The coaching system in India, both at the elite and grass-root levels, needs a serious overhaul. At the professional/elite level, we need an excellence programme for coaches, not just for the national teams but also our talented 15- to 16-year-olds.

Right now, the standard of coaching in India falls short. The coach does not enjoy much respect in Indian society— starting from the school level, where they are called “PT teachers". In most schools, physical training (PT) or physical education (PE) is held once a week for 30-45 minutes. It comes last on the priority list. The PT teacher is made to do menial jobs.

What I’d like to see, starting at the grass-root level, is compulsory physical education.

This would have multiple effects. One, just playing a sport is healthy and will make students, especially city students, more active. Sports can teach you more about teamwork and communication than the classroom.

In my school, PT was held just once a week. We should treat PT at par with other subjects. I was lucky that I had a very good hockey coach, Marcellus Gomes, who was an Olympian himself. It’s only because of him that I went on to play for India. He taught me the right things when I was 13-15 years old.

If you take this thought to the elite level, it’s about improving the quality of coaches today. Quite a few of those who coach the national teams and junior teams are employees of the Sports Authority of India (SAI). It’s a job that pays 30,000-50,000 per month.

We have to incentivize coaches and improve their training. I don’t blame coaches for not upgrading their skills because there is no incentive or opportunity for them to do that. I would like to see every state and, of course, SAI implementing a “coaches excellence programme" at every level. There should be no difference in the importance accorded to a Pullela Gopi Chand (the chief national coach for the Indian badminton team) or a grass-root-level coach.

For, at every phase in an athlete’s career, the coach is important.

At the senior level, India hires the best coaches in the world for many sports such as football, hockey, wrestling and archery.

But the skills of coaches at the junior levels need to improve. There’s one Harendra Singh in hockey, one Gopi Chand in badminton. We need to create a pool of world-class coaches. Our talented 12- to 15-year-olds are not being taught the basics correctly. By the time they reach the Indian team, it’s often too late to unlearn what they have learnt. That can only be corrected by coaches who can spot technical errors.

Many things go into the building of a champion: coaching, training facilities, equipment, nutrition, recovery, physiotherapy and mental training. To me, however, the most important ingredient in the mix is the coach. Which is why they need to learn the latest training methods and technology. If you look at the top sporting nations, most of them have home-bred coaches. Getting a foreign coach is a band-aid policy.

Since I am on the governing body of SAI, we are trying to ensure that the foreign coaches we get also spend a certain number of hours imparting their knowledge to a pool of Indian coaches. We cannot continue to be reliant on foreign coaches—this will not solve the problem in the long term.

Look at Australia. In hockey, they had Barry Dancer as coach when they won the 2004 Athens Olympics. They had Ric Charlesworth when they won two hockey World Cups. Their current coach, Colin Batch, was an Olympian. In hockey, Australia have always had top- class home-bred coaches.

This will not happen overnight. We have to groom our coaches today so that we don’t have to depend on foreign coaches five years down the line. We need to build a pool of quality domestic coaches who will produce quality players for the Indian camp.

As told to Nitin Sreedhar.

Viren Rasquinha is the director and CEO of Olympic Gold Quest. He is an Olympian, a former captain of the Indian hockey team, and received the Arjuna Award for hockey in 2005.

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