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Sport forms the bulk of work for Jasdeep Pannu, the India head of digital and television initiatives at ESPN. Sport is also a lifestyle for him; he grew up playing different kinds of sport, from tennis to cricket. “For me, it wasn’t about a particular sport but being active, being outdoor, and also connect with friends by playing with them. Sports is simply natural; I can’t think of any other lifestyle," he says.

He does have a favourite, though. “I was about eight or nine years old when my father, an Indian Air Force officer and pilot, started taking me along when he played golf. I would be his forecaddie (the one who helps spot where the ball has fallen after the shot). He came from a generation where father-son affection wasn’t obviously displayed. But this was a way for us to spend some quality time together. At the end of the 18 holes, I would be rewarded with a cold drink at the club house, which was by the sea, while dad had tea or a lime soda. This was my favourite time spent with my father growing up," says the 45-year-old, who started learning the game seriously at the age of 30, with the aim of playing with his father.

The ground reality

The game of golf holds several lessons for everyone, believes Pannu, who is also into motorsports. “Golf is a very technical game and depends on great awareness of your body, balance and mental state," he says. Pannu finds the environment of a golf course very soothing. “Getting frustrated with any aspect of your performance can have a negative impact on your game. Despite the challenges, you have to relax and stay focused and aware. This philosophy stands you in good stead at work as well—trust the process and don’t worry about the daily results, and don’t get frustrated by failures and instead use them to train, find new opportunities and grow," says Pannu.

There’s another lesson he takes from the course. “The golf course spans hundreds of yards for each hole. The ball is tiny in comparison, so errors are magnified. A fraction of an inch on the shot can mean the difference of tens of yards on the final shot. It’s like taking relatively small decisions at work, where the impact can affect millions of consumers and cost crores in revenue," he explains.

The big lesson that golf holds, he says, is of awareness and mindfulness. “Right now, mindfulness is one of the big CEO mantras for success and great leadership. I can’t think of a sport that develops this more than golf does. Golf is a sport but it’s also an art and a tradition. Like a samurai, a golfer aspiring to be great has to live by principles of not just athletics but also aesthetics and philosophy," Pannu adds.

Another lesson is of balance. Unlike some sports where faster, harder and more powerful is better, golf is about optimum balance, he says. “An thirdly, it’s about using your skills and thinking to deal with the real world, which is full of ups and downs, hazards, trees, obstacles and roughs. Each course and hole is a different challenge much like the unpredictable nature of challenges at the workplace."

Balance and aspirations

Apart from golf and motorsports, running, cycling, swimming, tennis, badminton, cricket, yoga and gym keep Pannu busy outside of work and helps him connect with his team members who enjoy different sports as well.

Fitting in work and one or more sports activity in a day comes at a cost though. “Thanks to my sports lifestyle I have become a social recluse of sorts," admits Pannu, who wakes up at 5am to go for a run or a bike ride.

“I have lost a lot of friends since I only socialize in the daytime over coffee or breakfast and hardly ever venture out for a late night or dinner," he says.

By breakfast, when many people start their day, Pannu has already been active for four hours. The best part of starting early, he says, is that there are no phone calls or emails to distract him, but that doesn’t stop him from sending early emails to colleagues. “This is highly unusual in the media industry but, overall, everyone is very supportive of my lifestyle," he says.

Starting early means “I manage my time and day productively, since I know I have to turn in latest by 10pm. My non-productive time on the couch is restricted to the evenings," he says.

“Overall, this has had a productive impact on my work. My energy levels are high and without realizing it, I relish challenges and stay positive and engaged at work."

Fit Boss is a series in which leaders talk about how sports activities help them stay more productive in and outside office.

Shrenik Avlani is co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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