Badminton Association of India has to be like BCCI, says Prakash Padukone

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#badminton, #Padukone Sports Management

Prakash Padukone and NSCI Secretary Atul Maru after the signing of the agreement.

Mic in hand, Prakash Padukone gazed to his right at the new walnut-coloured courts at the National Sports Club of India (NSCI), Mumbai, on October 19.

“I’m really impressed with the new set-up here. I think it looks amazing,” said the Indian badminton pioneer, whom Sunil Gavaskar calls the country’s greatest sportsperson.

A few minutes later, Padukone, winner of the 1980 All England Championship and several other important titles, was on the court, having changed from pink formal shirt and trousers into black t-shirt, track pants and yellow badminton shoes (his son-in-law would have approved of the bright footwear). At 66, Padukone is trim, and he doesn’t need glasses to play – at least he didn’t wear them on Tuesday.

The former world No. 1 played a few points of photo-op doubles, and there were flashes of the old magic. The low serve travelled at just the right height, denying the opponent a chance to tap. On another point, Padukone had an opportunity to kill the bird on the top of the net. Instead he simply tapped it into an empty corner, knowing the position of his opponents even without looking at them.

He then came off the court, sat on a chair and took questions from reporters. Unlike many successful people who measure their smiles – just a curl of the lips and nothing more – Padukone displayed a generous, unaffected grin of the kind where his eyes crinkled.

The occasion was the launch of the Padukone Sports Management’s coaching programme at NSCI. Badminton is India’s no.2 sport as per many parameters. Padukone, the sport’s OG, who did hundreds of crunches and ran dozens of laps in his youth, who in the early 80s took the inconvenient decision of moving to cold Denmark so that he could train with the best and then beat them, wants to broaden India’s talent base. And he plans to do it not through esoteric, elite-level methods, but through simple steps. Come one, come all, beginners or advanced. Just play, albeit with coaches and technology around so that the players can improve.

“We should not be looking only at the elite level. We should also be looking at the grassroots level. My idea of PSM is to let the beginners or club level players experience the same kind of coaching which the senior players get,” said the Padma Shri Awardee. “The chances of producing a champion are much more when the base is larger. That’s what is happening in China, Malaysia, Indonesia.”

He gave the example of a small tournament PSM organised in Bengaluru. The matches were streamed live. For participants and their friends and family, it was a thrill.

Padukone, however, is particular that coaching is standardised across all PSM centres, and in other Indian badminton academies too.

“There is a great need for standardised coaching across centres,” he said. “Even in our centres, I realised when I took over that the coaching pattern or method was not the same everywhere. I want to change all that. We have already started a coach education program. We have trained more than 450 coaches, both online and offline, in the last two years. We have about 40 coaches on our rolls at the moment. The idea is to take that number much higher. In the next two or three years we hope to have about 100 centres.”

#badminton, #Padukone Sports Management
Prakash Padukone in action at the NSCI courts.

Inevitably, there were questions for Padukone on the superstars of Indian badminton, Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu. On Saina’s frequent injuries, Padukone said it wouldn’t be fair for him to speak without knowing details and circumstances of those injuries. He did offer, though, that workload management and sufficient rest periods were important to reduce breakdowns.

Padukone made a similar point when asked how 20-year-old Lakshya Sen, one of Indian badminton’s bright prospects, should prepare for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

“The focus should be on trying to peak for important tournaments. [In Sen’s case] Plan the schedule for the next three years. How many tournaments do you want to play this year, how many the next year, and so on. Ranking is important, but there is too much emphasis on it. I have always been saying it. The focus should be more on winning tournaments. If you win an All-England, Olympics, World Championships, people will remember you that much more than if you are world no.1 for a few weeks.”

Padukone agreed that Sindhu, who won her second Olympic medal in Tokyo and has also won the World Championships, could prioritise the All-England, so far missing from her collection.

“If I was in her place I think I’d do that,” he said.

He also said that it was Saina and Sindhu’s physical toughness that made them successful at the world stage, and which also made it hard for other Indian women shuttlers to match them.

“There is a big gap [in Indian women’s badminton after Saina and Sindhu]. That is a fact. These two took the standard to a different level altogether,” Padukone said. “One of the main reasons why they succeeded is because of their physical abilities. Both of them were very fit. In terms of speed, fitness, strength, which none of the other [Indian] girls has, even though they may be on par with them in terms of technique.”

Padukone has sent some suggestions to the Badminton Association of India (BAI) about training coaches. In the past, he had tussled with the body, at one time a typical inefficient Indian sports federation run by greedy administrators. But BAI is better now, he says.

“There is no comparison [between then and now],” says Padukone. “Earlier, the same people were there [in the chair for years], they were not doing anything, and not letting others do anything. Now there is a player-friendly approach. But a lot more can be done. Honorary positions won’t work. It has to be like BCCI, you know, full-time employees only focusing on the sport, and not doing anything else.”

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