The fortnight-long ‘webinar’ on tennis coaches’ education concluded on Saturday, and Sureshkumar Sonachalam, who anchored the series, is already missing the one thing to look forward to during lockdown.
“Every time you speak with experts, you learn something,” says the Chennai-based coach who was tasked with hosting the daily two-hour video chats organised by Sports Authority of India (SAI) and All India Tennis Association (AITA). “Talking to the players was really nice because they were forthcoming and very honest. There was no hiding any facts. Even when I asked sensitive things about tactics and stuff, they talked about it.”
The webinar, a collective effort of all the tutors in the Coach’s education department of AITA, witnessed the participation of hundreds of coaches on a daily basis. National coaches including Nandan Bal, Hemant Bendrey, Gary O’Brien and Kawaljeet Singh, along with top nutritionists and physical trainers discussed the mental and physical aspects of the game and how to strengthen the framework.
While Leander Paes, Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna offered advice to parents and coaches, it was the frankness of the country’s singles stars that offered key takeaways about their approach. Yuki Bhambri relies on notepads filled with information on his opponents, while Prajnesh Gunneswaran seeks counsel from ‘tactical master’ Jeevan Neduncheziyan. Ramkumar Ramanathan might re-watch a loss 10 times while Ankita Raina meditates her way to the next match.
“We started looking forward to these sessions every day because you’re staying at home doing nothing. This is the first time the players also have been sitting at home for so long. So, the interactions and presentations were an interesting break,” says the AITA Director of Coaches Education.
Sonachalam’s first experience with conducting video interviews was during the Instagram live sessions with Ramanathan and Sasikumar Mukund. AITA coaches mulled the possibility of a ‘webinar’, and once SAI approached them with the idea, it just took two days of trial runs for the group to take to the web.
“The only hiccup was from my side on the second day, when I logged into Zoom from a trial ID and it delayed the session by 10 minutes,” Sonachalam laughs. “It is quite limited because it’s not face-to-face. But it is definitely much better than a phone call or a conference call. Even during the webinars, it didn’t feel like we were all separated by the system. It was like you’re together in one auditorium.”
Video conferencing is also how Sonachalam keeps up with his wards at the Chennai Tennis Centre in the Anna University premises, the premier academy often visited by Ramanathan and Gunneswaran when the players are in town.
“With my players, it’s very easy. If you’re working on the fitness aspect, it’s easy to demonstrate drills. For the mental aspects, making them converse and give opinions and work on assignments,” he says. “India’s top tennis players have also given them a lot of content to consume in the last few days.”