The thing is that the players have absolute faith in me and I will protect that faith with my life. Although I do not need to prove myself to them, I would never take my position and my responsibility for granted.
My work doesn’t start and end on court, it continues off court too. I keep myself challenged by not making the routines, discipline and training boring. I try to introduce variables, challenges and sometimes even fun to keep the players enthusiastic about the game as well as to not let their bodies slip into a comfort zone. This, for me, is critically important in order to keep the players in good shape, mentally and physically. One often wonders if they can make it to championship level without a coach, in any field, sports included. It’s impossible. You may be able to hit your target once, but to hit it 100 times you need structured practice.
Instinct and talent without technique will only make you reckless. You have to learn everything there is to know about your craft and you need help with that. You learn and absorb and train and trust till the point you are able to play and operate instinctively without thinking. You know that the endless hours spent in training have created massive internal resources which you can draw upon in any situation the game presents. When talent meets such guidance, you can dominate any situation where your mind and body are tuned in, where you reflexively know what to do.
You have to break down your performance shot by shot, you have to understand your opponent down to the slight frown on her face. You have to learn and create ways to improve. You have to take yourself to a position where every action becomes instinctive because you put in the time and sweat to build your muscle for spontaneous responses. That’s being instinctive, that’s being competitive at a level where the competition is forced to study you. That state is impossible to achieve without a coach, in any field.
As a coach, I have a 24x7 job with my players. My work is not an eight-hour engagement. I am responsible for what my players do in their training, practice and games. I am also responsible for what they do when they are not on court. I cannot raise my hands and say I am not responsible for what they do once they go home or retire for the day. What they do then is critically important for their physical and mental state the next day. So, if my player goes off drinking or partying or is having a tough time with the media, family or friends, I need to know that and do everything in my ability to bring them back on track.
While some coaches may argue that what the players do in their own time is not their business, I treat it otherwise. My effort for the day and for the days to come would go waste if my player is not aligned to discipline when I am not around. Being a coach is a position of great responsibility. When my players show me their limit, I don’t buy in, I show them how much more they can do. When they are beat, defeated or injured, I have to work with them in such a way that I not only have to ensure that they return to the game, but they return better. If my player goes back just as he was when he lost or got hurt, or was injured, he will probably land in that soup again.
It is my job to make him do more than he has ever done, to recover to become stronger and more powerful than he was before. That way, the same mistake, injury or downtime does not get repeated. I am here to ensure that they can overcome. But all of this cannot be done without the player’s willingness to desire the results he sees for his future. I am only a catalyst. The vehicle and the destination are his to own. That’s why the innate competitive drive is one of the primary qualifications of a champion.
Excerpted with permission from Shuttler’s Flick: Making Every Match Count by Pullela Gopichand and Priya Kumar, Simon & Schuster India.