Hockey coach Marzban Patel, who has bagged the prestigious Dronacharya Award for his grassroot work, says although he expected the honour he didn’t visualise it coming his way this early.

The 69-year-old Patel, better known as ‘Bawa’ in Mumbai hockey, has nurtured a few Olympians when they were young. He has, in his three-decade career as a coach, mentored Olympians Adrian D’souza, half back Viren Rasquinha and other internationals like the Walmiki brothers – Devendra and Yuvraj.

Patel, along with Rambir Singh Khokhar (kabaddi) and cricket coach Sanjay Bhardwaj, will be conferred with the Dronacharya Award at the ceremony in New Delhi next week.

“Coaching is not just about coaching. More than coaching it is the gap of the tongue (referring to communication) that is required, how you motivate the boys, their parents. Parents are pillars behind the boys who are coming up,” said Patel at the Mumbai Hockey Association’s Mahindra Stadium.

“You have to be after them like your own son. You have to go after them, asking why you haven’t come for practice. You have to ask parents where they have gone. A coach should have that type of discipline,” he said.

Patel said he followed this mantra to become a successful grassroot-level coach although he had played hockey only at a modest level.

“I have not played big hockey. I am a gully hockey player. For me to take out (produce) so many players, this is the secret (of my success) – reducing the gap between the tongue, motivation, contact with the parent, contact with boys, imparting other values in life apart from hockey and keep seeing that the players follow the practice and do not stop after SSC (exam),” heelaborated.

Throughout the conversation, Patel insisted that he was 70% mentor and 30% coach to the players.

He feels that the award has come early to him. “Dronacharya Award is an icing on the cake. But I have got numerous awards so this has not come as a big surprise because one or the other day I had to get it. The criteria was strong, so today or tomorrow it had to come, but it came a little earlier than I expected. It is a very big occasion.”

Patel credited Bombay Republican founder Balramakrishna Mohite, who was running his club with his own money, for giving him an opportunity to start his career.

“Today what I am is entirely due to Balramakrishna Mohite. I learnt by going to matches. I started helping him (Mohite) and after a couple of years I picked up what is coaching. Today I can spot a player point blank,” he said.