World-class badminton champs Made in hyderabad
World-Class Badminton Champs Made in Hyderabad. In six years since inception, it has grown five-fold. The proportionate growth rate could have been more phenomenal had the chief promoter taken a materialistic interest towards its promotion.
If Indian shuttlers' rise has been awe-inspiring, one ought to salute the trail-blazing drop-shot dexterity of the most decorated contemporary player-coach, Pullela Gopichand. Despite the ordeals, his meticulously conceptualised and scientifically evolved Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy (PGBA) is the launch pad for many a starry-eyed shuttler. It may not be a money-spinner per se but for the man for all seasons, who has just received the Padma Bhushan, 'the ups and downs notwithstanding, we're all emotional about it. That's what matters at the end of the day.' The sweetest reward for the affable Dronacharya came when the Academy was conferred the President's Medal for taking Indian badminton to the levels it has
In six years since inception, it has grown five-fold. The proportionate growth rate could have been more phenomenal had the chief promoter taken a materialistic interest towards its promotion. But then Pullela Gopichand is not the usual enterprising business guy who looks at monetary returns.
For the tough taskmaster the end output is in producing qualitative champion materials who earn plaudits for the nation. And that is precisely what the Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy (PGBA) has developed into - a factory-like hub that produces champions. As a newcomer to the city travels through the highprofile zone in Hyderabad, one could easily miss the entrance leading to the PGBA or simply assume that it is one of those business establishments dotting the IT landscape. But the fact is that as an institution, it is as big (if not more coveted) a landmark as the business school or the IT majors that abound the immediate neighbourhood. Spread over a sprawling five-acre land that was gifted to the son of the soil who shot to international fame with his epoch-making 2001 All-England triumph, the Academy today is the dream destination for budding shuttlers not only from within India but also from across Asia.
The badminton powerhouse that began on a modest note in 2008 with 60 future hopefuls is now bustling with frenzied activity all through the year. It caters to the dreams and aspirations of over 250 trainees who are aware that they are in the sport's very nursery from where the route leads them to the top of the order provided, of course, the 'disciplined' student gets honed into the drill and abides by the grueling regimen that the master has personally and meticulously conceptualised. Naming the products that have been created by the scientifically evolved school makes for a virtual reading of the sport's contemporary who's who.
“I get calls from parents and elders, but I have stopped admissions because a bigger crowd will mean attending to each ward which would be an arduous task”, points out Gopi 'Sir'. The changes since the time he was a player to the present scenario when he holds court as a coach are best explained by Gopichand himself. "When I started playing, there were no infrastructural facilities like the kind that exist today. Although I am not the kind to dig into the past, I can state that had such facilities existed during my playing days, perhaps I could have achieved a lot more.”
It may not be off-thecuff remark because during those days a player had to participate in overseas tournaments at his or her own cost. Government funding did not exist and there were hardly any sponsors for a sport like badminton. It is a tribute to Gopichand's dogged determination and the avowed commitment of his parents and well wishers to shape his dreams that he achieved whatever he did despite apparent lack of funds, facilities and godfathers.
The next and future generation of shuttlers should thank their stars that Gopichand, whose glorious career was cut short by a series of injuries, rather than retire into oblivion decided to nurture talent by becoming a self-made coach. It proved to be a major turnaround for Indian badminton because a player who retired when he just turned 30 following four surgeries between 1994 and 2002 has achieved reverence for his immense contribution in moulding the next generation of shuttlers, which was justifiably rewarded with the chief national coach assignment that he still commands. The 'tutor' decision was providential but the toil, labour and sweat he shed while translating his academy dreams into reality speak volumes of the undying spirit in him and the steadfast belief that he could achieve stand testimony to the steely resolve in him.
For starters, Gopichand has spent over Rs 10 crore (three crores were raised when he mortgaged his house). In addition to eight Yonex courts with wooden flooring, a gym, Jacuzzi, steam room, yoga centre, meditation hall, swimming pool, the Academy also has residential provision with attached kitchen and a wide open area all around for warming up exercises and jogging. There is stricter monitoring of the diet, food habits and supplements. Today the Academy is not just churning out worldclass players but is one among the very few to be recognized as a global state-of-the-art training centre by the Badminton Asia Confederation (BAC)! In fact, apart from the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy (PPBA) in Bangaluru, PGBA (modeled almost on similar lines) is the only top-grade centre in the country that attracts pupils from all over.
The day at the academy begins at 4.30 am (irrespective of the season) and like a skipper leading from the front, he sets an example by being present at the scheduled time. As the master of all that he surveys nothing happens without his knowledge or approval. To help him in his cause he has eight dedicated coaches who monitor the progress of each ward (the champion and the novice is accorded equal privileges) along with equally dedicated support staff. “It is easier when one is a player because there are some free hours and off-season breaks. Coaching is a 24x7 job as one is accountable and responsible for the well-being and career graph of each and every ward under him. The coach has to play several roles in one go-guardian, teacher and friend'. Affable he may be, but once at the court, he is the ultimate in the craft - an eye for the minutest detail and a hawk-like vigil on his pupils, which he says, ‘are inevitable’.
“Only this fear that I am around will keep them stay grounded and focused on the job. It also helps in blossoming of the latent talent to the required levels”. Looking back, Gopichand's no-nonsense approach and perseverance have been yielding enviable results. When one thinks of the exploits and exalted positions that his wards have achieved it brings an inner joy that he means business and the country stands to gain. With players of the calibre of Saina Nehwal, Parupalli Kashyap, K Srikanth, P V Sindhu, Arundhati Pantawane, RMV Gurusaidutt and Arun Vishnu in one's kitty, the resume of the coach is truly awe-inspiring.
“I am happy that the journey has been pretty fruitful and rewards are gradually emerging from the stables”, points out the guru, who has received every sports honour that exists in the country including Arjuna (the first and closest to his heart) and Rajiv Khel Ratna although the Dronacharya honour would have pleased him the most because it brings about the ultimate satisfaction. Acknowledging the immense role of the equally genial Dronacharya, S M Arif, Gopichand has mentioned that although he had the talent, the need to stay fit by imbibing values like discipline and a structured qualitative approach to go places were drilled into him by Arif while the techniques were passed onto him by Padukone, when he trained under the legendary shuttler.
The pioneering measures of Gopichand have initiated helped the players improve their fitness levels, including stamina, which are evidenced when they take on robust opponents from other powerhouses with distinctive verve and full-court coverage. The transformation is the perfect indices of what a good and allpervading coach can achieve. The biggest reward and recognition for the Academy as an entity came last year when it was awarded the President's Medal for overall contribution towards enhancing Indian presence abroad. Like a doting son, he exhorted his mother to receive the prestigious award in New Delhi.
“I can never forget the role played by my parents who sacrificed everything possible to ensure that I pursue my badminton dreams since the time I was a child. To keep my interest and passion alive, my mother would skip social dos and even travel so that the money could be used to buy shuttlecocks and for paying entry fees,” is the salutation of the man who redefined Indian badminton with rare panache and braved revolts and challenges from some players like Prajakta Sawant and Jwala Gutta. His mother, who handles most of the administrative affairs of PGBA, is right now gearing up for her favourite summer job-keeping track of the tiny tots who are set to enroll for the popular camp for kids. Helping her is daughter-in-law and Olympian PVV Lakshmi. Receiving the Padma Bhushan in this year's roll of honour (the first Indian shuttler to be conferred the award) is something beyond his imagination. “I never expected any of these things to come by. I take one step at a time and try to give my best shot.
I know how big the honour is,” he says while dedicating it to his parents, players and all those associated with the academy. Right now, even as his wards are involved in the Indian Open, Gopichand is planning strategies for the 'tough' season ahead. "Five big events are lined up-All England, Thomas Uber Cup, the World Championships, Commonwealth and Asian Games. I think it is important that the players prepare hard, stay focussed and push themselves to play well in the big events where it matters," Gopichand points out thereby indicating that his trainees cannot expect to sit back and relax. That never-ending thirst for success is after all the governing mantra of Gopichand, the celebrated icon who was unnerved when the Union Sports Minister did not know about him nor does he regret rejecting a lucrative brand ambassador offer by a soft drink giant because that was against his well enshrined principles and ethical sense of discipline. Pullela Gopichand, one cannot get better than that!