Pullela Gopichand: Second-best foreign coaches will make us second best and not the best

Speaking at the virtual inauguration of the High-Performance Coach Education Programme, the legendary badminton player, Gopichand, highlighted the role of coaches in Indian sports.

“Foreign coaches are very important for our development. It’s very important that we always have a healthy mix of foreign coaches. “In sports, where we don’t have the expertise it is good sometimes to have full foreign support teams in the beginning, but if for successive teams, we are having only foreign coaches then we are not doing justice to our system,” Gopichand said.

The former shuttler feels the basic coaching structure should be led by Indians. “Our coaching system can have foreign coaches as consultants but the basic structure has to be led by Indian coaches. “It’s very important that we learn from them. And we’ve to gradually wean away from them because they will always be making us the second best and not the best,” Gopichand said.

The Dronacharya Awardee reckons there is a need for programmes that turn former players into coaches. “We’ll never be able to get the best foreign coaches, we will always get only the second best, and probably the heart of an Indian coach who’s really wanting India to win will be definitely more than the coach who wants the next contract.

“So, sports where we have consistently done well, and that we have produced players, it’s important to make programs which change players into coaches.” India is an athlete-centric system and this needs to change according to Gopichand, who called for more power to be given to coaches.

“From the perspective of a coach, who is not recognised, who has to work under associations, under administrators and also sometimes under an athlete’s pressure, because once the athlete becomes bigger than the coach, then everybody starts listening to the athlete.

“It’s time we need to kind of reverse that model and makes it a coach-led model. For this, we need more power to be given to the coaches. Accountable, responsible power so that they perform and produce more and more results.”

He also highlighted the tendency of coaches to hold onto players that have gotten them praise and recognition, a practice Gopichand believes must change. “Athletes start off somewhere, as a grassroots level player with a certain coach. After that, they have to move on to the next level to an intermediate level and to an elite level. At each level, the coaches are recognised many times for the players they produce.

“So, they hold on to players more than they are capable of handling. They should be encouraged to pass on players to the next level, that transfer is something which is really important. “One good player might last for eight to 10 years. But imagine if we produce one good coach. He will last us for 30 to 40 years and the number of players he produces enormous,” he reasoned.

Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju said Indian athletes have a mindset that they require foreign coaches to win medals. “Whenever I meet athletes they tell me ‘we need a foreign coach to win an Olympic medal.’ That doesn’t mean that they don’t believe in Indian coaches but somehow they have the understanding that the edge of being in the medal bracket can come from a foreign coach,” Rijiju said.

The minister called for a change from the “makeshift” coaching system being followed in the country. “In India, we have no such professional approach in terms of coaching. So far things have been done in a makeshift arrangement looking for immediate upcoming sporting events.

“We’re hiring coaches for a period of time, or for a particular tournament. We don’t have that critical mass, or that kind of ecosystem in our country, where we can truly say that even the people from other countries can come to India for coaching and training.”

The High-Performance coaching programme is set to run over a six-month duration. It will have seven modules with around 250 top coaches of SAI forming the core group of nurturing the best sports talent in the country as coaches. Each batch will have a limited capacity of 20 students only. Besides the theoretical classes that will include assignments with case studies, research work, and interactive sessions, participants will have two-week practical sessions at various high-performance centres.

(With PTI inputs)

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