In an exclusive conversation with Firstpost, the former strength and conditioning coach of India’s Srinivasan cricket team talks about his experience working with people like Achanta Sharath Kamal, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran and Bhavani Devi.
There are certain roles in the professional sports world that aren’t as glamorous as athlete or even head coach for that matter, and it’s the support staff in a coaching setup that end up. by staying out of the limelight for most while taking on crucial roles.
Strength and conditioning coaches, for example, have a major role to play in an athlete’s physical well-being over a long period of time, and unlike physiotherapists whose work is akin to repair work, their work is often long. . When they win medals or trophies, it is the athletes who are the face of achievement and are hailed as heroes, while the coaches are next on the list of accolades.
Ramji Srinivasan had fulfilled this particular role with the Indian cricket team between 2009 and 2013 and also served as SandC coach for athletes of various other sports, from Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok in motorsport to Ramesh Krishnan and Somdev Devvarman in the world. tennis.
Most recently, he has dealt with athletes expected to represent the nation at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics – table tennis stars Achanta Sharath Kamal and Sathiyan Gnanasekaran and fencer Bhavani Devi – the first Indian in sport to compete in the Olympic Games.
Having worked closely with these athletes, Srinivasan brings some interesting insight into the training differences between Sharath Kamal and Sathiyan, both of whom have enjoyed success in the singles and doubles disciplines and are part of a generation of Indian paddlers who is growing steadily. fortune on the international scene, although they are far from breaking China’s grip on the sport.
“The needs are different. His body structure is different. His game is different. So you need to analyze the game what is required. For example, Sharath Kamal wants to work his backhand. He has to work on body position and how he is able to transfer body weight and how he is able to get into position to attack the ball. It’s different.
“For Sathiyan, he may need more power. Explosive power… So the needs are different. I can’t give the same training and the same protocols, ”said Srinivasan, who was to accompany Sathiyan to his first Olympics, but ultimately couldn’t due to COVID-19[female[feminine protocols which saw the size of the contingents being reduced in the participating countries.
Sathiyan and Sharath Kamal – who is perhaps the most decorated player in Indian table tennis history – had qualified for the Games during the Asian Olympic qualifiers which took place in Doha in March of this year. In total, four Indians – Manika Batra and Suthirtha Mukherjee in addition to the aforementioned duo – will represent India at the next Olympics.
Taking care of Bhavani Devi, who had qualified for the Tokyo Games at the World Cup in Hungary in March, and her fitness regime was also a learning experience for Srinivasan.
“I learned a lot because especially the footwork, the explosive power, the reaction time, these things are very important for fencing. The balance. Side shuffles and power and explosive jumps. It is therefore more of a proactive and reactive sport.
“Most sports are like that, but the degree varies, the ratio varies from skill to skill, sport to sport. We worked on other aspects (such as) footwork, biometrics, explosive power… strength basically, on Bhavani, ”Srinivasan said.
Srinivasan, who was a sprinter and long jumper himself as a youth before injury put an end to his hopes of pursuing a senior athletic career, highlighted some of the most crucial aspects of his job, including the one is to gain the confidence of an athlete and build a positive dynamic with him.
The head coach or a member of the coaching staff does not necessarily get the recognition that the athlete gets for success, but the relationship between the two often dictates the fortunes of the athlete or team and, in as such, a healthy relationship is always beneficial.
Srinivasan, in fact, continued to point out the dos and don’ts of his role.
“Trust is the most important thing. You can be very knowledgeable, very articulate about your subject matter, but in the end, if they don’t trust you, all is lost. As a SandC (strength and conditioning) you have to be open, with no hidden intentions. First. The second thing, be open about your knowledge. If you don’t know, you accept that you don’t know. Third, don’t try to use the lingo or the technicality in front of them to distance yourself from the situation.
“Fourth, be honest in the approach and the objectives, what you offer them. You cannot say to Sharath Kamal, “Tomorrow you will be world number one. Sathiyan will be world number two today and tomorrow, and you will be the fittest table tennis star in the world. No. And not to curry favor with the players, which is very critical. Do not ask for any favors for sponsorship, for the endorsement of a fitness center.
Developing a bond with the athlete or the team is not Srinivasan’s only concern, however. Maintaining communication with coaches, the tendency of head coaches to become jack-of-all-trades instead of allowing decentralized roles are some of the others.
“I need to have an open line of communication with coaches and other support staff related to a particular team or particular individual to move to the next level of performance over a period of time.
“I think there is a huge gap here in India between the coach, the support staff and the player. It must be like a tripod stool. One leg goes, then there is no more balance. Protocols and processes must be very clear in place.
“Sometimes what happens in India is the coaches become everything. He becomes a physiotherapist, he becomes a physical trainer, he becomes a mental conditioning coach, he becomes a massage therapist, all or nothing principle. So this can be a very dangerous trend. So a person does not need to know everything. This is why coaches need to choose the right support staff to improve players, prevent all kinds of injuries and step up the progression protocols in place.
Ramji Srinivasan was the strength and conditioning coach of Indian cricket at the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup. It was under @ ram24867 this @sachin_rt did his rehab for tennis elbow. Thank you for your support. Hope you enjoy reading the book 😄@gikkukrishnan @BloomsburyIndia pic.twitter.com/W4oeJCyPBc
– Vijay Lokapally (@vijaylokapally) March 10, 2021
Another area of concern, he said, is blindly copying the fitness regimes that have worked for top athletes in various sports and applying them to those who might have very different demands. This, he explains, is the result of focusing only on the end results the stars get in the field instead of looking at some of the finer aspects of the process.
“From the exercise protocols, I think we take straight away what is right for the No.1 players. For example, Novak in tennis, we are directly taking away the training that is right for them, which has made them successful. But we don’t sit back and understand the exact level of their progress over a period of time due to variables. We can’t see the final product and the copy. This is why we are failing miserably.
It has to be Indianized, it has to be individualized. It must be a tailor-made training according to the individuals, according to the skills, according to the needs, according to the tournament in which they will participate with the diet, as well as the recovery protocols, as well as the tactical and technical aspect. . of it, everything must culminate in the right place and at the right time for the athlete to reach their peak. Otherwise, we are shooting in the dark.
Srinivasan also fondly remembers his time with the Indian cricket team, which spanned some of MS Dhoni’s most glorious years as captain, with the Men in Blue being crowned world champions in 2011, the team No. 1 test in 2009 and the success of the Champions Trophy in 2013. His role as a strength and conditioning coach does not necessarily require him to stick to one sport, and as such , Srinivasan has the luxury of observing a wide variety of athletes from various disciplines up close.
Srinivasan, who helped Sachin Tendulkar recover from his tennis elbow injury, however, did not hesitate to describe the transition to cricket as the most rewarding of his career, and Indian cricketers are among the best athletes with whom to work.
“The Indian cricket team and BCCI have better infrastructure and facilities and better management of players, first class. And other sports can certainly be inspired by the BCCI. If we want to perform well and if we want to make an athlete confident and comfortable, we just need to focus on their performance and nothing else.
“BCCI has been great… if you want something, it happens immediately. I have been part of the Indian team for five years, I have never complained. If I want any supplements or fitness items, it’s immediately sanctioned. I don’t have to go through the paperwork.
“There is absolutely no bureaucracy in the BCCI. They see that it adds value to the team or the player, they sanction it immediately, no questions asked no matter how expensive it is. In 2010, when we were planning the World Cup, I said no soda, nothing in the locker room, no cheese, no butter, no ghee, no frying. Everything was sanctioned, ”Srinivasan recalled, adding that Indian cricket had also benefited immensely from some of the legends of the game by giving back to the sport in every way possible, something other sports and their respective administrative bodies could learn. a thing or two. of.
Srinivasan is based in his hometown of Chennai, having co-founded Sports Dynamix, an upscale fitness center in an upscale part of the city that focuses on developing athletes, not the general public. He certainly does not rule out working with more athletes and teams in the future even if he occupies a more entrepreneurial role than a traditional sportsman.