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Coaching, like teaching, is a thankless job: Vimal Kumar

Recognition, at last! Vimal Kumar, who has groomed players like Gopi Chand, Aparna Popat and P. Kashyap, among others, has been chosen for the highest honour.

Recognition, at last! Vimal Kumar, who has groomed players like Gopi Chand, Aparna Popat and P. Kashyap, among others, has been chosen for the highest honour.  

The former National badminton champion feels that players should take more responsibility and be less dependent on mentors

Despite a successful playing career, U. Vimal Kumar never received the Arjuna award. However, after over two decades spent coaching and grooming players such as P. Gopi Chand, Aparna Popat and P. Kashyap at the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy here, there is recognition finally in the form of the prestigious Dronacharya award.

The 57-year-old spoke to The Hindu ahead of Thursday’s awards ceremony. Excerpts

Your thoughts on the award?

I am quite happy with it. I wasn't expecting it and wasn’t even aware that the process was on. But everybody likes recognition and I am no different.

You didn’t get the Arjuna Award as a player. So how important or big is this?

I have always felt that awards shouldn’t be asked for. Back then, BAI wasn’t very happy with me shifting to England for a majority of my playing career. I still played for India for nearly 14 years, including the Olympics and Asian Games. But somehow it didn’t work.

When I was young, I felt bad, but [not now]. Even if I had not received the Dronacharya, it wouldn’t have affected me because it is all for just one week and then it is forgotten.

I could actually understand the feelings of H.S. Prannoy [when he didn’t get Arjuna]. But I told him that that was not the time to look for an award, in the middle of the World Championships. I feel awards, like Arjuna, should be given in the twilight of your career. Saina [Nehwal] got the Padma Bhushan but she was upset the first time she didn’t get it. I told her that she had a long way to go. Milkha Singh was never given an Arjuna award! The youngsters need to be patient.

Does coaching big players add weight? Saina came under your wings when she was already an Olympic medallist...

Saina’s training at the Prakash Academy did make a difference to her game. She could get a medal at the Worlds after a low phase in her career. But that doesn't mean you get a Dronacharya for that. Just because you have coached somebody big, you don’t get it.

Some coaches are good at the primary level, some at the intermediate and others at the advanced stages. All these coaches should be recognised. This is currently not happening in India. Even primary school teachers are forgotten. Only the IIMs and IITs get [recognised]. This should change.

What are the aspects of a good coach?

As a coach, what I have learnt is that we shouldn’t make players too dependent on us. You have to help them take responsibility and tell them, ‘success, failure… everything is on you. We are behind you and can only guide.’ The players’ mindset is like this: they will ask for 100 things. You give them all 100 but they will find the 101st thing to harp on. But I always stress on them taking responsibility. Also, when there is a small success, we shouldn’t hype it up. We should keep them grounded.

How did you go about acquiring these?

I started coaching in England when I was just 22. As part of my Slazenger contract, I had to devote 15 days’ time for coaching youngsters. I also learnt a lot from Tom John who was in England then. He was a tough taskmaster. I was staying with him and then one fine morning he said, ‘now you need to be on your own’. I didn’t know where to go.

I applied to an Italian restaurant very close to the Wimbledon club where I used to practise. I worked as a waiter daily from 6 p.m. to midnight. All the big tennis stars, Martina [Navratilova], [John] McEnroe, would come and we would fight to serve them because you could get extra tips! So you basically took more responsibility of yourself, unlike now when most things are spoon-fed. We were better organised, I would say. And these things helped me in my coaching.

Prakash Padukone influenced you as a player. How much of it helped you in coaching?

He was our idol, a self-taught, self-made guy. A lot of his views on playing and coaching we still follow. For example, he never worried about the things he didn’t have, like the fitness or the speed of the Chinese and Indonesians. But he was clever and still dictated the pace, controlled rallies and had a good net game. When we started the academy, this is what he stressed on — to not lose things that come naturally. Of course, you should add things to your game, but to not lose what you have is one principle I still insist on.

How have players’ expectations from coaches changed over the years?

This generation wants coaches to be with them 24x7. During matches, during practice, etc. I don’t agree with that. Also, as a coach, you shouldn’t hold on to players. You need to understand that players have short careers. When Saina told me that she wanted to go back to Hyderabad and give it a try with the Indonesian coach, I appreciated that. Sometimes it can hurt you, but coaching, like teaching, is a thankless job. You can’t be sentimental about it.

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Printable version | Aug 2, 2020 8:21:55 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/other-sports/coaching-like-teaching-is-a-thankless-job-vimal-kumar/article29283037.ece

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