More than 80 per cent of table-tennis players stop once they reach Class 10, says Upendra Mulye
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More than 80 per cent of table-tennis players stop once they reach Class 10, says Upendra Mulye

The 2001 Shiv Chhatrapati awardee spoke to Hindustan Times about the scope of the tournament, the quality of players at the district level and why such events help the sport grow.

pune Updated: Aug 23, 2018 17:08 IST
Pranav Shahaney
Pranav Shahaney
Hindustan Times, Pune
pune,80 per cent,table-tennis
Upendra Mulye, chief table-tennis coach at PYC Gymkhana(HT PHOTO)

In Pune it’s hard to top spin a table-tennis ball with any serious consequences without coming in contact with Upendra Mulye, chief table-tennis coach at PYC Gymkhana.

The Pramod Mulay memorial Pune district ranking table-tennis championship is currently on at the PYC Gymkhana and Mulye is the man behind the tournament.

The 2001 Shiv Chhatrapati awardee spoke to Hindustan Times about the scope of the tournament, the quality of players at the district level and why such events help the sport grow.

If you stepped back and looked at the overall sports scene in India, where do you feel table-tennis is?

Table-tennis as a sport is extremely technical, complicated and fast. This makes it difficult for viewers to see the ball and to understand why a certain player is not able to return. It’s typically, not a spectator-based game. That’s why only experts who have played or have been watching the sport for a while can appreciate it. Hence, getting sponsors for tournaments such as this is difficult.

Will the Ultimate table-tennis (UTT) league make a difference in making the sport more marketable and viewable?

-UTT has definitely made a difference. It’s created an awareness among people. The money factor has also been boosted massively because of it. Even newspapers are helping spread awareness. More and more people are reading about Indians doing well internationally and people are slowly being drawn towards the sport. Like for example, there are more than 600 in local-level tournaments itself, so you can imagine how much it would be on a larger scale.

For every budding table-tennis athlete, playing at the district level is the first of many steps. What’s next?

It takes any player with the right guidance and motivation five-to-seven years to make the national level. The immediate step for them is that the winners represent the district in the inter-district tournament and state championship which will be held in Balewadi in November. The Maharashtra state team is picked from performances in that tournament. From there the players go to the nationals. In the state championship, selectors go for a best of three-in-five tournament performances. We have participants from all parts of Maharashtra coming and participating in the state-level tournament, so the level of competition also goes up considerably.

How do youngsters deal with the pressures of academics and the extensive travelling?

My son is playing regularly now and once the season starts, he will not be going to school for four to five months. He’ll have to practice and exercise intensively and he’s up for it. All of the players are doing that and fortunately they have the backing of their parents as well as their schools. In fact, a few players have hired full-time coaches and parents too are travelling with their kids everywhere.

How often does a player who is performing exceedingly well at the district and state level go on to do well on the national and international circuit?

It is a process to reach the national level and by that time you have players whose priorities lie elsewhere. In states like Maharashtra you see more priority given to education. Once they reach a certain age, it becomes difficult for them to cope with studies as well as the sport. Thus, more than 80 per cent of players stop once they reach Class 10. So even players with immense talent cannot make it big at international level because of this.

What do other countries have that India lacks and what can be done to change that?

China is a top country in table-tennis and sports. There are a number of top players in Germany. They have a first-class league between different clubs and the number of competitions are huge. They’re way ahead of us. As a country, we need more participants and more competitions. That being said, we do have Indians coming up the ranks in the world. For example, Manav Thakkar of India was once world number 1, in the under-18s. So we are on the rise. It will take time but I’m confident.

First Published: Aug 23, 2018 17:04 IST