Pullela Gopichand coached PV Sindhu to India’s first-ever silver at the Olympics, in Rio. 

Pullela Gopichand’s Seven-Point Coaching Handbook

The best thing to happen to Indian badminton?

It could be PV Sindhu’s Rio Olympics’ silver or Saina Nehwal’s London Olympics bronze or Prakash Padukone’s All England Championship win. But right up there in that list would also be Pullela Gopichand. Coach Pullela Gopichand.

It started as a retired player’s dream in 2001. The Pullela Gopichand Academy. Sixteen years later, that very academy in Hyderabad has been the breeding ground of every single Indian medal, title or laurel on the international arena in the last decade.

The Quint sat down with the man behind Indian badminton’s mega rise and asked him to share his coaching methods that have guided India to such immense success.

You have been the coach and the driving force behind the success of Saina, Sindhu, Srikanth, HS Prannoy and many more Indian badminton stars. If you were to share one mantra you live by, what would it be?

It is okay to lose. If players lose, they lose. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. It is important that they either win and benefit from it, or they lose and they learn. For me, both are opportunities in the same direction because their careers are long. It is not that they make a mistake and they are finished. They can lose and it’s okay. It is very important that players remain focussed all the time and they don’t give up on that effort.

What is the best way to handle a relationship with a player and ensure it moves in the right direction? To make sure you both are on the same page?

You need to have the willingness to learn, the willingness to accept and the willingness to look towards the player and see what is best for him or her.

In a world which is changing, people are changing, mindsets in generations are changing, it is important to understand that you need to go into sport with a much more open mind and be ready to experiment and be ready to make changes when necessary. I think that flexibility is the key.

This year we saw Mulyo Handoyo join the Gopichand Academy as part of the coaching staff. He coached Taufik Hidayat to immense success. Why do you think, with you already around, the academy needed him as well?

One of the problems which I was facing was that when I was travelling there was nobody big at base to ensure that the training is happening 100 percent. Mulyo has really been part of that and he has really helped us focus. Earlier it was a problem that we didn’t have top players. Today there are a lot of them. We need to ensure that all of them get good quality training back home and also good quality coaching when they are playing tournaments.

Every year you give us a new star on the international circuit. First we had Saina then Sindhu and 2017 was completely Kidambi Srikanth’s year. How do you ensure you keep the right balance between being there for the established stars but also ensure the next-gen is being groomed?

There has to be the right balance in training and also putting up a system in place and ensuring that all of it flows a bit seamlessly.

Next year is going to be tougher with travel because of CWG and Asiad – these are two additional events which the rest of the world doesn’t necessarily play. The Olympics are in 2020 and 2019 is the qualifications. So in these four years, this is the only year you have the time to actually build up the system. Whether it was 2013 or 2017, I have spent a little more time at the academy. Out of the two tournaments, I will travel for one.

We see you smile very rarely. How are you like with the players? Are there more laughs away from the cameras?

Well, with the players I have a lot of fun. I enjoy coaching and being part of the growth of the player, that’s what really excites me.

That’s what really is the fun part. As a coach, you need to ensure you keep pushing the players. Yes, sometimes you could be a bit tougher but it has worked for me each time. The players have responded with a lot of goodwill and faith.

We don’t often see you be very expressive court-side either. Has there been a time when you did break down and were disappointed with the team? Do you let them know when you’re disappointed?

I think in the initial years, there was (a time when I cried). The Sudirman Cup, which we lost, I sobbed and cried. There are moments where I just felt that we could have done better from a discipline perspective from the team. I just didn’t like fact that we had lost and thanks to us, India lost. Those are moments when you feel really lousy about it. When your preparations and your attitude on court don’t befit the occasion then you feel ashamed and those are the moments when I don’t like it.

When you are not travelling with the players, do you all have a pre-match routine that players look forward to before a game?

If I am not travelling with the player for a certain tournament, I make sure to send them a message before a match. A lot of it is personal so I won’t want to share it but it could be as simple as ‘ensure that your warm-up is correct’ or ‘I am watching you play the first five points so ensure that you get into the court and start playing from point one as though it is the most important point’.

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