Coaches, Coaching: Passing Observations

Some on-off incidents –

#1 – There is a club in Raheja Vihar, close to my apartment. It has one badminton court. The next badminton court might be at Bombay Scottish. The one after that, likely, is in Hiranandani or Lake Homes. Each of these courts has defined play times for children, ladies, and general. There are hours when its deserted. There are times when you wait for 30 minutes to get a game in. Practice ralleys are not encouraged because it eats into other people’s time. So you talk in terms of 3 practice rallies only. Or 5. I haven’t seen a ‘coach’ here.

#2 – Three kids in the building where we live in Mumbai are playing a little soccer at the podium level. General gully scratching as one would say. One of them was trying to make his free kicks curve in. The second thought he knew how to and was trying to explain him, because his kicks had occasionally curved in. But then, kid#2 could also not do it consistently enough. The third was the goalkeeper. Also, as a second coach. If you heard the conversation, you’d know that they didn’t have a clue. They were experimenting. And learning.

#3 – A month long summer cricket camp in 1994 with a coach who is a nice fellow (a wicketkeeper batsman in the MECON team, also the second wicketkeeper of Bihar team)– Jitendra Singh. Jitendra bhaiya would tell us about the need for warm up, running, stretching etc. before you get to the actual game session. The game sessions were of two types. The typical nets where someone would bat and a set of bowlers would bowl. Or, split the lot into two teams and let them play a match against each other. As the play progressed, he would occasionally tell you what’s wrong with a particular delivery or shot. And so we tried to learn. In that period, I was experimenting with the bowling actions of Arshad Ayub, Saqlain Mushtaq, Anil Kumble, John Emburey, and a whole bunch of others before getting to a hybrid which was a cross between Warne and Kumble. I was a budding off-spinner. Maybe he noticed. Maybe he didn’t. He was happy that my deliveries were landing in the right areas. But he never talked about the loop, the trajectory, the rotations and the angle at which the ball should/ could land. Or the use of crease. Or the importance of pitches. In the same coaching camp, I don’t remember telling him much to the keeper either. That wicketkeeper, you’d remember from a few years back, wasn’t the nicest sight behind the stumps when he started for India, even though he used to be quite explosive as a batsman.

#4 – Last year, I was at my sister’s place. October sometime. One of those evenings, I took my nephew to his basketball class. He was 11 years old then. It was a 60 minute session. For the first 50 minutes, the coach conducted several 4-5 minute capsules covering the basics. How to move, how the knee bends should be, the second counting counting, the shoot, the dribbles, the hold, the release, offense movement, defense movements, decoys, etc. Small capsules of theory and practice. The kids were facing the coach and copying the basics. Next 5 minutes, he let the kids play in two teams. And for the last 5 minutes he let the kids do whatever they wanted to. Let them be kids, as they say.
Random conversations with several people since then suggest that at schools in US, the coach is the highest paid teacher.

#5 – I am reading Rafael Nadal’s book – Rafa. And one thing that stands about that ginromously successful and talented player is the excruciatingly painful training he has subjected himself to. All the hardwork he’s put into getting to that place. Somewhere in Sachin Tendulkar’s story is a similar lesson. Though, it was his brother Ajit who used to drive him from one stadium to another to another. And in both their stories, you have coaches who had a significant impact, more so in Rafa’s case than Sachin’s case.

*******

Notice anything? The general indication is that we as a nation are heavily dependent on talent. Not coaching, grooming or hardwork. Many with talent rarely get a chance to be near a coach. Even rarer is a coach takes interest. And rarest, a coach who is good.

The methods are absent because they are not considered important. The infrastructure is missing, because the administrators have other priorities. More often, how to be rich in 3 years and save for my coming generations in the next few. Like all things educational, our focus on the educators is abysmal. Teachers get paid less than daily wage laborers in primary school, and we expect them to lay a strong foundation (Rs. 5000 per month or so). A professor in a management school earns a monthly salary which a graduating MBA finds insulting. And coaches, more often than not, are an afterthought.

But how long will it be before we see a need for good teachers and coaches?

We know about Acharekar’s success as a coach. We have seen how Gopichand’s academy is grooming more and more world class badminton players. I believe that Bhupathi’s academy will give us some more world class tennis players. Albert Ekka Hockey Academy in Ranchi helps groom hockey players in the region with great consistency. Mary Kom is keen on a good boxing academy. Music, over the years, has maintained the culture of gharanas, and Rahman kind of people are investing in the KM Music Conservatory. We’ve seen Kirsten be a great coach to the Indian team. And historically as well, Ajit Wadekar, Chappell, etc. have played that role with varying levels of success. It will be interesting to see if a Dravid, Laxman, Kumble, Ganguly or Tendulkar take the route of coaching youngsters. Or, will most of them end up in the commentary boxes.

My hypotheses – it will probably be a 10-15 year long cycle where good players who retire from international or first class sports will take the opportunity to open academies, groom youngsters, bring best practices from around the globe, and get the backing of business houses who understand that there is money in creating a culture too, and not just encashing a fleeting sentiment. And then, we will have competent bench strength. And somewhere, enough adulation, money and competitive pressure to keep everyone going. I don’t think it’s going to work unless the economics is favorable.

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About Amit
Conventional, boring, believer, poet, Shayar (to be precise), lover of music, musical instruments, and all that can be called music (theoretically or metaphorically), jack of all master of none, more of a reader less of a writer, arbit philosopher, foolish debater.. and many more such things.. like so many people!

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