From being a top player at the highest level to national coach, it's been an eventful journey for Pullela Gopichand. The only person to have been awarded with an Arjuna, Dronacharya and Khel Ratna, Gopichand, in a freewheeling chat with
, reflects on the journey so far.
You have come so far in your life. How would you describe your journey thus far?
I have been a dreamer longer than I have been a player. I always dreamt of clinching an All-England title, donning India colours and was fortunate enough to achieve everything. After I thought I had played enough, I started coaching. That was in 2004.
Did you prepare yourself mentally before taking up the role of coach?
I never had to prepare myself mentally. For me, coaching is about thinking from a player's viewpoint. I never changed my relaxed mindset from that of a player to that of a coach, which helped me train players better.
Does this mean you believe in a lenient approach?
Not at all. Coaching involves many things. When I ask Saina (Nehwal) to maintain her diet plan or fitness regimen, I am not forcing her into doing things but injecting discipline in her life. A coach has to be a mixture of everything. He has to be there when his student needs him the most. At the same time he must not overlook his student's mistakes.
What do you think about the current Indian shuttlers?
I think each one has the ability to reach the top. Chetan Anand can make it to the top 10, Jwala (Gutta) and (V.) Diju, I believe, are going to rule mixed doubles. It’s such a big thing for India. Four years ago, I couldn't have said the same.
Tell us a bit about the current system of training.Where is the system?
For me, an ideal condition is to train a thousand players under the expertise of former players. There should be a place where students from across the country could come and hone their skills, which doesn't seem to happening right now.
You and Prakash Padukone are the big names in Indian badminton. How do you handle the comparison?
Prakash sir has always been my idol. I can say that we share the same ideology about the game. As far as the comparison is concerned, it's only human to draw such parallels. I can't stop people from expressing themselves.
You and Saina have become the first coach-student pair in eight years to receive government-instituted awards. How does it feel?
When I started coaching, my aim was to extend my services in the best possible manner. But it feels nice to get rewards. People may forget my All-England title, but the Dronacharya award will remain in their mind.
Saina has become the face of Indian badminton. Do you think you will ever be able to produce another Saina?
In all the hoopla over Saina, one has almost forgotten that we are talking of a 19-year-old here. Just as in my journey, Saina hasn't achieved everything overnight. She has worked really hard. I can't say if we would be able to see another Saina, but if anybody is ready to do as much hard work as her, then why not give it a try?