by Mervin LR
In his tireless and quiet way, P.Ramesh has trained, cajoled, mentored and fought for hundreds of young Ball Badminton aspirants in the city. Over the years, his eye for spotting talent became the benchmark when it came to identifying players meant for bigger things.
Hundreds of his students — Kabilan, Jeswanth, Babina, Disha, Ishwarya, Vaijianti and Sowmiya —have represented state and nationals and all of them settled in a well-positioned job now.
Though Ball Badminton is a fast fading game that’s crying for attention, still provides pride and entertainment in small towns and big cities alike, and produces the next generation of stars in school and college ball badminton.
The Chennai Ball Badminton are filled with stories of Ramesh taking his most talented students all over state/nation personally, to try and get them into colleges or to find them opportunities in various workplace. Or of him helping players with money to buy shoes, racquet and equipment.
Ramesh have been playing the sport since he was 15-years-old. After the end of his playing career, he has continued to coach various school/college teams all through these years. Also, he has played a vital role in helping Tamil Nadu team bringing many laurels to the sport. He also coached Tamil Nadu Ball Badminton team part-time coach from 2000-2012.
He was felicitated with Dr.S.Navvaraj Sellaiya Award as Best Ball Badminton Coach in 2007 for his contribution to the sport and beyond. For a man who made ball badminton his life, the least the government can do is help him lead a normal life.
Here in the interview, he talks about his Ball Badminton journey from player into coach, expressing his opinion on changes for the betterment of the game, his coaching philosophies and more.
To start off, tell us a bit about your early years. How old were you when you first started playing Ball Badminton?
I started playing Ball Badminton when I was in eighth standard at Ponneri govt.school in 1983-84. It was my Physical Education Director, now Secretary, Tamil Nadu Ball Badminton Association, Mr. Krishna Moorthy, who encouraged me to try my hand at Ball Badminton. From there, I found my passion and my love for this game. And then, I played U-19 and U-22 National Juniors and continued to play till my college days before I turn into coaching.
Along with Krishna Moorthy, Surya, Krishnan, Ramalingam who had been with me through my ups and downs, especially during my downs and motivated me to fight through. Since, I have come from very humble beginnings and am extremely grateful that he believed in me and have fully supported me on the journey.
When did you realize you had a talent for coaching and who or what influenced your decision to become a coach, do you have any role models who continue to inspire you?
As a Ball Badminton player, I wanted to help in any way I could to develop the game in the country. Ezhilarasan is the one who motivated me to take up the coaching career. He would easily guess what a player would become in the future and what field exactly. Dr.Srinivasan, is another figure who helped shaping my coaching ideology. Both of them helped me take my first steps in coaching in and helped me see and experience the game.
In 2000, I was offered a position to coach a school team in Lady Sivaswamy Ayyar Girls’ Higher Secondary School, Chennai. I had no previous experience as a head coach. From then on there is no looking back.
What’s your view on the Ball Badminton in general, how has it progressed since your first involvement and what needs to be done to improve it further?
It is quite evident that the sport of Ball Badminton have been losing the grip due to lack of publicity, money and, most importantly, television, ball badminton slowly faded from popular imagination.
Though the game originated in Tamil Nadu more than a century back. It remained a South Indian game, and thrived from the 1960s onwards before youngsters lost interest in it, though it was an inexpensive game and could be played in any maidan.
Apart from colleges in the city. Its decline began about 25 years back when TV was becoming big and other games stole its thunder.
But nowadays, though Ball badminton has become a ghost of a game, still has its own way of finding. There were not many tournaments during my days, but the game has improved in many levels, for eg: there has been many changes in the form of rules, racquets, fluffy woollen ball, and score points (then 30, now 35), and still need a lot of changes to compete at the highest level.
We appreciate the role Tamil Nadu Ball Badminton Associations have continued to play in nurturing talent. The government, too, needs to play its part by providing appropriate training facilities.
Air also plays a vital role in the sport, 24/12 mts placed perfectly
It’s the only sport where the ball has to be up in the air always, always on the move.
What role do schools play?
I love working with high schoolers. At their age they are starting to figure out who they want to be and you can really start to see their potential taking shape. Schools are very important, because it is through school-sports events that talented kids are detected, and they help promising players get into proper competitions.
How do you identify a talented player in a bunch of children?
Well, it’s not only about playing and winning. It is also important to see who can go a long way. I first look at their physical appearance – generally how they handle the racquet grip, standing position, body language and etc.
When such talent is identified, you have to build on it. Often you know you have a talented player, but there are no coaches available to carry and support him or her. Patience and willpower must be trained too. Kids from poor backgrounds and rural schools typically don’t receive enough support. We have to make sure they are properly trained and utilized to reach their full potential. But nowadays recruiting school athletes to play Ball Badminton is more challenging than when I first began coaching more than two decades ago.
What stops nowadays players to taking up sports seriously?
I would say mobile phones, young people are now so addicted to their mobile phones it feels like they have lost a limb when they are without them. Though it has its own beneficiary, but largely negatively so affect players social life and particularly sports players much – when they go to bed a night, they can’t seem to be able to put the phone down and get some sleep. Which obviously resulting in staying awake all hours of the night, they don’t get enough needed rest, and that has a serious carryover effect into their next day at practice and in games. I often try to get them to understand what kinds of negative impact this addiction can have on their performance.
The game of Ball Badminton is still relatively new game, not-so-popular or trendy, so keeping that in mind, Ball Badminton is a new game. How did you attract athletes to come and try out for this game?
In India there is always a craze for sport and also when its gets more media attention and we get more followers. I had to travel to lot of places to invite players for tryouts. and assure them that it was a great opportunity. Also, many people in Chennai were already playing the since young age and it was easy to approach them.
Ball Badminton is game of movement, as you will be always on the move, which involves your total body support. You need to be physically trained and mentally/technically as well so that you can stay active during the game time.
Did you have any issues with convincing the parents of the youngsters in making them join Ball Badminton?
Yes, with some parents. There were kids with real talent, but whose parents didn’t want them to play this sport. So, I had to speak to them and convince them.
What do you feel about the growth of Ball Badminton in Tamil Nadu?
Ball Badminton is really growing in Tamil Nadu. Mr.Rangarajan sir, the President of Tamil Nadu Ball Badminton Association really doing a good job. And the game has been promoted better than before. The game is relatively not-so-popular among the trends, but has all the essence to become one of the best in the country. For that to happen, we need the support from all media, new rules also has to be made, playing in the indoor would be more apt as it outdoor has many problems with wind, air, and ball and racquet also needs to be changed.
To arrest the worrying trend, we have to rethink on many aspects of our game – from rules to indoor stadium and so on…because Ball Badminton is still searching its lost roots to rise again, and, as coaches and technical officials, we have to strategise fast because we don’t belong where we are now. This game has a particular time, as we have to look at the conditions of the wind, wollen ball, media support to gain some popularity. If you make the game to indoor, the ball and racquet also needs to be made new. There has been many changes in the sport, but nothing has quite clicked yet. I am hoping for the best to come for the sport.
Why some top players in the colleges never make it to the national and intl. side? What’s stopping them?
The reason why they not making it to the national side has many stories, among would be lack of support from the parents and associations. After 2010, the associations are doing quite well by providing various platforms and opportunities, but still long way to go.
We appreciate the role of associations have continued to play in nurturing talent. The government, too, needs to play its part by providing appropriate training facilities.
In the longrun, what do you think of Ball Badminton scene in Tamil Nadu and in India generally?
Compare to the last decade, the game of Ball Badminton is quietly picking its pace among the school and colleges, we just need a decent amount of support from the media to take it to the general audience would be viable enough to seal our mark across the world.
The game was used to be popular in South India, now it’s making its way to the other parts of India also. Bihar, Odisha and Punjab all have been pretty good side in the recent times. The exposure of playing in different cities has also made the difference which serves as a major source of encouragement for the players. I feel the full recognition will come soon and it is exciting to see. But it is definitely progressing and I would like to see it one day be level with the other sports but who knows if it will ever make it there.
What has been your most memorable moment as a ball badminton player and coach?
I don’t know which one is the most memorable but I guess these all the moments are very special to me.
As a player, one of my most memorable moment was winning the Junior Nationals, in Jaipur (1992-93) – We (Tamil Nadu) played some incredible game of Ball Badminton against the likes of Andhra Pradesh and Kerala to win the title. We finished first among 30 states in which I was declared as the best player of the tournament.
And as a coach, I would say the time when Tamil Nadu were the best Ball Badminton team – both in men’s and women’s category – as they remained unbeaten for three consecutive years from 2005-2008 winning all the Sub-junior, Junior, and Senior Nationals title.
The transition between player to coach was crucial time to understand the game better – both as a player, also as a coach – how you want your team to play? Can you talk about that?
Different roles in Ball Badminton have helped me understand the different aspects of the game. Playing games helped me to be more attentive and react quickly. Coaching is something I’ve had to work on as judgments were a big problem, but slowly I have improved a lot on it.
Coaching is the toughest among all the roles I play. As a player I know what I want from my self but as a coach, I have to make my players understand what I want from them. And for that I have to constantly keep doing my homework on what’s the latest work out for fitness and best Ball Badminton. Every coach has their philosophy of what they think is best way to teach. Mine is that I have to get inside the head of my players, understand their needs, their motivation level and then mix it with my work outs and get the best out of them.
Discipline comes first for me, I would not tolerate when a talented player would play truant. There are many talented players. We have to nurture them and provide them an opportunity. And in terms of tactics, every game is important. Every point is important. We have to scratch and claw for every point we can. That’s how I train my team. Ball Badminton is a team game – even a single mistake would affect the entire game. As a result, I often tend to go for the defensive game – taking every point to the absolute death of the game. I don’t want to lose points. I consider the position of Right back, Centre back and Left back as the pivotal figure in my team as they act as anchors to hold the team together.
Finally, what personal aims have you set yourself for the this season and future?
Tamil Nadu Ball Badminton Federation organizing Asia level selection process to Tour Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and Nepal by selecting 20 men and women’s in the coming days. Along with that, I am expecting better performance from Tamil Nadu team, who have lost to Karnataka in the finals, this year we are aiming hard to make them into winning notes.
Would you like to mention testimonials to some of the coaches and friends who have helped you along your way?
Coach Krishnamoorthy, my first coach who taught me how to play the game was an amazing coach who did not allow me to get inside those lines till I learnt the proper basics.
Surya, My school P.E who brought the discipline in my life and helped me to understand my capability.
Krishnan, MY school P.E, who trusted in my potential and put me in the starting five to start the game.
Suburayalu sir, at Ulaganathan college, who made me understand that Ball Badminton as a game wasn’t about hitting the ball at the right place, who taught me the right action to hit the ball, who made me realize the game even better.
Coach Mr. Ezhilarasan, who gave me a hug telling me that he trusts me and made me feel at home when I was not playing well in my first year at college.
Mrs. Periyanayaki, for believing in me as a coach and motivating me on every step to success.
JK Natarajan and Parthiban, Chennai Ball Badminton Association, for helping me and motivating me at every step of the journey.