India’s chief national badminton coach Pullela Gopichand has been acknowledged by the International Olympic Committee for his contribution to the sport. The 46-year-old, who won the All-England in 2001, is India’s first to win an “honourable mention” in the male category of the prestigious 2019 IOC’s Coaches Lifetime Achievement Award. For the past three years, these awards have recognised the work of coaches who developed and nurtured athletes in the spirit of Olympism. The 2019 winners were athletics coach Malcolm Arnold from Great Britain and artistic gymnastics coach Ulla Koch from Germany. Since 2008, Gopichand has been running his own academy in Hyderabad, for which he had pledged family property to raise a loan. After he retired prematurely due to injury, Gopichand’s scientific methodology and uncompromising approach towards intense training has produced quality shuttlers such as Saina Nehwal, P.V. Sindhu and Kidambi Srikkanth. A Padma Bhusan, Gopichand spoke to Soumitra Bose on his life as a coach. Excerpts:
What does this award mean to you?
It’s huge. There were so many top coaches and to get a mention ahead of them is unbelievable. It’s a huge boost to coaches in India,especially in badminton.
Which is more precious—All-England title or this IOC mention?
Winning the All-England was definitely an important thing, but as far as winning this as a coach, it’s massive. To be recognised by the Olympic fraternity is like winning a world championship. I thank the badminton federation, the Indian Olympic Association, the sports ministry and fellow coaches for making this possible. I must mention Adille Sumariwalla, athletics federation president, for proposing my name.
Who is a perfect coach?
There are coaches at various levels—grassroots, intermediate and elite. It is their endeavour to maximise the potential of each kid, that’s the coach’s threshold. A coach must aspire to impact more people, to make them play, to learn about life, instil a sense of discipline and take them to the highest level of excellence.
What’s the measure of a successful coach?
It is unfair to judge a coach’s potential only by the athlete’s performance. To maximise an athlete’s potential, to make her learn and do things in a disciplined manner are also important aspects.
What has your journey been like so far?
It’s been an emotional journey. You get results as you feel the players are your own and the sense of belonging is what makes you push yourself harder. Their results are your results and that connect is very important. Selfless service to the athlete is very important, and it’s a stressful and draining journey… almost like parenting your kid.
When you produce celebrity performers, how difficult does it get as a coach? We have read how hurt you were when Saina Nehwal left your academy in 2014.
It’s tough when you are dealing with so many athletes who have excelled at the international level. It becomes an emotional ride when somebody feels the attention is too much and someone feels it’s too little. But, at the end of the day, it’s their success that wins you the recognition.