Start them young, says table tennis coach Muralidhara Rao

Table tennis coach Muralidhara Rao says putting children in sport early on is crucial in order to create champions of the future.

Muralidhara Rao

Veteran table tennis coach Muralidhara Rao said that in a bid to emulate the Chinese and Koreans, he began to train around kids as young as three or four years old with an aim of making them future champions.   -  Special Arrangement

During a non-ranking table tennis tournament organised by Sportstar and the Mylapore Club five years ago in Chennai, a young boy — barely the height of the table — grabbed the audience’s attention.

Vishruth Ramakrishnan, just four years old then, was rallying with his coach and hardly missing a step. He had taken to the sport at his playschool, even before he started kindergarten! Last season, he won nine tournaments at the under-10 level and is a State champion.

Vishruth’s development is not a one-off thing but part of a conscious movement to start players young, A. Muralidhara Rao, one of the country’s top coaches, said on Monday during a webinar organised by the Sports Authority of India and the Table Tennis Federation of India.

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Muralidhara and A. Srinivasa Rao, known as the Rao brothers in the table tennis circles, have played an influential role in the careers of many of India’s finest players, including S. Raman, Chetan Baboor, A. Amalraj and K. Shamini, over the last 36 years. Their best-known trainee is Srinivasa’s son and the country’s top-ranked player, Sharath Kamal.

Sharath Kamal poses with his two Asian Games medals along with his father Srinivasa Rao and uncle Muralidhara Rao.   -  K. PICHUMANI


Talking about developing young players from scratch, Muralidhara said, “We wanted to emulate what the Chinese and Koreans were doing by trying to start early. So in 2012, we started training kids from as early as three or four years and had about 40 kids.

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“We were quite apprehensive of whether this would work but were helped by the fact that we had Meenakshi Ganesh, who was working with a playschool at that time and was a former table tennis player as well, who knew how to handle these kids. Now seven years down the line, we have been able to identify potential talents who have gone on to become State champions in their respective age categories.”

Muralidhara also highlighted the importance of conducting tournaments for non-rankers (those not ranked in the State's top eight) to help broaden the base of players by working with schools. “Once a kid wins and brings laurel to the school, it serves as an incentive for others to take the sport up. From there, we can draw out the potentially good players and develop them at a higher level” he said.

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