Where are India’s badminton coaches? We need more names than Padukone and Gopichand

An the 2002 Asian Cup, Gopichand reported in his essay in ‘Walk’ how a reporter from Star Sports was also his coach. This may sound bizarre, but it reflects India’s great neglect to invest in building a pool of top-class coaches. Even after almost two decades of this episode, India continues to suffer. What’s worse, the system has yet to agree on how to address this critical issue.

Older players have great respect for retired coaches Mohammed Arif and Ganguly Prasad. The two have been awarded India’s most coveted coaching award – the Dronacharya Award.

Prakash Padukone, Vimal Kumar and Gopichand were reluctant coaches. They wanted to build a supportive ecosystem after retirement rather than dedicating themselves to coaching full-time.

India’s biggest problem is the lack of a contingent of top-class coaches at different levels. Most recently, the Olympic Gold Quest, in partnership with PPBA, implemented a system of producing eight trainers per year.

Nandan Kamath, GoSport Foundation Co-Founder says: “Trial and error coaching can work for young people, but it doesn’t work for professionals. Also, personal development among coaches is rare – most of them remain static while trying to solve problems.”

He believes India needs to “build a whole core community of coaches that help kids fall in love with the game. He calls the first step FUNdamentals – making sure that children enjoy learning. That way they are more open to faster learning.”

Interestingly, the new trend is for aging players to start academies. While most see it as part of their retirement plan, few take coaching seriously.

Also read: A new book reveals how Indian badminton became a global powerhouse

Anup Sridhar and Arvind Bat have taken coaching seriously in their academies. “It’s better to be a young coach than an old player,” says Anup Sridhar. Both were top players for India. Arvind Bhat has the rare feat of winning the German Open when he was 35 years old. Tom John believes “Anup could have done much better had he had an elite foreign coach alongside him.”

Speaking at the Infosys Foundation press conference in 2019, Prakash said that for India to attract good coaching talent, it needs to make the profession attractive through good salaries and more training opportunities abroad.

Jwala Gutta is upset that India is not paying enough attention to coaching doubles players. She proposes a separate training and coaching center for doubles. She plans to focus on doubles training at her 14-court, 50-acre academy set to begin later in 2020.

Optimize the system

Gopichand has been vocal about the need to streamline the way Indian badminton is administered. He told a TV reporter: “For a sport to develop, we need coaches, we need players, a professional system and a disciplined structure. We didn’t groom any trainers. We haven’t started anything, we have to focus on the structure at home.”

Prakash thinks too “If we have good coaches to train coaches, we can take the game to the next level.”

When asked a probing question about solving the coaching problem after Sindhu’s win in 2019, Gopichand said: “We actually have a huge vacuum in terms of producing quality coaches and it’s not a training program. It’s an ecosystem issue. So we have to work harder to close this gap. It’s a question that doesn’t have an easy answer, and until then, foreign coaches must support it.”

“It is also our own work. Because we grew too fast and the infrastructure around us didn’t grow enough. This is a big problem we have and we need to solve it. We have to talk about it and find an answer together.”

When asked who an ideal coach was, Gopichand replied: “Your results are your results and that connection is very important. Selfless service to the athlete is very important, and it’s a stressful and arduous journey… almost like raising your child.”

Is it a fair question to ask Gopichand that he has been the head coach of Indian Badminton for 14 years and why he has not been able to raise this issue, especially when he is known for being an influence on BAI?

Also read: Chinese coaches inspired Gopichand to use heavy weight training to beat foreign players

Sports scientist wanted

India has only recently started to believe in the use of sports medicine and sports science. From a ‘what it takes to win’ perspective, India will need more robust sports scientists working closely with coaches.

In the book “Game Changers – How a team of underdogs and scientists figured out what it takes to win” João Medeiros seeks to prove the pre-eminent role of sports scientists in transforming the UK’s performance – from 36th place at the 1996 Olympics to 2nd at the Rio 2016 Olympics.

One of the interesting factors the author examined was how software helped trainers become more efficient observers. This intervention was based on a study that showed that “international football coaches could only recall 30% of the key factors that were crucial to successful performance during a game. Worse, 45% of what they could remember was just plain wrong.”

The study also looked at gymnastics coaches. When asked to identify technical differences between two routines, “the experienced trainers identified more false positives.”

These studies shattered the belief that coaches had particular expertise in accurately remembering and assessing “the critical elements of athletic performance.” The Hughes and Franks study argues that the accuracy of observation by athletic trainers is no different than that of eyewitnesses during a crime.

“There are a number of similarities between the situation of the coach observing a sporting performance and the situation of eyewitnesses to a criminal incident. Both were prone to errors caused by arousal, cognitive bias, and lack of focus.”

The other factor that worked wonders for Britain was a mantra shared with England rugby coach Clive Woodward by Humphrey Walters, a businessman who completed an 11-month circumnavigation yacht race in 1997: “Success does not come about because one thing is done 100 percent better, but because a hundred things are done 1 percent better.”

The manager wrote: “It changed the real dynamic of our coaching because historically most of coaching is about telling players what to do. That was very old-fashioned.”

If India really aspires to become a top badminton playing nation most of these lessons would be really useful.

This excerpt from ‘SMASHED! The Rise of Indian Badminton Stories of Grit and Triumph’ by Benedict Paramanand is published with permission from Notion Press.

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