Exclusive | 'I Want to be The Pioneer at Every Thing in Badminton': How Prakash Padukone Plans to Take The Sport to Every Indian

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Exclusive | 'I Want to be The Pioneer at Every Thing in Badminton': How Prakash Padukone Plans to Take The Sport to Every Indian
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Prakash Padukone is a pioneer in many ways. He was first Indian shuttler to win the All England Championships, the first to be ranked world number 1. He was first to win a CWG gold medal. His record 9 national titles win has stood the test of time. He was the first player to start a coaching academy in India – Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy (PPBA) – which has a top class infrastructure.

From the PPBA, several top class international and national players have emerged including the current sensation Lakshya Sen.

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Important to note that Saina Nehwal could not become world number 1 in Hyderabad, however she shifted to the PPBA and achieved that status of being world top ranked player, thanks to the tips she got from the maestro.

The legend decided to withdraw from day to day handling of the PPBA, leaving trusted aide Vimal Kumar to run it as head coach and director.

Prakash of course cannot sit idle, and alarmed at the way badminton coaching was being handled, with coaches not giving attention to the very basics, decided to form Padukone Sports Management (PSM) with the view of taking top class coaching to clubs and institutions all over the country. In a chat with me, he talks why he came out with PSM, what were its aims and objectives.

I must have done some 70-80 interviews, features and/or write-ups on the great man, since 1982 when I started to dabble in writing for the media. My friend and colleague in the Indian badminton team in the seventies and the eighties, he is quite a serious man, not given to small talk, a man of few words, but always focussed on whatever he was doing. Words are weighed well before being uttered.

Yet the badminton revolution happening in the country and the birth of PSM got him really excited.

“I want to be the pioneer, first Indian at every thing, as far as badminton is concerned. PSM will take badminton at the very basic level so that every body gets a chance to play this lovely sport,” gushes the man excitedly.

Prakash says that every morning he get up with new ideas to take the sport accessible to every individual. “I feel like a kid given new toys to play with,” he said.

I have never seen this side of him. So let’s find out why he is literally jumping with joy at the mention of PSM.

What prompted you to start PSM? What do you want to achieve by it?

Well Sanjay, you know I can see where the game is going in India. It is really exploding all over the country. Amazing popularity and it is spreading all over. You can take North India, North East, Western part, South — you name it and people are re-discovering the game. Top class infrastructure is mushrooming everywhere trying to cater to the demand. You take case of Bengaluru in my state. There used to be just 4-5 courts in the city, , that too with less height and dancing floors.

Today, I am told, there are some 2000 courts in and around the city. Mind-boggling, really unbelievable. Today investment in the badminton infrastructure is paying off well. So you have to satisfy the demand that is emanating from all over. We at the PPBA were well poised to move into this area.

And we jumped right in. But let me go back in the past. PSM was actually started in 2002. And till 2014-15 it was just a body to organise tournaments in Karnataka. So I did not have much of a role. I was there in the periphery but was not much involved.

Image Courtesy: IG/padukonesportsmanagement

But what happened after 2015. When did PSM earn currency and became important in your scheme of things?

Well I was not closely involved at that time. But the CEO of PSM Vijay Lancy, a former national shuttler, suddenly resigned. He had been with us from 2015 to 2019.So I had to decide what was best to do now. By this time Vimal was really doing well at PPBA. The academy was thriving, as more and more players were applying to join in. I saw that he can handle PPBA on his own.

But then Covid struck and we were on the backfoot. Nothing to do. India, like rest of the world was shut down. The lockdown lasted almost two years. But I had a time of reflection. I saw what can be done with PSM. I had a clear picture in my mind.

I realised the huge potential was not wishful thinking. If property run like a corporate, PSM could become a strong entity to help popularise the game. We will take the game to grassroot level. There was lack of structured or holistic badminton coaching. We will go to clubs, academies, educational institutions, in short any one who wanted to play badminton but was not able to.

We could take coaching to ladies, veterans, grandfathers, grandmothers and others. Tournaments could be organised for the clubs, institutions that had signed with us. We could offer a complete badminton bouquet to them. Badminton can be enjoyed by all age groups.

I mean there were so many things that could be done. But first thing I had to do was to withdraw from day to day running of PPBA. I left that to Vimal. I am now Non-executive chairman of PPBA and have a meeting with Vimal every two weeks where he apprises me of what is happening. I am available for any consultation and also to guide players like Lakshya, if and when required.

So you feel there is a great potential and future for PSM and you are really excited about this aspect?

Yes, I am really excited. I get up every morning with new ideas hitting me. I am now fully involved in the PSM. So right after the lockdowns were lifted we went into this with full commitment. And from Day 1, when PSM was re-launched, it has been a resounding success. In the last two years or so some 45 centres have joined us and these come from all over India. It would have been 70 odd centres by now but Covid robbed us of attaining those numbers.

We are getting enquiries from abroad also to open up centres in those countries. And we will do everything to make sure that these centres are running professionally. I want PSM to run like a corporate. So I have a GM Sriharsha Bade in place, a real professional. He reports to me and keeps me informed of everything as far as PSM is concerned. On the coaching side our chief coach is Aditya Prakash a highly qualified coach, certified by OGQ. He is s silver medallist from 2008 Commonwealth youth games and bronze medallist from 2008 world juniors. And to boot further he is national champion from under 13, under 15, 16 and under 19 age groups.

So, Aditya and Sriharsha are the two pivots of the PSM and they ensure that things run smoothly. Indian badminton is at a very exciting phase and PSM wants to be poised at the very centre of this badminton boom that is happening.

Boom in what way and how are times exciting in Indian badminton?

In the last few years our players have been winning big titles in international badminton. We have shown that we have it in us to rule world badminton. In junior level also, our players have been winning titles right, left and centre.

After all India gave birth to the game. We have had world number ones in Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth. World champion and Olympic runners up in PV Sindhu. There are other outstanding players who won and are still winning big titles. And every time Saina or Sindhu or anyone else got a title for India, at least a lakh children joined the coaching system. And infrastructure has kept pace with demand that new entrants brought. So the boom is in both in numbers and facilities.

Image Courtesy: IG/padukonesportsmanagement

And consequently numbers entering tournaments have skyrocketed. Just 10-11 years ago when we struggled to get more than 100 entries in all age group juniors event, today, Goa for instance had a junior under 17 and 15 age groups, there were a mind-boggling 3000 plus entries. Mind you, these numbers are for two age groups. There is under 13 also where hundreds of entries are the norm today. I am told that for qualifying for main draw there are five matches to be won. Incredible to say the least.

How will you ensure that the kids you coach will get the best attention and correct coaching?

Well that is where we come in with our long years of experience and commitment. At PPBA we have very popular program for certification of coaches. We are the only ones having this certificate course. No other academy or even the Badminton Association of India has it. So we are doing a big service to Indian badminton. More than 600 coaches have undertaken the certification program and emerged with certificate.

At PSM we will take a qualified coach only. We will charge well but will provide right ambience and correct coaching from the beginning. Correct racquet grip, correct movements, correct attitude are very important. We will give advice on correct shoes, correct badminton equipment etc.

We have quality control regarding coaches to ensure that right person is selected. He has to satisfy many parameters and conditions before he/she enters the courts. And we are starting from root levels. We will attack at the base of the pyramid, not the top of it, where a player can’t be moulded further. Take badminton to the beginner and let him enjoy this lovely sport. There are so many things that I can do through PSM.

You are talking about the corporate aspects. What does that mean? And what will be the hierarchy of PSM. Coaches will report to whom and so on…

Well what I mean is that de-centralisation of powers and roles will be well defined. There will be a manager who will be in charge of some 8-10 centres. Administratively he/she will report to the GM and all reports regarding the coach, and/or students will go to head coach. So there is a chain.

Image Courtesy: IG/padukonesportsmanagement

The GM reports to me and so does the head coach. We have a team that really gels. And I am am available all the time thanks to information technology. I do not have to travel all the time. My team and I catch up on zoom when we want. But I will be visiting each centre for sure.

So you are really a happy person. With all the effort you are putting in, just shows how much you like badminton…

Sanjay, I am 67 years old now and I have been playing badminton since the age of 7. That has been my life. 60 years of the sport and still counting. Badminton means a lot to me. It has been behind everything that I am today. No sport can touch cricket in sheer popularity. But of the rest, badminton in India has to be the most popular game in the country. And with that fantastic victory in Thomas Cup, the boom has gone through the roof. We can easily be one of the strongest countries in the world. Everything is in place now. I get up in the morning brimming with new ideas and just want to see how they can be implemented. I am like the kid who had been given new toys to play with.

There is no limit for PSM. And nothing can give me more pleasure or satisfaction than to take the battle to likes of China, Indonesia, Japan, Denmark etc and attain victory.

If the bottom of the pyramid is strong the top has to be better. And that can happen only if the collective focus of India is on the grassroots level.

As I finish talking to Prakash and leave him with his enthusiasm and excitement for the new role he is playing and really enjoying himself, it will not be amiss to let the reader know that while PPBA is a not for profit society, PSM is a private company and PPBA is eligible for CSR grants from public and/or pvt companies.

Finally badminton and India owe a huge debt to Prakash. We are lucky that this great man is still wanting to do so much for the sport.

An Urdu couplet comes to my mind

Tu shaheen hai, parvaz hai kaam tera,
Tere agay abhi aasman or bhi hain.

(You are the great falcon, your passion is flight,
You have conquered many skies, but there are some skies yet to be conquered)

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