Celebrating the coaches behind India’s sports stars

The likes of Pullela Gopichand, Jaspal Rana and Satpal Singh have played a great role in improving India’s current crop of athletes.

Many of India’s leading Olympic stars like PV Sindhu and Sushil Kumar may be representing the nation in individual sports, but their success nevertheless represents the success of a team behind them.

That team would include everyone from their fitness instructors to their dieticians, and of course, most importantly, their coaches.

There are some incredible tales of coaches and how their mentorship influenced their wards to make it big on the international stage.

Here are five such Indian coaches who helped unearth the path to success for their students.

Pullela Gopichand

One of Indian badminton’s finest servants, Pullela Gopichand, has helped shape the careers of the likes of PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal, Srikanth Kidambi and Parupalli Kashyap.

After his long illustrious career as a player, Gopichand invested all his savings and even mortgaged his house to open his badminton academy in Hyderabad. That academy has well and truly ushered in India’s revival in badminton, with most of today’s top seeds from the country having honed their trade there.

Gopichand has been described as a strict disciplinarian; having prohibited recent World Championships winner PV Sindhu from even using her phone before the Rio 2016 Olympics. He also prepared a strict diet plan for Sindhu, barring her from eating sweet yogurts or ice creams.

The veteran coach was also instrumental in charting the path to success for Srikanth Kidambi, recognizing his individual talent as a player and making him switch from doubles to singles badminton.

Gopichand’s personalised training and disciplinarian approach is what has helped Indian badminton scale new heights in the recent past.

Vijender Singh trained under GS Sandhu for most of his career
Vijender Singh trained under GS Sandhu for most of his careerVijender Singh trained under GS Sandhu for most of his career

GS Sandhu

Indian boxing has grown leaps and bounds in the past decade or so, and the major credit for that should be reserved for a certain Gurbaksh Singh Sandhu. He was at the helm of affairs when India won their first boxing medal at the Olympics in 2008, with his pupil Vijender Singh claiming the bronze.

Sandhu introduced video-assisted training to the Indian boxers and had his players look into video footage of their opponents to study their patterns.

He also instilled a change in technique for the Indian pugilists, encouraging them to use more jabs and avoid trying too many uppercuts or hooks in order to maximise points.

The change in strategy paid off as eight of India’s boxers training under Sandhu managed to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics; and also found continued success in the Commonwealth and Asian Games.

Jaspal Rana

Shooting has been another sport in which India has grown leaps and bounds in the span of a few years, with the country celebrating great success in the recently concluded ISSF World Cup in Rio de Janeiro.

The nation boasts of several young shooters like Manu Bhaker, Saurabh Chaudhary and Anish Bhanwala who have already made it big on the international stage.

Part of that credit though goes to India’s junior pistol coach Jaspal Rana who has been at the helm of affairs since 2012. He has been extremely encouraging to all the nation’s young shooters, giving chances to the likes of Bhaker and Chaudhary even before they turned 18; and the results are there for all to see.

Satpal Singh

In Indian states like Haryana and Punjab, the sport of wrestling has always had an audience with most villages having at least one star wrestler in their mix. These wrestlers though struggled to make it big on the national and international stage in the past due to limited infrastructural facilities. 

1982’s Asian Games gold medallist Satpal Singh put an end to these problems though after building a wrestling training centre at Delhi’s Chhatrasal Stadium. He also helped provide the right coaching guidance and dietary knowledge to India’s top wrestlers. 

India’s two-time Olympic medalist Sushil Kumar and 2012 London Olympics bronze medalist Yogeshwar Dutt, both learned their trade under the guidance of Satpal Singh and managed to make it big on the International stage.

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Purnima Mahato

When it comes to Indian archery, a name that stands out in contemporary times is that of Deepika Kumari. She has amassed three golds and three silvers to her name in the Archery World Cups and also represented the country at the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games.

Kumari though has attributed part of her success to her coach Purnima Mahato, who has been by her side since she turned pro in 2006. 

Mahato is regarded as the visionary behind Kumari’s success, helping her improve on technique as well as keeping calm under pressure. Mahato was presented the Dronacharya Award - India’s top honour given to athletes’ coaches for their contributions - in 2013 for her tireless work with India’s current crop of archers.

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