Ejjapureddi Prasad Rao is one of the most recognisable faces in the global kabaddi community. The veteran coach-turned-technical expert has played a significant role in grooming a sizeable section of the veteran coaches in the Indian ecosystem and in attempts to popularise the sports in nations that don’t traditionally have a legacy of the sport.
What many don’t know is that a literature graduate has a huge role to play in his contributions to kabaddi over the year - his wife, Mythreyee.
From knowing nothing about the game to being at the helm of the technical control room during games from the Pro Kabaddi League to the Asian Games, it’s been quite a journey for the couple.
MARRYING INTO KABADDI
“I didn’t know anything about this game. I studied in a convent - Stella Maris in Bengaluru. We had kho kho and basketball. I was interested in literature and books. I got introduced to the game after I married him in 1985 and since then, I was hooked,” Mythreyee tells Sportstar.
Incidentally, it was a woman who drew her to the game, a player she likens to today’s star raider Pardeep Narwal.
“He (Kabaddi Rao, as he’s fondly called in the circuit) took me to a nationals game, and there I saw Monika Nath, an Arjuna Awardee in kabaddi. Her leaps left me spellbound. It opened me up to the possibility that this is possible for women also to do and it only made me more interested in the sport,” she explains.
Back then, Mythreyee worked in the administrative setup of the Sports Authority of India and would handle athlete schemes. This meant she could not travel with her globetrotting husband as he spread the gospel of kabaddi. But Rao sought her services when he wanted to put in place some literature on the nuances of the sport.
“We used to fight because some of the words I would use in kabaddi would not have the right meaning. For example, cant. The actual word is chant, but the kabaddi world uses cant. So we sat together and formalised a lot of rules and terminologies of the game,” Rao explains.
“I would often demonstrate a roll or a particular tactic. She would take notes. We would then cross-check if the description matched the technique and then archive it,” he adds.
This collaboration began in 1989 and it took the Raos a year to see it through, over the weekends when their daily jobs allowed them the time to focus on this side project. Computers were not part of their lives then.
“While the world ended up with his first book- Modern Coaching in Kabaddi, I ended up with a writer’s cramp and a tennis elbow,” Mythreyee explains.
“We sat and wrote pages and pages of manuscript. If there was an error in the page, the entire thing had to be rewritten,” she remembers.
The experience was entirely different when the couple invested in a computer for Rao’s second book - The Complete Handbook on Kabaddi.
“I had gone abroad and when I returned, I found her in tears. She had meticulously done all the work for the 2nd book on the computer but it had crashed, and we lost a year’s worth of work. It all needed to be redone. We just sat with each other and cried for about half an hour. Eventually, we got at it again, but this time with floppy disks,” Rao recollects.
ARCHITECT OF SCORING
From there on, Mythreyee’s involvement in the sport went from strength to strength. A turning point was in 2006 after a trip to Doha for the Asian Games where she was trained as a result manager.
“All along, my work was to just help him in the sport but Doha is where my understanding of the sport evolved and I realised I could do more. I also did not have much of a choice because kabaddi is his first wife, I can’t compete with her,” she says with a chuckle.
In finding her niche, she stepped into match preparation -assigning officials, procuring the start lists, drawing out scoresheets, overseeing the tabulation of scores, and bringing out the result. The forms one sees in Pro Kabaddi League - a scoresheet and its elements, how different technical officials have different scoring forms, a third raid diary - all of this was formulated by Mythreyee.
“I brought about a system where we have tiers of documentation from one game. We have electronic systems and manual systems as well so our decision-making is fool-proof. This is important because it’s a very fast game and we need checks at every level to eliminate errors as much as possible. It also allows umpires to make good decisions. Systems could miss out on human elements like time wasting, and tussles. This scoresheet/criteria check helps in such situations,” she adds.
But do husband and wife fight over what they see on the mat?
“Of course. Our conversations during the drive back home focus on this. He is obviously almost always right about contentious reviews/decisions. Mine is more of a spectator view,” she adds.
THE ROAD AHEAD
As another edition of the Pro Kabaddi winds down, one of the questions on the league’s radar is to expand the league for women too. Maybe another Mythreyee could find another Monika to get inspired by and enter the sport at any tier.
“We’ve been discussing this and one of the things coming up is a suggestion to make the playing area a little smaller. The court we have now is a bit big for women,” she explains.
“The point is to make the game more interesting, to ensure more tackles can happen. Think about that super tackle by Mohammad Nabibakhsh earlier in the season, we want more of that and for the crowd to be on their feet,” Rao adds.
That effort will wait for a bit as the couple finally gets some time off after a relentless two-and-a-half-month-long season. While Mythreyee will head back to old comforts - books and music, Rao’s case won’t look too different.
“He relaxes also with kabaddi, I don’t think anything else matters to him. He eats, sleeps, and drinks kabaddi,” she concludes.