, consistency. Badminton is skill-based, which implies that there is always scope for improvement. Without the dedication, I don’t see any chance for improving. Passion and focus are equally important. To get up and train long hours every day for 15-20 years needs a different kind of attitude, outlook, approach and mindset.

What’sthe one quality that has been responsible for your success?
I don’t think I can boil down an entire journey to one point. But if I had to, it would be the passion. Hard work, dedication, discipline and everything else follow.

Is there anything you wish you knew earlier in life?
There are a lot of things I wish I knew earlier in life, but I guess the purpose of the journey is also to learn so much more along the way. If there was one aspect, however, it would have been understanding myself and my emotions better. I was, and still am quite a ‘softie’ at heart. I suppose it’s a human tendency to carry one’s emotions from one day to the next. People I’ve looked up to the most are capable of letting go of the unnecessary, and retaining only what truly enhances their lives and helps them grow as great individuals. I think in today’s world it’s crucial for each of us to really understand and accept ourselves, and work with our individual strengths while we also develop other areas of our personalities and lives.
                                                                                                                                                                                                            – as told to Suneela