Wednesday, August 24, 2016

How Pullela Gopichand Wants To Build The Future Of Indian Badminton?


Even in 2010, the man who coaches PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal was planning for that day in Rio.

Gopi has deep thoughts on his style of coaching and what we should be doing to take the country forward. He has maintained that each player must be treated in a different manner and that coaching schedules should be tailor-made as per the weaknesses and strengths of any individual. It is better to let Gopi articulate in his own words his take on coaching:

Coaching for me is anticipating the needs of the player in the future, and preparing them accordingly. I will give a couple of examples. For Saina, strokes were an issue so I worked hard on the strokes control continuously for four-five years before we started getting results. Today, she is able to play the backhand drops, the flick shots, the crosses on the net – almost all the big strokes easily, on the big points in big matches. She was always fit and getting stronger physically, depending too much on her speed and mobility, but in my opinion, she needed backup at the higher level of play to get out of trouble when forced into corners.
If you take the fifteen-year-old [PV] Sindhu, who at a five-feet-ten-inch height can tower over opponents and has already won the Sub-junior and Junior singles titles in the country this year [2010], the needs are vastly different. She has to make her net play strong and work on her parallel game and her defensive game as she will be vulnerable in these areas. She hits hard and fast and has natural ability to use her height to great advantage. So I have to cut out the apparent weaknesses in her game and still ensure that the aggressive game she has is updated all the time.

Both Saina and Sindhu had different needs and I understood these, and together with the players in question, we worked out in the correct manner. Saina has already arrived, while Sindhu is the great prospect of the future. From the beginning, I allowed them to get better on their stronger points so that they are able to win matches, as winning gives you confidence. So a good coach will address issues psychologically also.

And then, I also have to see overall development. On a fast court with a fast shuttle, an aggressive Sindhu will walk through the opposition. On a slow court with a slower shuttle, Saina will make mincemeat of all since she is physically very fit. But what happens if Sindhu plays on a slower court with slow shuttle, and Saina on a faster court with fast shuttle? These things are not in our control.
Sindhu should still be able to win without smashing much and Saina must know what it takes to attack all the time, without allowing the shuttle to be lifted to the other girl as much as possible. So my duty as a coach is to teach them to cope with all sorts of circumstances and situations. I must also ensure that their weak points are not weak enough to lose a match, yet strong points are strong enough to win the match.

These are simple formulas that Gopi follows with each and every player who comes to him. He has brought excellence in terms of coaching in Indian badminton, and this single-minded pursuit of excellence has reaped rich dividends.

Gopi tries to bring in an element of discipline all around him. He feels that badminton is probably the most physically torturous game and therefore, the fitness regimen has to be addressed with seriousness. Strength is another issue that is important for Indian players, and this is one area he personally keeps harping on.

Gopi is also able to work on another area which was neglected all the time. He makes sure that players understand the meaning of self-belief and what it will take for them to do well in international badminton. “The right approach to winning matches is important because once they know how to win and understand what is required to win, then we have beaten the challenge. So the player must know how to prepare, and once you know you have done the preparation, then you must also know how to implement that on the court.” This has been Gopi’s focus all the while he has been in charge of the Indian squad, apart from ensuring that his players are not far behind the opposition in terms of fitness.

He is proud not only of Saina, who is probably one of the fittest players in her event in the world, but of players like Parupalli Kashyap, D Guruprasad, Jwala Gutta, Ashwini Ponnappa and juniors Sindhu and HS Prannoy, who are all able to match foreign opponents as far as physical fitness is concerned. Gopi’s strength as coach also lies in the fact that today, Indian players can go out and play with confidence, simply because they are hitting as hard and moving as fast as the opponents. This was not the case earlier.

He is well aware that India cannot be termed a badminton superpower unless we win team events like the Thomas and Uber Cups, the Sudirman Cup or the CWG and Asian Games team titles. Today, our bench strength is simply not good enough.

We may produce one Padukone, one Gopi or one Saina every ten to fifteen years, players who dazzle with individual brilliance and stun the world now and then. But that equation has to change and Gopi acknowledges this. He feels more players are needed and that for getting more players, bigger grassroot programmes are required where coaches with international vision will be needed to monitor all aspects of coaching.

Gopi feels that Indian badminton has to rise to the challenge of producing a number of quality coaches who have the confidence to train players or even tell players exactly what is that they are lacking in terms of what is required to do well in international badminton. And this is essential at every age group, where the kids are taught speed, the importance of power, body-balancing exercises, and they are taught the game required at international levels in their age groups. It is essential that the Indian kid is as good, if not better, in comparison to, say, a Chinese or an Indonesian kid of the same age. 

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