Presently coaching the Tamil Thalaivas Jeppiaar Residential Academy Kabaddi team, Nivas Chellathurai spoke to Fisto Sports about his early beginnings in the sport, the support he got from his family and friends and why he turned to coaching and his winning strategy.
Joining Jeppiaar Engineering College as Kabaddi coach, former St.Joseph Engieering College student and current Thalaivas Jeppiaar Residential Academy Kabaddi head coach, Nivas is recognized as one of the most important figures in the institution.
During his four-year playing career with the St.Joseph Engieering College and as a coach at the Jeppiaar College, Nivas developed a uniquely thoughtful style of play and a successful system of team management that has become one of the most respected in the modern college game.
Less of a player who has not made it to the PRO Kabaddi league, Nivas Chellathurai nevertheless produces winners through a businesslike approach to maximizing the potential of players. His ability to coolly analyze opponents, matching their weaknesses with his teams’ strengths, has made come-from-behind wins a Jeppiaar Kabaddi hallmark in the city.
Growing up in Kanyakumari, Nivas picked up the sport while still in school and he naturally got inclined towards sports from a young age.
“Not since childhood, but I started playing in school. We used to play just to pass time during our free time. Our school coach Manoharan would make us play sometimes, so we played then and then we started playing back home,” says Nivas.
The first time Nivas took kabaddi seriously was when he was practicing under coach Ravichandran at the Alathankarai Kabaddi Club, the temple to the gods of kabaddi. “I learned all the basic skills of the game during my times at Alathankarai. Back then, I used to practice thrice a day – morning, afternoon and evening. Later, we had our practice sessions twice a day – two hours each in the morning and evening.”
A different turn
Though he had spent few months at Alathankarai before joining St.Joseph Engineering College, Chennai when his career took a different turn, but little did he know that the basics he learned at Alathankarai would turn out to be huge boost for Nivas in the coming years.
The brave Nivas made the move to Chennai with a view to focus on his studies. However, a chance to lead the college team threw him a positive raid as he spotted an opportunity to swap the pitch both a player and coach for the technical area.
As the commonest of clichés goes, “It is very rare to see someone interested in Kabaddi particularly in an Engineering college,” says Nivas. “But at the time, we didn’t have proper coach to guide us. I took that as an opportunity to lead the team which I find it easy as I know the basics of Kabaddi which I learned at Alathankarai.
“Over the months I joined, I learned that many of them played for the local side so I said I would give it a chance and come along and see how it goes in terms of winning a title. With the season coming thick and fast, Initially, I was struggling to see where the team was as we had not had any training and we were still just playing for fun,” he told us.
“As time progressed, we started analyzing each team’s approach and studied their positives and negatives and we started winning games and tournaments. For example, Chennai SAI is one of the best team in Tamil Nadu to compete against; at first we suffered many defeats. Then, we closely started analyzing what we call “the winning strategy” – which made us unbeatable in the next two years, even there were times Chennai SAI would win all the games except when they play against us.”
Finding the winning strategy
After that Nivas never looked back and the popularity of his coaching continued to soar by each passing day.
Nivas says that his interest in coaching came through the idea of analyzing the opponent: “Stop the opponent where they succeed; then, they would try different approach” – ‘which in my point of view is a minus for the opponent and plus for me.”
In coaching, Nivas thinks ‘players have to perform 80%; and the remaining 30% is the coach’s ability to condition the players’ minds’ and to train them to think as a unit, while at the same time, making sure each player approaches his own game with total concentration, intensity, and skill.
Nivas also says that If there is one thing he learned from his short coaching experience is that his winning strategy which is “To win games, you don’t need a good team – an average team with little tactical nuances of the game and opponent strategy is enough is enough to win the game.”
He further adds that the role of the head coach begins with setting a standard of competence. The coach must be able to function effectively and decisively in the most stressful situations. “Successful coaches realize that winning teams are not run by single individuals who dominate the scene and reduce the rest of the group’s play. Winning teams are more like open forums in which everyone participates in the decision-making process, coaches and players alike, until the decision is made.”
“Here at Jeppiaar, our practices and game plans are far more detailed than those used by most of our opponents. There is more to learn with our schemes, so we demand more mental commitment and concentration from the players.”
When asked “Who’s your current favorite player?” without hesitation, he responds with the biggest smile, Nitin Tomar – “Nitin is one of the few players I love watching. I really like how calm he is when he raid and makes me think he’s got an aerial view in the game.”
Old approach vs new approach
In the old days, the approach was rather physical battle of “You against Me”; but since the inception of PRO Kabaddi league, the sport of Kabaddi has evolved more to do with mind than physical power,” Nivas says.
“The key to being a modern kabaddi player is the ability to respond quicker, both mentally and physically, than the other player. Some people are naturally quicker physically. But to win, you need to be quicker as a team. You must beat your opposition to the punch every time.”
“Physical strength is less important in kabaddi and the speed are important advantages, but even more advantageous is having the training that permits you to respond intelligently to whatever confronts you. That means more precision, better execution, and quicker response than your opponents.”
When we are playing powerhouses like Chennai SAI, we have to use our extra dimensions to compensate for being physically outmanned. That is the intellectual part of the game. That is the area in which we ask more of our players than our opponents are asking of theirs. In any tournament my team participates, we sit throughout the match and observe how other team’s play. Then, we study each team’s plus and minus and follow them when we play against them.”
“You need to have a plan even for the worst scenario. It doesn’t mean that it will always work; it doesn’t mean that you will always be successful. But you will always be prepared and at your best.”
On 2018 Asian Games
Nivas also believes that India’s Asian Games, 2018 defeat to Iran is another positive paradigm to see the sport growing worldwide more than ever. “In a game, one team is bound to win and other loses. Iranians learnt the Kabaddi from us and now have truly made their mark on Kabaddi world map.”
Nurturing the young stars of tomorrow
According to Nivas, that belief lies at the heart of the team’s identity, where the Jeppiar Sports academy grows its players, is responsible for imprinting that ideal in the youngsters that join its ranks every year.
As the glue which imparts cohesiveness. Another characteristic of Jeppiaar’s identity is collaboration and teamwork. Because in today’s game Kabaddi requires the team to move in unison, it calls for every player to be aware and excel in both defending and raiding.
Interestingly, Jeppiaar trains youngsters in kabaddi for only 45-plus-45 minutes a day, during which the coaches focus on mastering different tactics of the game. The ways in which Jeppiaar nurtures Kabaddi identity results in one key capability: talent development. Nivas plays a massive role in it and his fantastic desire to improve has seen his make huge steps to developing as a coach. We’re anticipating even more improvements, along with numerous titles from this one.
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