Troy Bacon & Co. smitten by kabaddi

"We are going to take kabaddi to the U.S., and I am going to share it with all. It can be like the NBA or the NFL. Kabaddi would be on the rise in the USA," says Troy Bacon, the skipper of the U.S. team at the World Cup.

Troy Bacon, the captain of the US kabaddi team, takes questions at a press meet during the World Cup in Ahmedabad. Troy is quite optimistic that the sport will catch on in the United States.   -  Vijay Soneji

Troy Bacon has played American football for the Alabama State University. As a recreation, he has also played basketball and taken part in track and field events. Now Troy is playing for Patna Pirates in the ProKabaddi League (PKL), which according to the dreadlocked player is the best in the world.

“I think we could have kabaddi in the Pan-American Games. It is a great way to unite people of the American continent through kabaddi,” says Troy on the sidelines of the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup in Ahmedabad.

Question: When did you first see a kabaddi match?

Answer: It was probably about a couple of months ago; I was watching the match between Patna Pirates and U Mumba. It was the Championship Game of the ProKabaddi League Season 3. That was when I really got interested in the game. Then, one of our managers, Celestine (Jones) asked me if I would like to go to India to participate in the Kabaddi World Cup, and I accepted.

 

Why did you see the ProKabaddi League footages in the first instance?

Celestine is my childhood friend, and she asked me if I would like to go to India on a free trip. I said of course. Celestine has organised the full team. She wrote ‘kabaddi’ on a piece of paper and asked me to say that. I looked up at whatever it meant…like the raider going into the rival defence and returning with a prize. Then she told me to see the footages of the ProKabaddi League matches. I started liking the game and started doing some research. That is how I started learning kabaddi. We had meetings and workshops to understand what the lines are — the lobby and bonus lines — the hand signals and all that. We were shaky on that, but the coach tried to drive it into our heads.

Which part of the United States are the players from in this team?

We have players from Atlanta (Georgia), Washington, Baltimore, Miami (Florida), Maryland, Chicago, (Illinois), California and Phoenix (Arizona). Celestine reached out to people she thought were athletes and had a sports background. I brought three or four people. We had about 13 or 14 people in the team. We met in Jacksonville, Florida, and that is where we started our training. We practised for about a month and a half under coach Narinder Rana, who was sent by the International Kabaddi Federation (IKF). The IKF provided us another coach with whom we worked for a week or so. So, it has been an awesome experience so far.

How did you people manage to get it all right, especially holding your breath and chanting kabaddi?

It was tough to keep our breath going. The more we do it, the more experience we will get, and the easier it becomes. Also to get the hand touches, kicks and stuff like that... It is a challenge initially, but it will get easy over time.

What did the coach tell you all first, and how did he choose the raiders and defenders?

Everybody in the team has a different set of skills. People who are more athletic and agile were chosen as raiders, and those who were big and physically strong were chosen as defenders. I am an all-rounder. It is easy to pick up the sport but harder to master it because there are a lot of nuances in the game, like awareness, details…all at the same time. It is really about observation and patience. As we hone our skills, we are going to get better.

The court/mat area is smaller than the ones used for basketball, volleyball…

It is more compact with an intimate setting. It will take a while to get used to the spacing of everything. We have to learn to raid deep and get back past the centre-line. As a raider, we have to understand that our relationship is with the centre-line.

Did anyone drop out of the team after showing interest initially?

One person was not able to make the trip. Two players missed it by a little bit, so they were not able to make the trip. We are still learning and gaining in experience. Every time we play, we don’t lose; we learn. I am not disappointed about losing matches — it is the first time we were playing kabaddi on a mat here. We knew we were doing our best, and hence it turned out to be the best teaching. It exposes all our flaws but from here, we can only build. Kabaddi is more a strategic and mental game than physical. The players may be big, strong, agile and fast, but if you don’t know how to implement the skills, it’s of no use. If you know how to raid and tackle, the different grabs and holds, the hand touches and kicks, then you can compete. India has years and years of experience in kabaddi.

Do you think kabaddi can interest the Americans?

Oh yes, I am already getting questions and support from home. Friends on social media are asking questions and saying that they want to play. We are going to take kabaddi to the US, and I am going to share it with all. Narinder (Rana) said he would like to play kabaddi at the Madison Square Garden. I definitely feel that is possible. It can be like the NBA or the NFL. Kabaddi would be on the rise in the USA. I think kabaddi can target the young in the primary-, middle- or secondary-school levels. We can teach the young kids kabaddi so that they can grow with the sport. There can be summer camps, workshops and all that.

Not much equipment is required to play this sport…

I think this is going to be the selling point. You don’t need a ball, (you don’t need to) put on your pads; all you need is your body. There are lots of indoor gyms and courts, mass wrestling gyms. All you have to tell people is don’t bring anything, just bring yourself and with 14 people form two sides and start playing kabaddi. People back home are excited to see us play and they want us to teach them when we get back home. They have been seeing the matches on the internet. Celestine has a Google drive with all ProKabaddi season matches. My favourite team is Patna Pirates; they won the last two seasons.

But the US doesn’t have a national kabaddi federation…

That’s exactly what we want to do. We want to use the PKL as the model and build a league over there.

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