Former All England badminton champion Pullela Gopichand recently recollected the hardships he endured while setting up his badminton academy. He also mentioned that the current Indian badminton players have more potential than their achievements show.
Gopichand was speaking to Indian off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin in the latest episode of the latter's YouTube show 'DRS with Ash'.
Ashwin asked Gopichand if it was a tricky decision for the latter to make the transition to a coaching role quite early in his career. The Indian badminton coach reflected on the surgeries he had to undergo due to his risky style of play, the reason he had to give up playing the sport.
"That is one decision which is very important. For me, as a player I have had my share of injuries. I had major knee surgeries every two years between 1994 to 1998 and in the year 2002 I had another surgery on my right knee, which was an overuse injury. So, I went through a turmoil internally and also I realised that in my playing days we didn't have the best of facilities."
Gopichand reasoned that although he had understood how to win tournaments, his body could not take the load any longer.
"We had fundamental challenges like shuttles or grounds not being available. So when I won the All England I realised that I had the formula what it takes to win but I didn't have the body to do it. So the only way was to find other kids who could do it on my behalf."
Gopichand added that he was always up for a challenge even during his playing days and that the same applies to his coaching career.
"I love the challenge when people say you can't do it. That was the same when I started coaching. Luckily when you are an All England champion and you walk into a court, people respect you. So that initial honeymoon period was very important, the kids just trusted me blindly."
Gopichand reminisced about the initial days of struggle while putting up the academy, due the limited resources at his disposal.
"When I started the academy, it was like a startup company. I was the only one. I was the coach, guardian, physio, trainer, watchman, everything put together in one role. So, I didn't have a sponsor or a structure but I believed that I had a formula. It was only years later that he got money to do things. I don't know how much time, money and resources I spent on the initial years of coaching."
Gopichand also talked about his decision to mortgage his house in order to finish the academy.
"In 2007, we were struggling to find funds for the academy. Our entire family, including wife and parents, decided to sell the house. We finally didn't sell the house. We mortgaged it for 3 crores and then we put that money to finish the academy."
Gopichand on the current lot of players
Gopichand emphasised that the current lot of players have more talent than what they have achieved. He added that when talented shuttlers come to him, he is able to see more potential in them than the players themselves.
"I wish you can see what I can see. I believe that Indian players, even the top-most players I have coached, have more potential than what they have achieved. But I also know, that I can do only so much and I am okay with that feeling."
"Many of the players, whether it is a Kashyap, Saina, Sindhu or Sai Praneeth are all from my first batch of 2003. We still have people performing from that group. We need to develop the next level. In the late 2000s, I went for every tournament these players participated in. I almost stayed with them all through that journey."
Gopichand also expressed regret at not having spent enough time with the younger players due to his constant involvement with the top players. He stressed the importance of a coach-training program.
"In the last few years, I have spent so much time with the top players that I was not able to spend enough time with the younger generation and we have suffered because of that in the assembly line. Some of the players who could have risen to the top, have actually not transformed."