Coach Speak: How are champions made?

Compared to athletes, coaches rarely make the headlines. A thankless behind-the-scenes job, one primarily gets drawn into coaching because of his/her love for the sport and an innate desire to bring about a positive change.

Over the years, we have seen a number of coaches help their wards achieve greatness with simple words. While someone like Michael Phelps had Bob Bowman by his side, sprint legend Usain Bolt looked up to Glen Mills for advice.

Things are no different in India either with top athletes relying heavily on their coaches for timely advice. We look at a few instances where these coaches have gone beyond giving just sporting advice to helping them shape their lives.

Striving for excellence

He was one of the best shuttlers of his generation and now is arguably the best coach that Indian badminton has ever produced. Having mentored Olympic medallists in Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu, there’s no doubt about what Pullela Gopichand can do if he sets his mind to it.

A shy and reserved character usually, the former All England Open champion bursts into energy when he’s courtside. And things were no different when he was watching Sindhu at the 2017 BWF Superseries Finals in Dubai.

Having made a fine start to the final against Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi, the Indian shuttler let mistakes creep into her game and eventually lost the tie and the title, leaving her coach disappointed.

Though he wouldn’t say much after the match, it was later that he admitted that he wanted to help Sindhu achieve excellence and not let her be a victim of the same mistakes.

Winning isn’t everything. It is about personal excellence, what I am today and what best I can be. Today has to be better than yesterday and tomorrow has to be better than today. This is all I care.

When hunger trumps fear

She created history by becoming the first Indian to reach the final of a gymnastics event at the Olympics in 2016.

At the Rio Games, Dipa Karmakar was a sight to behold - holding a straight posture, charging on to the vault to pull off the Produnova.

Though a medal missed her by a whisker, her making the final was enough to let her coach Bishweshwar Nandi let a tear or two roll down his cheek.

Talking about what made Karmakar special, Nandi said: “She is very stubborn and very self-determined. It's these qualities that helped me in shaping her into the champion she is today.”

We wanted to do something different. I studied about the move (Produnova) a lot. But it was her hunger to succeed that pushed her to pull it off.

Pass and move

He’s been with the Indian women’s hockey team long enough to understand their strengths and limitations.

While Sjoerd Marijne admits that communication is a hurdle that the team is making a collective effort on, tactical changes are something he is more concerned about.

The Dutchman believes that the team has enough to challenge the best in the world, but there needs to be some change in their approach.

To have an attacking style is great but championships are won by teams who defend well. So it's essentially about finding the right blend. Also, they are used to hitting the ball a lot and have to learn to use the push pass if they have to play ‘give and go’.

India’s diamond

Her stature as one of the greatest Indian sporting icons is undoubted. A champion pugilist, India’s first woman boxer to win an Olympic medal, a six-time world champion... MC Mary Kom’s list of accolades can go on and on.

But ask her coach Charles Atkinson, he would add a new meaning to what Mary Kom means to India. “As far as India's concerned, she is a diamond,” he would say after Mary Kom won the bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics.

It is not because of what she is going to achieve, but what she has done already, because of how she has lived her life and her attitude to life.


One bad day, you are done

Bajrang Punia has been undoubtedly one of the best Indian wrestlers this season. Winning medals by the numbers, the Haryana grappler is one to look out for at the World Championships next month.

And one man who’s helped Bajrang this far is his personal coach Shako Bentinidis. The Georgian has been an integral part of Bajrang’s rise and his involvement has helped him learn a thing to two about Indian wrestling too.

So what does he think of India’s chances at the Tokyo Olympics?

Bajrang and Vinesh (Phogat) are close to Olympic medals. But one incorrect (sic) fight, and you are finished. A lot of legends lost at the Olympics, it’s a serious competition. You must give everything. One poor bout or 30 bad seconds, and it’s goodbye Olympics.

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