Dubai: India’s legendary coach Pullela Gopichand believes badminton is moving in the right direction in the country as efforts are made to focus on the intermediate and grassroots levels to take the sport to the next level.
“The cream of Indian talent is now secured with ample funding and sponsorship. Mid-level and grass-roots efforts are now being made,” Gopichand said in an exclusive interview with Gulf News following the publication of his book Shuttler’s Flick, Every Match Counts at Gulf Madhyamam Educafe recently in Dubai.
“In recent years, the landscape has become more interesting thanks to government programs such as Khelo India (Play India), but it may take longer to see results. We’re moving in the right direction,” he responded to a question about why Indian shuttles are failing the final hurdle on the world stage.
Indian badminton has made huge strides in the last decade and a half after Gopichand started producing champions like Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu, Parupalli Kashyap and Srikanth Kidambi who recently won silver at the World Championships in Heulva in Spain in 2021.
“We showed that Indians can achieve success at the highest level in the world,” Gopichand said proudly as he recalled the past when only 30-50 players competed at national level across the country.
“These numbers have grown. Indians in the Gulf and many other countries have taken up the sport on a large scale with dreams of becoming champions,” he added.
“We were able to make them dream. Now we need to bring all of this together and structure it to ensure the talent and potential are at the highest level. So the effort is going in that direction.”
Former All-England Champion Gopichand, who has been honored with prestigious Indian sporting and civil awards such as the Arjuna Award, Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award, Padma Shri, Dhronacharya Award and Padma Bhushan, praised the virtues of the sport during his interaction with the audience .
Speaking of his book, Gopichand said: “I wanted to share my experiences from today’s perspective and also what I do as a parent and as a coach. I’ve written about the good things I’ve done and learned over the years and tried to present them in an interesting way.”
Badminton has a huge base in the United Arab Emirates with many children playing the sport and many adults making it a part of their healthy lifestyle.
As a tip for emerging talent, Gopichand said, “There are different levels of skill development. Mental toughness and being prepared to face big challenges are also key factors for growth. Proper inputs and guidance are important to a player’s development.”
According to Gopichand, these processes are more valuable than actually becoming a champion. “When you study math, you don’t aspire to be a Ramanujan [famed Indian mathematician]; When you learn English don’t say I want to be Shakespeare. So just be passionate about sports. Follow the process and forget about the result. Do everything to become a champion, it will serve you not only in sport but also in life.”
Cricket’s loss is badminton’s gain
Gopichand’s first love was cricket, but due to an unforeseen incident, the famous Indian shuttle player had to take up badminton.
In 1983, when India’s cricket craze was at its peak after winning the Prudential World Cup in England, Gopichand played cricket in his neighborhood. Like every match on the street, the shot he hit shattered a window pane.
So Gopichand’s mother took him to a cricket academy. Unfortunately they were not licensed for cricket, only badminton. So Gopichand exchanged the bat for the bat. The rest is history and cricket’s loss was badminton’s gain.
Gopichand also revealed another incident that made him a better coach.
“In 2015, I threw a shuttle to a 13-year-old to catch and throw it back at me, but the kid missed. Upset with her, I told her more about the practice and walked away,” Gopichand said. What happened next was a life changing experience.
“The kid came up to me and said, ‘Teach me how to catch it.’ From that day on, my approach changed. I realized that every child is different and it is our duty to find the talent. That is the fundamental difference.”