Are champions only the ones who keep winning on the court? Or is picking up the tatters after a setback and resurrecting oneself from the ashes the hallmark of a true champion?
Former All England Open-winner and Indian national badminton team coach Pullela Gopichand's new autobiography, Shuttler's Flick, tells you it's the latter.
Co-authored by writer and motivational speaker Priya Kumar, the book was unveiled on November 12 in Hyderabad. The 365-page work serves as an essential guide on how to smash down obstacles and rise above challenges without fear.
It is sure to be handy for people from all walks of life and that’s what makes this book unique. Priya Kumar has beautifully weaved her observations with Gopichand’s experiences to present a guidebook on not just building future champions but also on how to make a comeback after every failure.
The idea for a biography was sown when Gopichand was the Indian Olympic badminton team coach for the Rio Games. His friends, colleagues and his wards contributed to developing several aspects of the book, making it lucid and easy to relate.
The book has a foreword by former World No. 1 Srikanth Kidambi and World No. 11 men’s doubles player, Chirag Shetty. Its 26 chapters take you through Gopichand’s inspirational journey from a champion player to a coach extraordinaire. Priya Kumar documents the lessons he learned at every step as well.
“If you read his story, you will be inspired in moments of your despair, where you won’t need anyone to console and lift you up. Gopi Sir’s journey through his times of turmoil and defeat will do that for you,” Kidambi perfectly sums it up.
Pullela Gopichand faced tremendous hardships before his All England Open glory
Gopichand’s path from his devastating knee injury to reaching the pinnacle of success at the All England Open was fraught with excruciating pain and stinging criticism. Experiences such as the ones he faced would discourage even the biggest sportspersons.
But not Gopichand. Ever the optimist, he did not let that collision with his partner Vijay Raghavan at the Pune National Games on 25th January, 1995 define his life. As the two rushed for the same shot, they clashed, with Gopichand’s left knee getting crushed by Raghavan’s weight in the process. It was a numbing moment.
What was to follow was something perhaps nobody had envisaged.
“A champion is a person who will take 1% chance that he will not lose, that his body will comply and he will hustle his way to his goal,” the book notes.
True to that, Gopichand refused to quit and carried on to play a point before the cartilage gave way. Giving up was never an option for him even while suffering.
He was diagnosed with an acute anterior cruciate ligament tear with a meniscal tear and haemarthosis, an injury that required risky arthroscopic surgery. The recovery became more painful because of the ridicule he was subjected to. Gopichand was labeled a langda (lame) and was pretty much written off.
It took him nine months to even get back to playing, let alone be competitive. Yet he never let that one injury douse the passion in him. Gopichand emerged stronger, braver and more determined than ever that eventually led to the greatest moment of his playing career in 2001.
Outlasting the legendary Peter Gade in the semifinals took a toll on his body and put him at the extreme end of exhaustion. Gopichand's body hurt and he hadn’t even slept well, yet he was unperturbed.
Standing between the coveted All England Open glory and Gopichand was World No. 3 Chen Hong. Never the one to fear tough opponents, the Indian remained undeterred.
Gopi prepared to enter the zone of extreme calm and focus, shutting out the entire world, which is so essential for a win. Bubbling with unshakeable belief, he delivered on 10th March 2001 what perhaps nobody had expected. It was the perfect answer to silence the naysayers. But more importantly, it honored the promise he had made to Dr. Ashok Rajgopal, who had done his surgery for free.
The monumental feat created waves with offers pouring in from every quarter. But Gopichand wasn’t one to give in to temptations and declined to endorse a popular Cola brand. Instead he wanted to give back and instill all the lessons he had learned into the future generation.
Building a state-of-the-art badminton academy from scratch was a colossal struggle in itself. But that didn’t discourage Gopichand from giving aspiring players the right coaching environment that he so badly missed during his playing days.
Discipline remains Gopichand's main mantra for success
The first and foremost mantra for success is discipline and Gopichand has remained an epitome of it since his childhood. Gopi’s wife, PVV Lakshmi, a former national champion herself, recounts:
“Even as an 11-year-old, Gopi showed all the signs of a champion. After practice, he would never hang around with friends. We would often go to a tea stall to eat biscuits and have tea and wait around chatting before we went home. But Gopi never joined us. He would pack up and go home.”
That desire to maintain a disciplined lifestyle hasn’t dimmed one bit at the age of 48. Even today, Gopichand wakes up at 4 am and goes to the academy at 5. His commitment remains exemplary even for his champion students who have tried to follow in his footsteps.
London Olympic bronze medallist Saina Nehwal said:
“He is so crazy and committed. We call him mad, in a maverick, genius kind of way. But a champion is so, because his ways defy the norm. Gopi Sir does so, every day.”
Saina has gone on to thank Gopi for making her think like an “international player.” Gopi’s meticulous planning from changing her diet and incorporating meditation in her routine to pushing her out of her comfort zone, took her to the World No. 1 position.
However, it’s not possible to achieve it without the player having faith in Gopi. Two-time Olympic medallist PV Sindhu has underlined how the coach has managed to earn the complete trust of every ward, which is vital for any relationship to thrive.
“Everyone trusts Gopi Sir. He is training us to be the best in the world. If he has to be hard on someone and that is what works with that person, he will blast the living daylights out of that person. You have to know that if Gopi Sir has yelled at you then that yelling is best for you. He knows how to handle people and will do so as per their personalities and what brings out the best in them,” says Sindhu.
Sindhu also admires Gopi’s calmness even when things get chaotic. She feels it has come from a “deep-rooted confidence,” something she wants to replicate in her own life.
Confidence comes from playing sports: Gopichand
Gopichand believes that confidence comes from situations only a player can confront. This could range from battling fatigue in training sessions or from snatching victory from the jaws of defeat in a match.
And that’s why he has encouraged everyone to pick up a sport of their choice to nurture their competitive genes and become an overall better person in life.
As a youngster, Gopi played various sports until finding his calling in badminton. His parents Pullela Subhash Chandra and Pullela Subbaravamma realized his potential and continued to remain a pillar of support throughout.
Explaining what a major role parents play in shaping their kids’ careers, Gopichand has urged them not to burden their children with unreal expectations.
“The purpose is to learn, to be better, to love what you do and to be happy in the process,” the book notes.
The autobiography is also dotted with photos from his playing and coaching days. Shuttler’s Flick is a treasure trove that gives a deep insight into the making of one of India’s best player-turned-coaches and his philosophy.
Like Chirag Shetty succinctly says, “It will provoke you to think different,” the book will awaken the champion in you and make you want to be the best you can be.
Pullela Gopichand's official autobiography, Shuttler's Flick: Making Every Match Count, is out in stores. Follow this link for more: https://amzn.to/2WyaMFe