Chief coach of Indian badminton Pullela Gopichand has been widely revered for being a tough taskmaster, who gives no leeway or extra privileges to any of his pupils irrespective of any fame they have achieved. It makes no difference to him whether it is PV Sindhu or one who is knocking on the doors of big time badminton.
The timing and the regimen are more or less the same, except for the level of coaching that is imparted, which is individual-centric. Even as he never compromises on the skills part, he almost mandates the more important factor – maintaining peak fitness levels. It is perhaps for this reason that he has been able to raise the bar and elevate the standards for those matching the best of the global lot.
It has often been noticed that the bane of Indians, particularly those into individual events, has been the utter neglect of this crucial aspect. Indians may match opponents from abroad in terms of skills and talent but are terribly found wanting when it comes to fitness. That has also been the reason why when a match goes to the wire, the opponents with envious stamina and temperament invariably gain the upper hand.
Gopichand was bang on, when he contended that the women finals at Glasgow, where Sindhu finished second best, proved that the Indian women were coming of age on the fitness front. By stating that Sindhu could endure the marathon and go with guns blazing he indicated that the hard work put in to make her battle-ready on every front was a tribute to her focus on fitness. In contrast, Saina Nehwal has been a victim of constant injuries.
It is an indication of the never-ending thirst of the country’s second badminton Dronacharya after SM Arif that he is not one to rest or live on past glory. Forever on the hunt for newer talent, he also pitches for innovations that are scientifically-woven and a system that becomes more and more pronounced. It is to cater to such a vision that the hugely admired Indonesian Mulyo Handoyo has been brought into India's coaching staff.
It makes tremendous sense because between them, the two can concentrate on the players on a more individual basis. No one can understand the travails of Indian sportspersons better than Gopichand, who had to retire just a year after becoming only the second Indian after Prakash Padukone to win the coveted All England men singles title. He had to take the call as he was constantly falling prey to injuries.
Perhaps, that heart-break still hurts him because he took to redesigning the training methodology once he was made the chief coach and given a free hand. Needless to say, this also brought criticism from players like Chetan Anand and Jwala Gutta.
In a way, Gopichand has set a fine example to other associations with his thrust on fitness and regular workouts. Cricketers have become fitter and less prone to injuries only for the past two decades. It is a good augury that more and more disciplines are hiring physios on a priority basis.