A cradle for champions

For Gopi Chand’s complete badminton family, with his parents and wife too involved in the running of the two academies, the joy of producing champions is what keeps them going.

India’s wonder badminton coach Pullela Gopi Chand has a tremendous guiding light, his mother Subbaravamma.   -  V. V. Subrahmanyam

Pullela Subbaravamma is the guiding force for her son and chief national badminton coach, Gopi Chand, who has trained so many successful players in the sport.

Ever since the first Gopi Chand Academy started functioning in September 2008, she has been the most familiar face there, for the trainees, the coaches and the many visitors, including the media. An affable person who has seen Gopi struggle even to get decent training facilities before going on to win the 2001 All-England Championship, she makes it a point to ensure that there is no complaint from anyone interacting with their two Academies (the second one is the SAI-Gopi Chand Academy).

The two Academies have 17 courts in all with about 20 qualified coaches, including the Indonesian Mulyo Handoyo, to attend to each and every player’s needs. There are 160 trainees, with 87 staying as inmates.

“We start recruiting at the age of seven and the selection depends on the player’s personality, the parents’ interests and profile. We should be satisfied that both the player and the parents are willing to go through the grind and not look for short-cuts to success which is anyway not possible in any aspect of life,” says Subbaravamma. “For those willing to stay in the hostel, we prefer those who are aged above 12 years,” she adds.

Surprisingly, there have been no fresh admissions in the last three years! Why? “The emphasis is on quality and not on quantity,” insists Subbaravamma. “Yes, there is tremendous pressure on us for more admissions. But, we have to be practical in these things or else, the whole purpose will be defeated,” she says.

“The first objective when the Academy was conceptualised was to produce an Olympic medallist. And, we are glad that we produced two (Saina Nehwal and P. V. Sindhu) besides so many Super Series champions. It is this joy of producing champions which keeps us going,” she says.

But how is such a stunning success rate achieved? “The credit goes to the entire support staff. We are fortunate to have coaches who never complain of working that extra hour. For, they too derive immense satisfaction of having a hand in producing champions,” says Subbaravamma. “And, we don’t allow parents in the training hall, to ensure there are no distractions. There were instances when parents even started preferring a particular coach for their kids. Now, they are also understanding the whole idea of staying away from training,” she explains.

Significantly, there is no weeding out, for Gopi reminds us that these kids join the Academy with great hope. “So, it is our job to ensure that he or she sustains interest in the game, makes a name and then leave it to them whether they want to continue or not. Our minimum target is to see that they at least get a decent job by virtue of their performances at the national level,” he says. And Subaravamma chips in to say that only on August 4, five players including J. Meghana and Maneesha, got officer-level postings in the Reserve Bank of India.

In a way, Gopi Academies’ success story is also a reminder of Subbaravamma’s untiring passion for the job which means handling pretty much everything. “Except coaching,” she says with a big smile. And, it is Gopi’s father Subash Chandra Bose, who takes care of the accounts. 

Gopi pointed out that the whole idea of the Academies was to ensure that everything a player needed was in place which he (Gopi), as a player, missed during his heyday.

How does Gopi’s mother react to criticism that it is their Academies that hog all the limelight and also that there is lots of favouritism? “The reply is pretty simple. All those winners at the highest level and the two Olympic medallists are not from my family. Only now Gayathri (Gopi’s daughter) has started winning. And that too because she is playing well. And, the other fact is that others might have the best facilities but I can proudly say they don’t have a Gopi,” she says with a lot of pride.

Subbaravamma says that she often ends up as a ‘bad mother’ for egging on Gopi to keep producing more champions. “And, honestly I never expected Gopi to be such a good coach. But, I can take pride that he is out there taking care of 10 more Gopis in the making. The best part is that ours being a complete badminton family, our job has become much easier and helps deal with any issue in a practical way,” she says.

Is there anything that worries the Gopi family? “Yes, now I have a sense of fear somewhere that there might be times ahead when things might not look as good as they are now. So, I keep telling Gopi to be prepared for the worst,” says the philosophical mother.

What other plans are there? “You won’t believe it, but Gopi is thinking of having six more courts as the existing ones are not sufficient. And these are not for fresh recruits, but only for the existing ones!,” she remarks.

Subbaravamma treats Gopi Chand’s famous All-England title triumph in 2001 as a defining moment, but hopes that new names from Indian badminton would emulate the feat. “Time to look ahead for all of us and not harp on the past,” is her philosophy. No wonder, for Gopi’s complete badminton family, with his wife and former national champion Lakshmi too chipping in, the joy of producing champions is what keeps them going!