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Table Tennis coaches in dilemma as Pune players choose academics over game

Pune being an educational hub, a lot of players opt out or make the sport a secondary option with academics being the primary one

pune Updated: Apr 29, 2019 16:29 IST
Hindustan Times, Pune
Pune,sports,table tennis
Table tennis has always been one of the good sports in Pune where a lot of players have come up in the last 50 years. Earlier, the game was played in only four-to-five big clubs like Symbiosis, Shardha Sports Centre, Deccan Gymkhana and PYC Gymkhana. However, now it has become more popularised with clubs like Vibrant Academy, Millennium School and Sanmitra Sangh starting activities of their own.(Rahul Raut/HT PHOTO)

Gone are the days when Pune was the hub of racket sports talent in the country. Speaking with Pranav Shahaney, Poona District Table Tennis Association (PDTTA) treasurer Ashish Bodas explains why that has been the case.

According to the PDTTA chief, steps have been taken in the right direction and all that’s needed is a bit of commitment from the youngsters to help table tennis flourish once again in the educational capital.

How much do you think the game has grown over the last five to seven years?

Table tennis has always been one of the good sport in Pune where a lot of players have come up in the last 50 years. Earlier the game was played in only four to five big clubs (Symbiosis, Shardha Sports Centre, Deccan Gymkhana, PYC Gymkhana ). However, now it has become more popularised with Vibrant Academy, Millennium School, Sanmitra Sangh clubs coming in starting table tennis activities of their own. New clubs have come up to give provide a platform for more players to hone their skills.

A new category (midget, under-10) has been introduced by the federation. Your thoughts on the reason for doing so and has it proven to be a wise move?

I think it has been the most important thing with respect to development when three to four years ago a new category (midget, under-10) was started. Earlier, the lowest age group was (cadet, under-12) where players aged six were expected to compete against 12-year-olds. Hence, they were compelled to playing players twice their age. And that made it difficult for them to develop.

Thus, to promote raw talent at an early age, the state table tennis association introduced the midget category and then the national federation did the same. This gave eight-year-olds the opportunities to win tournaments too. If they are to go up to India level and do well internationally that’s the age they should start winning something. As of now, we have 30-40 players in the midget category.

Ashish Bodas, treasurer Poona District Table Tennis Association (PDTTA). ( HT/PHOTO )

There have also been certain changes in terms of the scheduling of the tournaments and making it a longer season. Has this been a positive change?

Earlier, after October or November, we had no tournaments bar a few corporate ones. Kids used to play till November and take a gap for four months and resume in April after their exams. We got to know that the player performances never increased.

Normally the improvement takes place in the off season. So we decided to extend the season. What we did was, we have started camps and also started a Mayor’s Pune Table Tennis League where the top 8 or 16 from each age group take part. This league allows top 16 players from each event. Usually, the top 5 ones are the ones that keep winning the individual tournaments, but now because of this league, the top 16 also have a chance. We are very sure we will continue the league next year.

Has a surge in the number of table tennis events in the city improved the quality of players?

As far as the activities are concerned, it is one of the most vibrant cities for table tennis. We see a lot of players shifting to Pune from West Bengal. We’ve been given positive feedback in the terms of the number of tournaments that are being conducted. I feel we’re in the top 3 in India in terms of the frequency of activities.

With regards to the production of good players, I feel coaching and players are available in Pune but I think it is down to the final level we are unable to go the distance. Players start off well at the junior level but are unable to go up the ladder in school and collegiate events.

Being a very good city for education, a lot of players opt out or take the sport as a secondary option with academics being the primary one. We have the infrastructure available too. What we need is 1 or 2 players to make it to the top level or certain players that did well at the junior level and left the game to come back and start coaching, it will work wonders.

Where is Pune as a table tennis powerhouse compared to the major sporting cities in the country?

In most of the championships we’re either first or if not first then surely second or third. 70 per cent of the players are from Mumbai and the quality of the players are better there compared to the ones in Pune.

Also the quality of coaches there is better because they’ve been former national and international players. Pune definitely has good coaches but compared to Mumbai there is a difference.

Pune’s Divya Deshpande, Aniket Poparkar have gone to play for India and have performed really well.

It seems that roping in a certain breed of coaches may help develop better players for the future. What is the association doing to turn this into a reality?

There are a lot of coaching camps that happen in various places in India. Special coaching workshops are also conducted. Foreign coaches are invited to them to have a word with all the coaches.

We inform all the local coaches from various cities and encourage them to take part. You can see the difference in the coaching skillset when someone has played at the state level/international level. On the flip side, a top player may not be a top coach so we’re hoping to strike the balance.

Bhushan Thakur is an international level coach who has produced very good players. After a group of players leave the sport because of academies or whatever personal reasons, coaches feel the lack of interest in coaching the next lot as they know most of the players aren’t in it for the long run.

Players to watch out for

Neil Mulye, 11

Son of the famed PYC Gymkhana coach Upendra Mulye, Neel is certainly living up to his father’s legacy. He has played the nationals in 2018 and was part of the Maharashtra team that won the silver medal. He also won the silver medal at the national school games. He broke into the India top 10 in the under-12 age group and will be competing in the under-15 events in 2019.

Eesha Joshi, 19

Only recently, Joshi has broken into the senior Maharashtra team. For a number of years, she was the top player in Pune in the youth category. She’s tipped for a bright future by the table tennis aficionados in the city now that she will compete in open tournaments.

Pritha Vartikar, 14

Pritha Vartikar is a household name for the ones that have been following junior table tennis for the past five years. Since a 10-year-old, she has been making the headlines for the right reasons. At the moment, Vartikar is ranked 5th in India at the under-15 level and is the top-ranked player in the state.

Radhika Sakpal, 11

Sakpal put in a prolific showing at the state championships in 2018 where she came back with a gold medal. At the national games, she has a silver to her name in the cadet age group and is expected to challenge for the gold this year. In terms of her all India under-12 ranking, she is second and is eyeing the top spot in the under-15s.


May: Inter-club tournaments

Venue: Shardha Sports Centre, Deccan Gymkhana, PYC Gymkhana

June: Seven district level tournaments (all age groups)

Venue: Shardha Sports Centre, Deccan Gymkhana, PYC Gymkhana

September: Under-14, 17 and19 Zilla Parishad games (school/collegiate level)

Venue: Symbiosis Primary & Secondary School, Prabhat Road

October/November: State championships

Venue: Shiv Chattrapati Sports Complex, Balewadi (expected)

January: Mayor’s table-tennis league

Venue: Deccan Gymkhana

February: State ranking championship

Venue: Shiv Chattrapati Sports Complex, Balewadi (expected)

* District ranking tournaments (Month- yet to be decided)

Venue: EKAM table tennis academy, Rahatani

First Published: Apr 29, 2019 16:29 IST