It's been 25 years since India won a medal in the Asian Games. What does head coach G. E. Sridharan feel about the team's prospects in the years to come?
Twenty-five years have passed since the Indian volleyball team won a medal in the Asian Games. G.E. Sridharan, who was a member of the team that won a bronze in the 1986 Seoul Games, still remembers those moments with pride. “We had a wonderful side, highly skilled and athletic. But, more importantly, we were a cohesive bunch,” he said, underlining the word ‘cohesive'. “In a team game,” he went on to add, “what's needed is the right combination to get the best results.”
Much has changed since. The popularity of the sport has spread. Fresh talent has cropped up. India has been creating ripples in Asia even if it has not been able to displace the superpowers such as Japan, China, Iran and Korea. They rule, but as the current head coach of the senior men's team said, “We have been making an impression on them in various Asian championships and I feel India is progressing on the right lines; so it will fare even better.”
“To be ranked in the thirties among over 200 countries that play volleyball is no small achievement,” said Sridharan, “but we still need answers to questions such as ‘what have we achieved in the Asian Games since the 1986 Asiad?' or ‘where are we in the Olympics?” This despite India winning a bronze medal in the Asian championship in Iran three years ago.
In his playing days as the team's setter he was an inspiration. It was his guile that prompted the others in the side to respond in a fitting manner. Now as the team's guide, his enthusiasm is no less. In fact, soon to turn 58, Sridharan remains as passionate as ever about the sport which has made him what he is, an Arjuna Award and Dronacharya Award winner.
Sridharan complimented the inspirational role of the Volleyball Federation of India in ensuring that the players remain motivated. “We need all-round training but we also need a lot of international exposure. We play around 15 international tournaments a year; we need to play 50,” he said. It would greatly help if the team got opportunities to play against some of the top teams in the sport. “Nothing else could make a greater impact,” he said.
Emphasis on training
He also reiterated the importance of specialised training that had become part of modern-day volleyball. “Today, the contest is all about the delivery of serves and the intensity of attack, both of which bring to the fore an exhibition of power play,” he said. India's training methods are in consonance with these modern ideas. “Ultimately, what is required is patience. We will rise,” said Sridharan on a confident note because, “we are on the right course.”
Did he consider the present India side better than the bronze medal-winning 1986 squad? Sridharan replied, “Definitely it has to be 1986, because that team was special. Its collective strength was amazing; besides it comprised some of the most outstanding players the sport has seen in India.”