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GoSports Conclave 2015 Bengaluru: Focus on making and nurturing Indian talent

A panel that comprised John Gloster, P Gopichand and Aparna Popat among several other illustrious names emphasized the need to focus on India's grassroots sporting talent.

06 Dec 2015, 11:46 IST
GoSports Conclave 2015
The panel at the GoSports Conclave – (L-R) John Gloster, Aparna Popat, P. Gopichand, Nihar Ameen and Indian Davis Cup coach Zeeshan Ali

Saturday, the 5th of December 2015 saw the GoSports foundation host their Coaches’ Conclave, with discussions among sporting icons centered around the topic “Make in India.”

The foundation itself aims to support Indian athletes who may not otherwise have had the means to pursue a full-time sporting career – among them are several para-athletes who have overcome physical and mental disabilities to achieve their goals.

Among the panelists at the event were Indian badminton legends Pullela Gopichand and Aparna Popat who both mentor junior shuttlers, with Gopichand, head coach for the Indian national badminton squad, mentoring some of the country’s standout talents – PV Sindhu, Parupalli Kashyap, B Sai Praneeth and possibly its most well-known, Saina Nehwal.

Stressing on the importance of sports science at the meet, former Indian cricket team physiotherapist John Gloster, who works extensively with para-swimmer Sharath Gayakwad, spoke about how key it was to pay attention to and properly understand sporting injuries. In his talk, he discussed recovery rates across sport, and how essential it was that those in the field share their data to benefit athletes and sport.

He also spoke of how India has only recently become more aware of sporting injury, and spoke of the significance of capitalising on this.

Gopichand discussed extensively his struggles when he first began playing, and then when he decided to begin coaching. The shuttling icon received minimal assistance, investing his personal finances into building his badminton academy.

Each panelist – swimmer and coach Nihar Ameen and iconic golfing coach Vijay Divecha, who has helped mould the career of one of India’s most successful golfers, Anirban Lahiri were also a part of the talks – said coaching and coaches were extremely important, and not focussed on enough.

Every panelist emphasised focussing on coaches, looking to standardise and assure their incomes at each level to ensure they are encouraged to promote and concentrate on their proteges.

“Coaches focus on an income, and you can’t blame them for it,” Ameen said, adding that if coaches were assured a regular income from authorities and federations, they would not need to “give private coaching to make ends meet, and focus on getting numerous students there.”

That sentiment was echoed by coaches across the board, each of whom impressed upon the need to have sports federations standardise incomes for coaches at every level in order to tap the best sporting talent the country has to offer effectively.

All of them also mentioned a lack of funding hitting nearly every sport across the board. “Coaching and training are expensive,” Gopichand said, mentioning that for a significant period of time, he personally funded his students’ training. “If they needed food, shuttles, supplements, whatever, I would get it,” he told the assembled crowd.

Even mortgaging his house at one point, the badminton ace said that on several occasions, he told himself and his family he “just (can’t) do it anymore.” Coaches with access to even less funding than Gopichand may have had likely gave up far before they reached the stage he did, showing exactly why it is the need of the hour to focus on coaches to, as Gopichand puts it, “help that seed that’s germinating grow.”

With more attention to training, trainers, facilities, to every aspect of the sporting experience for an athlete, “neither will have to struggle,” says Ameen. “Ratios need to change, incomes need to change.”

The panel also spoke extensively of grassroots movements being the need of the hour. Divecha, who coaches India’s current golfing star Anirban Lahiri, also mentors and trains the talented Senappa Chikkarangappa, or ‘Chikka’ as he is known. The 22-year-old was at 16 the youngest player to have won the all-India Amateur Championship in 2009 and is the first golfer to win the all-India Amateur and Junior Championships.

Chikka was once a ball boy and then a caddie, his introduction to the sport. Originally from a village in south India, Chikka practiced and honed his game in the fields. The road has not been easy for the golfer, whose family opposed his choice of career.

“If Chikka hadn’t found a coach who adapted to him and his playing style, all his talent would have gone unnoticed,” Divecha said, talking about how important it was that coaches also adapt to their young players’ needs. “I train Anirban, who comes from a line of army officers, and Chikka, who is from a village and didn’t speak a jot of English before I began training him. You wouldn’t even know now.”

Extra effort from coaches also helped athletes immensely, he said, his statements echoed immediately by Indian badminton champion Aparna Popat, who related to the crowd an incident from her playing days, when a nervous Popat was unsure if she could win a tournament. Her coach at the time used humour to calm her nerves, eventually helping her win the tournament.

Summing up, the panel also discussed that while technical knowledge was essential to a well-rounded coaching experience, it needed to be both combined with and tempered by a willingness to learn. “It's only half the job done,” Ameen said. “Certifications will help you, but to be a good coach you have to be a good student, too.”

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