It is said the longest journeys start with a single, small step, and the person who helps us take that most important first step is, more often than not, a teacher. September 5 is celebrated across India as Teachers Day as tribute to Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who was India’s first vice-president and second president, but more importantly, a distinguished teacher.
The fate of sportspersons, too, is intricately related to their teachers, the coaches. It took a Ramakant Achrekar to polish the boundless bundle of energy called Sachin Tendulkar, like it took a Pullela Gopichand to produce a conveyer belt of world-class badminton players including Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu.
We take a look at some of the best coaches India has seen over the years:
The grandmaster of wrestling created a template for modern Indian grappling, by mixing traditional Indian style with international standards. The Dronacharya awardee has coached many of India’s best freestyle wrestlers. Three of his disciples, Sudesh Kumar, Prem Nath and Ved Prakash, won gold medals at the Cardiff Commonwealth Games in 1972.
Other notable disciples, Satpal Singh and Kartar Singh, won gold medals at the Asian Games in 1982 and 1986 respectively. Satpal, a Dronacharya awardee himself, went on to coach double Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar.
Easily the most known and revered cricket coach of the country, his wards include the likes of Vinod Kambli, Pravin Amre, Salil Ankola, besides the most illustrious of them all, Sachin Tendulkar. Achrekar was awarded the Dronacharya Award in 1990 and the Padma Shri in 2010.
Nambiar coached the ‘Payyoli Express’, PT Usha, arguably India’s finest track athlete. He noticed Usha at the National School Games in 1979 and coached her throughout her career. Usha and Nambiar’s high point (though they missed out on a medal) came at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, where she famously missed bronze in the 400m hurdles by 1/100th of a second.
Usha currently runs the Usha School of Athletics in Kerala, and has produced a slew of international runners, including Tintu Luka, the current national women’s champion in 800m who also represented India at the Rio Olympics.
Founder of the famous Bhiwani Boxing Club (BBC) in Bhiwani district of Haryana, Hawa Singh was born in 1937. He enrolled in the Indian Army in 1956, and won the National Championships for 11 straight years from 1961 to 1972. He also won gold medals at the 1966 Asian Games and the 1970 Asian Games in Bangkok. BBC produced a slew of Indian boxers in the 1990s and 2000s (decade), including 2008 Beijing Olympics bronze medallist, Vijender Singh.
One of India’s best defenders, Syed Naeemuddin captained the Indian national team that won a bronze medal at the 1970 Asian Games. He coached the Indian football team for several years and had very successful stints with East Bengal as a coach. Nayeemuddin was appointed coach of India in 1997. The team won the South Asian Football Federation Cup by beating the Maldives 5–1 and reached the semi-finals of the Nehru Cup for the first time.
He also worked as the coach of the Bangladesh national football team. He was conferred the Dronacharya Award in 1990 for his contribution to sport in India. He is also the recipient of the Arjuna Award.
The only Indian coach to produce two Olympic medallists, Gopichand was a distinguished shuttler himself. He won the national badminton championships five times in a row from 1996, and in 2001, became only the second Indian to win the All England title.
He runs an academy in Hyderabad and is credited to have produced players of such class as Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu (both Olympic medallists), Parupalli Kashyap (CWG gold medallist), Kidambi Srikanth, Gurusai Dutt and HS Prannoy, among others.
Mohd. Ilyas Babar
Born in Gulbarga, Karnataka, in 1926, Babar was the state champion in long jump and the 110m hurdles between 1950 and 1957. His most famous trainee, Sriram Singh, finished seventh in the 800m at the Montreal Olympics and set an Indian record that still stands. Babar was given the Dronacharya Award in 1994.
Bisweswar Nandi was the toast of the country during the Rio Olympics. Despite adversities and lack of facilities, the gymnastics coach from Tripura trained a flat-footed Dipa Karmakar to a fourth-place finish in Rio. He has been training Karmakar for 16 years, and received the Dronacharya Award last month.
Syed Abdul Rahim
Fondly called ‘Rahim Saab’, he coached and managed the Indian football team from 1950 until his death in 1963. A former international himself, he is regarded as the architect of modern Indian football. He led the Indian team to the semi-finals of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics football tournament, making India the first ever Asian country to achieve this place.
A protégé of Ramakant Achrekar, Amre is said to be the man behind Ajinkya Rahane’s evolution as an all-season, all-format batsman. Robin Uthappa and Suresh Raina are also known to have benefitted from his expertise.
Balkrishan is perhaps the only player in the country to have won the gold medal both as a player and as a coach. He was a member of the gold medal-winning hockey team in the 1956 Olympics and was chief coach of the team that won the gold in the 1980 Moscow Olympics. He is also credited to have introduced the concept of total hockey in India, back in 1992.