The London Olympics have become a part of history but interesting statistics remain. For instance, in preparing for the recently concluded Olympics, the Indian Government is reported to have spent around Rs. 20 crores (200 million) on foreign coaches for various athletes. And once again, along with discussions centering around new sports issues, new champions, new records, new facts and figures, an old debate over Indian versus foreign coaches has been renewed.
Why are foreign coaches in favour these days? Do we really need overseas coaches? For the London Olympics that concluded recently, the Indian Government is reported to have spent over Rs. 250 crores (2.5 billion) in preparation for the games, including around Rs. 20 crores (200 million) on foreign coaches for various athletes. In cricket, in hockey, in badminton, in tennis and in several other sports disciplines, we have produced some outstanding players and surely that pool is large enough to throw up competent Indian coaches?
However, many in the sports field feel that experience has shown that foreign coaches are very professional, do their job and leave it at that and usually stay away from local politics. Writing on foreign coaches, Harsha Bhogle, often called the voice of Indian cricket, mused : “I wondered if a foreign coach would have, or be seen to have, the same national feeling that is so vital to an emotionally charged, overly melodramatic and terribly irrational cricket audience. If we lose, his will be the first neck in the noose and people will say, ‘He is here for the money, he doesn’t care for national pride’.
More important, I wondered if he would understand the psyche of young cricketers who come from completely different backgrounds and follow a totally alien diet. I remembered the story of a young Indian fast bowler in the early sixties who was asked to train with a West Indian fast bowler. (India had invited four West Indian pacemen to play and coach in India). The young man was rebuked for not being strong enough and consequently, for having an insufficient diet. It was only later that he came to know that the poor man didn’t earn enough to eat all that he was being asked to and that therefore, there was no way he was going to be able to stand the physical workout that was being demanded of him. Today’s affluent climate is unlikely to generate a similar situation, but the cultural polarity, I thought, would be too much to bridge. I now hold a different point of view because I feel the demands of modern cricket are crying out for modern thought.”
Today, we need coaches with contemporary attitudes, with a very strong awareness of contemporary training methods. We need someone with a track record of producing fit and eager players and teams. According to Bhogle, “We need modern coaches and modern trainers and a modern mindset that says `If I can’t get it in my country, let me go out and get it from somewhere else’.”
Badminton coach Pullela Gopichand, the former All-England Badminton Open winner who gave a key-note address on the issue at the India International Sports Summit organised by Transtadia in 2011, was in favour of hiring foreign coaches, but said they should work in sync with local coaches. Recalling his playing days, he said it was due to a Chinese coach (under whom he trained for two years) that training methods underwent a sea change in the country.
“We need foreign coaches because they have gone through the system of producing top players and they know the requirements of top players.”
In cricket, in hockey, in badminton, in tennis and in several other sports disciplines, we have produced some outstanding players and surely that pool is large enough to throw up competent Indian coaches? However, many in the sports field feel that foreign coaches are very professional, do their job and leave it at that and usually stay away from local politics.
Obviously, strong yet mixed views prevail on the issue of Indian and foreign coaches. Here is a sampling : “Some of our own players have better credentials as players than coaches.” “Many of our sportspersons don’t take up coaching and there is a lot of talent drain because the government does not give them incentives.” “The government is ready to pay foreigners but not to coaches from India.” However, Pullela Gopichand stated that while the administrators too played an important role, foreign coaches were above their influence, and thus less likely to succumb to their wishes. “There are some who tend to influence selections, influence coaches; with foreign coaches these things can be eliminated,” he added.
A former player as coach, for example, is going to carry his selectorial prejudices into his new job. We desperately need someone who will do his job and stay away from everything else. Harsha Bhogle doesn’t think that such a man lives in India…
Former Pakistan coach Wasim Akram too supported the idea of having foreign coaches, saying that they bring in fresh ideas and were less likely to indulge in the local politics.
“I preferred foreign coaches when I captained Pakistan for about 7-8 years.. done that about 10 times. They bring in fresh ideas, besides they have no agenda.”
“Coaching needs a different skill, great players need not necessarily be great coaches,” he added. The former left-arm pacer, also known as the ‘Sultan of Swing’, however said the foreign coaches should try to understand the local culture to gel well with his wards.
“Foreign coaches tend to bring in their own team which is fine. But after six in the evening, they sit together with
a drink (with their group). The boys feel they have a gang and are disappointed. They need to understand that the players need them and look up to them as a father figure. They need to understand the local culture. That’s where they struggle.”
However, former Olympians have said that if foreign coaches are roped in for every discipline, they should also be entrusted with the responsibility of nurturing the aspiring coaches in our country. In fact, participants at a debate on ‘Getting ready for Olympics 2012. Indian or foreign coaches?’ held last year felt that former players should get better incentives to take up coaching.
President of the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) Adille Sumariwalla said that whatever good results Indian athletes had achieved was due to the presence of overseas coaches.
“We have failed to produce good Indian coaches for financial reasons. They have the passion but they have to support families. Whatever results we have produced is due to them (foreigners). At least we (AFI) can’t do without them,” he said.
Foreign coaches also bring the much-needed discipline and pragmatic approach, he added. Sumariwalla said the AFI did try to attach Indian coaches to their overseas counterparts, but without much success. “Language is a barrier but also the inclination to learn is not there among Indian coaches,” he added.
Former hockey skipper Dhanraj Pillay said Indian coaches too were capable enough, but conceded that foreign coaches were needed to train them. “We need to train our Indian coaches. Their training methods are not upto the mark,” he said. However, the four-time Olympian said that foreign coaches too could indulge in favouritism. “They should be passionate about their work. They should pick up the best players. I support Indian coaches but they must be clean,” he said.
The debate on the pros and cons of Indian or foreign coaches will continue in times to come. But perhaps the best solution, the best suggestion so far lies in the words of Pullela Gopichand, who was an outstanding player and is now an outstanding coach (amongst his notable stints was coaching today’s ‘super girl of badminton’ – Saina Nehwal) : “We need good coaches, both Indian and foreigners. If we get a combination of the two it would be great. It happened in badminton, where we brought in two Indonesian coaches, and we have been producing some fantastic results in the past few years.”