When Tan Kim Her spoke to India’s top doubles players about his decision to quit and take up another assignment, the only plea most of them made to Tan coach (as he was popularly called) was to stay back till the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Just a fortnight ago, the players had been informed about the arrival of two new doubles coaches who would be taking up the responsibility of working with the second string players so that the Malaysian would be free to concentrate on the 9-10 players who had a realistic chance of making it to the Olympics.

Hence the decision of Kim Her came as an absolute surprise to the elite squad members who had already made plans for the year as the Olympic qualifying period starts from first week of May.

And now, they would have to return to the drawing board, figure out the methods of the new coaches and at the same time ensuring that their results do not suffer during the qualifying phase.

It is still not clear why the 47-year-old chose to suddenly move on. But according to Badminton Association of India sources the Malaysian wanted a higher pay package and a longer contract as he was being offered one with Japan and left because those demands were not met.

There is also a school of thought that the BAI has already roped in two doubles coaches, Flandy Limpele and Namrih Suroto, and they can easily take over from where he left.

But what those thinking on these lines do not understand is that a player-coach relationship is much more complex than just conducting practice sessions and giving advice during tournaments. The relationship is build on mutual understanding and trust which needs time to build and show results.

When Kim Her joined the Indian national team back in 2015, he made a couple of changes to the combinations, including pairing Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, asking Pranaav Jerry Chopra to play just one event and making Ashwini Ponnappa take more responsibility by playing with young women’s and mixed doubles partners.

The changes he suggested didn’t really go down well initially and the then top-ranked men’s doubles combination of Manu Atri and B Sumeeth Reddy needed almost two years to come to terms with the new setup and begin to give results once again.

The fear among the players is that they will now have to start all over again. Having got over the initial disappointment and shock, the players are now trying to look for a few positives.

New perspective

For starters, Limpele, who is now going to look after the elite group, had been playing on the international circuit as recently as 2011 and could bring in new perspective that could help transform their results just like his Indonesian counterpart Mulyo Handoyo did during his one-year stint with the singles stars in 2017.

But even the players know that they would have to go through the trial and error method with the 2004 Athens Olympics men’s doubles bronze medallist and there is no doubt that they would have loved to avoid this predicament just 17 months before the Tokyo Games.

While there is no doubt that Handoyo managed to bring about substantial changes in the results during his one year stint but that is because a certain foundation was already available in singles and he only had to build on it.

Kidambi Srikanth and B Sai Praneeth benefited from his methods but there were a few who struggled to buy into his ideology and way of functioning for some time. And by the time they were settled down, he was gone. And since then the Indian team members have struggled to come with consistent results with chief national coach Pullela Gopichand consistently hinting at the lack of enough quality coaches to work with the players.

A more proactive system

And this is where the system had to be more proactive.

Be it Handoyo or Kim Her or any other foreign coaches before them, BAI and even the Sports Authority of India of guilty of putting all eggs in one basket by making these coaches concentrate on just the elite players and not utilise their expertise to build a second string of coaching staff that can step up in their absence.

For the past few years, the burden of working and feeding the top singles players has been shouldered by the likes Amrish Shinde, Utsav Mishra and Gopichand Academy coaches like Anil Kumar, Siyadutt with a few Indonesians called in as sparring partners. The picture is no different in the doubles department as Vijaydeep Singh and Pradya Gadre were entrusted the task of assisting the Malaysian for the last few years.

But apart from Gadre, who is paid by SAI, and the Gopichand Academy staff, the other coaches are basically on deputation from their respective departments and keep coming and going, as they have to report back to their parent organisation for some time during the year.

This arrangement has meant that many former players, who are interested in coaching, are not really keen to join national camps as they can earn a lot more at their respective centers coaching local children than come to the national camps because the regulations of SAI does not allow Indian coaches to be paid above a certain amount, a problem even the National Rifle Association of India is also facing.

This is precisely why the Olympic Task Force headed by Abhinav Bindra had recommended the need to remove the salary cap for Indian coaches and creating systems that would encourage more former players to take up coaching.

While Gopichand was part of that Task Force, even he has failed to attract more former players to the system due to the salary cap and also the way the system looks at Indian coaches.

It is difficult to understand why India still needs to pay Indonesians for sparring when there could be enough recently retired second-rung players who could be roped in and provided an avenue of earning a living from the sport.

BAI’s failure

On the coaching front, the BAI has failed in involving good coaches across the country in a systematic manner. Though the list of coaches on the national panel is long, none of them have been given any substantial role in the system and are just handed out doles of foreign trips with the teams every once a while.

Even in the regional academies that BAI is planning, the idea is to get a foreign coach with the help of SAI to run the show, rather than entrust that responsibility to former players who have no quit their Public Sector Unit jobs to take up coaching full-time.

The national federations and SAI has a long history of adopting a hire-and-fire policy for foreign coaches and hoping that results would take care of themselves. But if Indian badminton has to be counted among the world superpowers, it is important that a long-term plan with continuity and sustainability is devised and built on a foundation of quality Indian coaches.

Otherwise, yet another coach would leave India for greener pastures or for some other reason mid-way through the journey and it’s the players who would eventually suffer due to the lack of vision of those running the show.