With just the BWF Finals left for the season, Indian badminton is coming to the end of its most successful year. Four Indian players have picked up seven Super Series titles and two World Championship medals. But while the number of players bringing in accolades is steadily increasing, there is an acute shortage of elite coaches. National coach Pullela Gopichand blames the Badminton Association of India (BAI) for not looking into coach development, or even motivating former players to take up the mentoring role.
“There’s not a single rupee of remuneration which any of the coaches in the past have got from the federation or from SAI,” he says. “It’s time we start looking at coaching differently.”
Former world no.1 Prakash Padukone too had urged that more importance be given to the development of domestic coaches. “This is one issue that needs to be addressed on a priority basis,” he said. “We have good coaches, but they don’t get to upgrade their knowledge to keep pace with the international level. There’s a lot of emphasis on players and if this growth has to continue, we need to focus on coaches.”
Gopichand’s wards have been the main providers of accolades in the current season. The four players to have picked up the bigger medals this year – Kidambi Srikanth, B Sai Praneeth, PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal – train with the national coach at his academy in Hyderabad. “I want to work with younger players now, but I don’t get enough time for that,” the 2001 All England champion said.
At the senior level, Gopichand also works with the likes of Kashyap, and HS Prannoy, who captured a Grand Prix Gold title at the US Open this year, and is currently the world no. 10. As a result, the Dronacharya Awardee has not been able to grant much individual attention to the elite athletes.
To ease the pressure on the 44-year-old, the BAI sought, at Gopichand’s suggestion, the services of veteran coach Mulyo Handoyo, who trained and guided the mercurial Taufik Hidayat to the 2004 Athens Olympics gold medal and a World Championship title a year later.
Handoyo’s involvement struck a chord with the Indian players, as he began testing their skills over longer rallies while working on their mental strength. The training strategy has worked well on court, as Sindhu has become adept at playing longer matches while Srikanth boasts of great mental strength. At the same time, it has given Gopichand more room to deal with each of his wards.
Hiring a foreign coach, however, doesn’t provide a long-term solution to the paucity of domestic coaches.
“We treat Indian coaches differently, we treat foreign coaches differently,” says Gopichand. “Creating good coaches doesn’t end with giving them good training, and we should have looked into that 10 years ago.”