Merzban ‘Bawa’ Patel: Dronacharya Award arrived earlier than expected

The hockey coach says the award is like “icing on the cake.”

Merzban Patel... “Today I can spot a [good] player point blank.”   -  Nandakumar Marar

Merzban Patel had expected the honour of the Dronacharya Award to arrive, but not so early. The hockey coach bagged the prestigious award for grassroots work.

The 69-year-old Patel, better known as ‘Bawa’ in Mumbai hockey, has nurtured a few future Olympians at a young age. He feels he was more of a mentor to the upcoming players. He has, in his three-decade career as a coach, mentored Olympians Adrian D’souza, half-back Viren Rasquinha, and other internationals like the Walmiki brothers — Devendra and Yuvraj.

Patel, along with Rambir Singh Khokhar (Kabaddi) and cricket coach Sanjay Bhardwaj, will be conferred with the award at the sports awards ceremony in New Delhi next week.

More than coaching

“Coaching is not [just] about coaching. More than coaching it is the gap of the tongue (communication) that is required, how you motivate the boys [and] their parents. Parents are pillars behind the boys who are coming up,” Bawa told PTI  at the Mumbai Hockey Association’s Mahindra Stadium.

Read | Bawa Patel anxious ahead of trip to New Delhi

“You have to be after them like our own son. You have to go after them, [asking] ‘why haven’t you come for practice?’ You have to ask parents where they have gone. A coach should have that type of discipline,” he said.

Bawa said he followed this mantra to become a successful grassroots coach despite having himself played hockey at a modest level. “I have not played big hockey. I am a gully hockey player. For me to [produce] so many players, this is the secret [of my success] — reducing the gap between the tongue, motivation, contact with the parent, contact with boys, imparting other values in life apart from hockey, and keep seeing that the players follow the practice and do not stop after SSC [examinations],” Bawa elaborated.

‘Not a big surprise’

Throughout the conversation, Bawa insisted that he was 70 per cent mentor and 30 per cent coach to the players.

Bawa feels that the award has come early to him. “Dronacharya Award is [like] icing on the cake. But I have got numerous awards so this has not come as a big surprise because one or the other day I had to get it. The criteria was strong, so today or tomorrow it had to come, but it came a little earlier than I expected [it to].

Read | How Bawa Patel shaped hockey in Mumbai

It is a very big occasion, he gushed.

He credited Bombay Republican founder Balramakrishna Mohite, who was running his club with his own money, for giving him an opportunity to start his career. “Today what I am is entirely due to Balramakrishna Mohite, founder of Bombay Republican Sports Club, to which I am attached. I learnt from going to matches. I started helping [Mohite] and after a couple of years I picked up what is coaching. Today I can spot a [good] player point blank,” he said.

Bawa has made trips to Delhi in the past but this one would surely be special for the unassuming Parsi gentleman.