Inspired by the ‘Dangal’ movie, Andrew Cook landed in India with a “scientific edge” to transform the country into a wrestling powerhouse and the American coach is confident of making it a reality.
After a ‘slow start’ due to the language barrier, Cook says he has made considerable progress in building a strong relationship with the Indian women grapplers. Cook found India’s style different from the USA but he is in no hurry to turn everything upside down.
India’s foreign woman coach believes that adopting a new style is like learning a musical instrument, which initially does not sound interesting and perfect. “Things are different here from the USA. What I teach is a much different style than what they have been doing for their lives. It’s a big change. I am not trying to change everything overnight,” Cook told PTI in an exclusive interview.
“Just the key points to start with. As we move on, they will understand my philosophy. I want us to beat the USA, China, Japan. I want us to win every tournament, every match.”
Explaining the difference between the wrestling philosophies of the two countries, Cook said: “The Indian team works very hard and sometimes over-train going into the tournament but (in the USA) we slow-down and go very tactical.
“We focus on how to win from smart positions. Here they go for two hours, practicing certain techniques.”
Is it not ideal, what Indians practice?
“I won’t say it is ideal or not but what I do is that I bring a scientific edge to what they do. Like, how to peak closer to events. Not that they don’t do it already, but I can help them even more. What the girls did in Spain and Turkey is just a sample of what is coming.”
Indian women’s team had won two gold (Vinesh Phogat, Divya Kakran) and four silvers to finish second with 130 points at the Grand Prix of Spain in Madrid in July.
At Yasar Dogu in Istanbul, Seema (50kg), Vinesh (53kg) and Manju (59kg) stood on top of the podium.
Asked what made him take up the India assignment, Cook said he wanted to come to this part of the world after watching Bollywood blockbuster Dangal.
“It inspired the world. This movie is a big deal. It shows women’s wrestling’s struggle across the world. One day we got a message in our WhatsApp group that India is looking for a foreign coach and I thought this is the time to be in India.”
So how has been the journey so far?
“The language barrier is probably the biggest hurdle but what my mind is saying or the point I am trying to make to them is clearly put across. I was hoping that I will be given the control of the team and coach Kuldeep (Malik) and other staff have been super welcoming, so it has been good.”
“I wasn’t even sure if I am going to like the food. But I am sleeping well, no stress. It’s been great. Just that life is slower than in the USA.”
Cook said Indians grapplers are already good in what they do but he wants them to be more aggressive.
“The Indian way is super effective. The girls were already in top-10 before I came. We are figuring out a different style. It’s a bit passive here. I want them to take one or two chances and finish the matches, instead of scoring points and then hold off.”
A lot of grapplers train with their personal coaches but Cook said it’s not a hindrance.
“More eyes, the better. I am just adding to the game plan, working with their coaches. Every week we have a plan.”
Cook is impressed with emerging star Anshu Malik and Neelam (50kg) from among the juniors but says the older crop is fading out.
“Out of 100 girls, there are no crappy ones. No one is weak but the older seniors, their bodies have broken down, they have slowed down.”
Cook advocated the need to have a big group traveling together for exposure and wants the national federation to arrange international training camps in India, if possible.
“When we went to Spain and Turkey, I wished we had an army of girls training together. We don’t know which one is going to breakthrough. I want 20-25 girls to go.”
“We need more tournaments, more camps. We can add two more (foreign) training trips. Maybe get a World training camp in India with 8-10 countries participating, right after the Pro League.”
Cook’s contract is till the 2020 Tokyo Games and he wants to witness India savoring its best-ever show at the biggest stage.
“We will have a legitimate shot in all six weights classes, no doubt about it. Do I think, it’s 100 percent realistic, ‘No’. It has never happened. Do I think it can happen? ‘Oh yes, absolutely’.”
So what will make him content?
“Six medals at Tokyo will make me happy.”