The athletes' coach

Interview

Coaching matters: Trust is the cornerstone of an athlete-coach relationship, says V R Beedu. DH Photo / M S Manjunath

For more than half a century, V R Beedu has been an active participant, an eager student and a firm teacher in Indian athletics. A man who has moulded many a shining career finally found recognition from the government when he was presented with the Dronacharya award last week. In this interview with DH, the 71-year-old coach casts an eye on the past and turns critical on certain policies of the Athletic Federation of India while retaining his optimism about the future. Excerpts: 

You have had a long career as a coach. How do you look at the growth of Indian athletics over the last four decades?

In the seventies and eighties, you could see our athletes reaping the benefits of hard work. At the 1982 Asian Games, for example, they achieved results through a well-planned system. A little later, foreign coaches came in and their methods weren’t always acceptable and the performances, achieved through their methods, weren’t consistent. If you look at athletes like Suresh Babu and T C Yohannan, they were very consistent in their performances. With good planning, they brought out their best performances in top competitions. But later, the Athletics Federation increasingly turned to foreign coaches whose methods weren’t always above board. The federation president himself at the time used to say that Indian coaches were good only till a certain level.

Do you believe foreign coaches are superior?

No. Knowledge wise, when I went to Germany (for a coaching course) I found that our basics are all same but the systems are different. They start early and gradually move up and they follow their methods strictly. I was there for close to two years. The coaches are reasonably well paid even at the lower levels. They are the ones who groom the talent and when an athlete progresses to the top level and wins higher laurels, all those teachers at the lower levels will be rewarded -- not just the last coach as it happens in India.

Another point is, when an athlete starts winning, the federation takes him or her to the national camp, which is mostly based in Patiala. They are separated from their coaches. I find that unacceptable. We have Sports Authority of India centres in different zones. Why not allow the athletes from the south to train at the South Centre? People from the region should be based here, training with their coaches, for better performances.

Our best performance in athletics had come at the 1978 Asian Games. Did we have foreign coaches then?

Indian coaches were responsible for that success. We had C M Muthiah for jumps, Jagmohan Singh for sprints, G S Saini and Ilyas Babar for distance races. Indian coaches are no way inferior to foreign coaches but when your boss says foreign coaches are better and we want medals, we have to have a rethink. Medals at what cost? So I don’t agree with it. If you look at the growth of Indian athletics, I would say it is okay, we are improving, we can do better. If the federation recognises the qualities of Indian coaches, it will be better.

What would be the ideal coach-athlete relationship according to you?

I would say it has to be based on trust. An athlete should have faith in the coach’s methods. Only then can you progress. Look at Sriram Singh and Ilyas Babar. If Babar tells Sriram to do a certain drill, he would have done it without fail, without questions. That is army quality for you. Similar was the relationship between P T Usha and O M Nambiar, or Valsamma and A K Kutty.

There were attempts to break those partnerships, but the athletes held firm and they got the rewards. I have had athletes who have gone after other coaches. I let them go. I can’t train someone who doesn’t have faith in me.

Among your trainees, who was the best in that regard? And is there someone who could have achieved bigger laurels but didn’t?

Praveen Fernandes (long jumper) was among the best. He had come to Bengaluru to join RV College as an engineering student. A little later, he came to me. He was a really good student. His mind was on studies and training only. He did 7.83 metres at the Open Nationals once, beating all the national campers and shocking everyone. B N Sumavathi (former heptathlon champ) was one athlete who could have achieved really big things. She was really talented. I felt she could have been another Usha had she stayed in athletics.

Who would you rate as the best Indian athlete of all-time?

If ever a Bharat Ratna has to awarded in sports, it has to be given to Milkha Singh. Nobody can come close to him. Milkha was all about hard work. The hardships he faced were unimaginable. He struggled for food, he was sleeping on railway platforms. Still, by sheer dint of hard work, he came up. That is why his son (Jeev) said, ‘There is no comparison between my dad and me. I had a comfortable living whereas he had nothing when he started.’ He is a great son of India. More than Dhyan Chand, I believe Milkha has to be given the top-most award.

What is your coaching philosophy?

Any sports is above religion. There is no Hindu, Muslim, Christian here. I meet athletes of all religions on the sports field. I have a broad outlook, I don’t look at their religions. I work scientifically with them, work with honesty and dignity.

We have had a successful Asian Games in athletics. Are we in a position to aim higher?

If we have to look at higher levels, the planning has to be perfect, the coaching panel has to be perfect. The entire programme should not be focused around Patiala. And there should be facilities at lower levels, as in the United States. We need sports facilities in all localities and not just one stadium.

We have police stations everywhere, BBMP offices everywhere but where are the playgrounds?

What are your thoughts on Karnataka athletics?

The environment, I feel, is not really conducive for the growth. But still, four people from the state were part of the Indian contingent at the Asian Games. It shows that the talent is there. We need to create a favourable environment for them to come up.

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