At 75, S.M. Arif soldiering on in belief of producing another champion

The Dronacharya awardee S.M. Arif remains the same affable, spirited coach, who makes it a point to be at Fateh Maidan Indoor Stadium to continue his coaching stint.

A trainee presenting a piece of birthday cake to renowned badminton coach and Dronacharaya S.M. Arif, who turned 75, at Fateh Maidan Indoor Stadium in Hyderabad on Tuesday.   -  V. V. Subrahmanyam

For 40 long years now, there is no change either in the daily schedule or in his fitness levels. He remains the same affable, spirited coach. That is Dronacharya awardee S.M. Arif, who makes it a point to be at Fateh Maidan Indoor Stadium to continue his coaching stint to about 20 shuttlers even as he turned 75 on Tuesday.

“In 1978, when I was transferred to the city, I was given only three shuttles each for two training sessions daily for 75 trainees. And, many joked whether I would only show the shuttles to the players or actually train them. That was the toughest phase in my career,” recalls the champion coach, who has produced 200-plus national champions in different categories and 28 internationals against all odds, after being surprised with a birthday cake by his trainees.

What makes him want to continue coaching? “Some kind of belief that couple of them can go to places. The day I feel that I cannot produce a champion anymore, I will stop,” insists Arif, who retired as SAI coach 15 years ago.

“There was a phase of three months in 1978 when I used to just sign the roster, sit alone at this venue and do nothing. Then, I wondered whether I was at the right place,” recalling the lowest points of his coaching career.

“But, once my players started making a mark at the National level things started improving. I am glad that for this was the most sought-after coaching centre for the shuttlers then,” he says.

What are the high-points? “Obviously, Gopi winning All England title. Then the likes of Jwala (Gutta) and Sruthi Kurien making a huge impact in women’s doubles. Remember even Lakshmi (Gopi’s wife) was a two-time national champion when she was training here,” he traces his wards’ feats.

“Yes, I was always confident that one day we will produce world-class players. The biggest morale-booster was when Manoj Kumar and Praveen Kumar won National titles in 1984. Then, Gopi left an indelible impression. Frankly, I was not surprised with these results,” says a visibly content Arif, now on the BAI selection panel.

He maintains that he has no regrets. “Absolutely no. Honestly, I feel great with what Gopi is doing as the chief national coach in producing such world-beaters. May be, he is continuing what I have started long back here. Except Kidambi Srikanth almost all the lead shuttlers from India now have started their careers here. I am a happy and contented man,” signs off Arif.