In a fast-paced sport such as kabaddi which provides enthralling action with every passing second, it's almost forgivable to overlook the peak levels of fitness the athletes need to maintain to remain a notch above their peers.
Amidst the whole 40+ minutes of raiding, defending, exhausting muscles and shedding blood, sweat and tears, comes a job in the background that is almost never heroed for keeping the sport alive.
Just a few meters from the Pro Kabaddi mat sits a person with a kitbag full of medical accessories that range from ankle tape to magic sprays, always on their toes to tend to any small injury that has the potential to threaten a player's participation in the match.
One such man is Dr Arvind Yadav, the head physiotherapist at the Bengaluru Bulls, solely responsible for ensuring the premium fitness of some of the most high-profile PKL stars such as Pawan Sehrawat, Rohit Kumar among others.
Dr Yadav, who has a Masters degree in Sports Physical Therapy and a Bachelors of Physiotherapy from the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Health Science in Bengaluru, previously worked with the Indian shooting, archery and football teams in the past.
His tryst with kabaddi was first intiated just before the PKL 7 season, when a chance conversation with then-Bulls captain Rohit opened doors to a new role. While working with India's Asian Games team in Sonepat, Dr Yadav's services were sought after by the Indian kabaddi team, and soon after, he found himself working with the Bulls team ahead of the Pro Kabaddi season.
Just as Dr Yadav gears up for PKL 8 to commence on December 22nd at Bengaluru, Sportskeeda caught up with him in an exclusive chat, where he shed light on the challenges of keeping players fit, the 'trust factor' and what it takes to fulfill a 24x7 job.
Q. How would you define your role as head physiotherapist at the Bengaluru Bulls? What are some of the biggest challenges you face during the season?
To start off, I wanted to work in a contact sport such as kabaddi where you are never sure of where your opponent can strike from. This is a multi-tasking sport and is often referred to as 'Indian rugby' where there aren't any rules for attacking, you need to prepare for the worst conditions. Kabaddi is probably one of the most injury-prone games, one needs to be prepared for anything that comes their way.
The sport isn't like shooting or tennis, or any other game where injury prone areas are limited to very specific body parts. Here, injuries can be prevalent anywhere from the toes to the head. Even the fittest of players can pick up an injury at any moment. As a physio I need to be agile, focussed and continuously assess each individual.
Athletes sometimes don't come to you thinking they can self-recover, but even small niggles can turn into a much bigger issue. We need to observe their movement in training, matches and in the process, continuously track their progress. There are times when they hide injuries because they are scared of the coaches, so it is our job to speak to them and take them into a comfort zone from where we can sort out the injury issues.
Q. Given the pace at which the game moves on, how do you ensure players are always a 100% ready for each PKL match?
In kabaddi, we have two groups - raiders and defenders. Both of them have different jobs to do on the mat. The raiders need to be more agile, quicker, and their reflexes need to be higher. Their movements need to be made within a fraction of a second. For defenders, the focus is on grasping power and overall body strength. That said, if you combine their skills, they ultimately need to play a game of kabaddi.
Injuries are part and parcel of the game, but it's our job to ensure they are prevented as much as possible. There are some athletes whose agility is good, speed is good, so in those cases, you can minimize 70-80% of the injuries. In a biological sense, most athletes invite injuries only when muscles are tight, overused or exhausted.
On our part, we need to convince the players to get treated and minimize injury points by using match gear, taping, strapping and other utility teams. For example, the ankles are one of the most important parts of the body, and a lot of times ankle twists happen in the match. We've seen cases where when some athletes pick up an ankle twist, they are out of action for 2-3 weeks.
To prevent such injuries from happening, it's a constant process to assess each athlete's strengths and weaknesses. And of course, over time, convert weaknesses into strengths. Simply put, conditioning the weaknesses into strengths, activating and strengthening their muscles is what we need to do. This is a multi-tasking job from Day 1 of the camp till the last match of the tournament.
Q. Would you say being the Pro Kabaddi physiotherapist is a 24x7 job? Especially in this sport?
It is a good 24x7 challenge, because you can never say no to an athlete. They can always come knocking on our doors, and we can't send them back. It's a selfless job, you need to feel like this is your team, to make sure each and every athlete feels comfortable, make the player's recovery fully worth it and get them ready for each match. I don't feel like telling an athlete to go away because I am tired, it's my job to ensure they are fit and ready.
Q. Have there been situations where you've felt helpless as a physiotherapist given the extent of an injury to a certain player in the PKL?
Last year, one of the players (Mahender Singh) in our Bengaluru Bulls team was seriously injured, and if he was in any other team, I think they would have sent him back home. He was not able to walk, that was the situation. I asked the coach to give me two weeks, and if he wasn't going to improve in two weeks, we could then see what we could do. He was one of the best left covers in the league, I tried my best, and in two weeks, he was fully ready and was in better shape.
That's an example to state that if you know your abilities as a physiotherapist and you train players in the right direction, there is no situation that is untreatable. Without injuries, kabaddi isn't a sport. I like challenges, I take them head on and if someone says it won't work, I say "let me try".
There hasn't been a case when someone has come to me and I've left them unsatisfied, I take a lot of pride in my work. It's our responsibility to help players recover after picking up an injury. When you work from your heart, you feel like putting your best foot forward. If needed, I can work from 6 AM to 2 AM in the night, or even round the clock. It's like a cycle. If I don't finish my work today, the next day my workload increases.
Q. What is your equation with someone like Pawan Sehrawat, who always seems fit? Do the big stars come for treatment often?
Yes, of course he does! Like I said, almost all players have small niggles, and prevention is always better than cure. If you wait for the injury to worsen, it doesn't help. Sometimes we do have a difference of opinion when it comes to treatment, at times I say "Ye karna hai" but then he says "Nahi nahi, theek hai". But with my experience over the years, I know how some small improvements can lead to better performances.
Of late it's been a case of us trying to work together to make sure even minor injuries or niggles are treated to enhance his play on the mat. Now he feels like discussing even the smallest of niggles, that's how it works.
Last season, in the very first game, he twisted both his ankles and he still played 7-8 games battling through that injury. We work in a co-ordinated direction, so that helps us build trust between myself and the players. If you trust your athletes and vice-versa, there's nothing better than that.
Q. Considering that you work with a wide range of players throughout a PKL season, how much of a role do you play in the team picking athletes at the Pro Kabaddi auction?
There isn't too much of a say, but this season specifically, I had a little more influence and I told the coach to look for athletes who have been fit, and performing well consistently. If you look at our squad this season, the team is very balanced. We've looked for a lot of performance-based athletes, a lot of new and young guys. We have a great squad this season and touchwood, we shouldn't have any challenging injuries. We are hoping for the best from the team!
Note: PKL 8 start date has been confirmed as December 22nd, with the Pro Kabaddi venue decided as Bengaluru.