The name of Anup Kumar would have been known to all followers of Kabaddi in India. But the arrival of Pro Kabaddi League and intense television coverage turned him into a superstar. He is now recognised in homes across India.
Known for is cool and calm demeanour, Kumar was the captain of the Indian team that came back from behind to win the Kabaddi World Cup in 2016. A veteran of the game, he retired as a player after the previous season of PKL.
But far from going away from the league, he continues to play a key part in it as coach of Puneri Paltan. In an exclusive interview with Akshay Saraswat of International Business Times, India, the Arjuna Awardee discusses the role of a coach and how it differs from that of a captain. He also talks about Indian team's surprising loss last year in Asian Games and its repercussions.
How has been the experience of transitioning from a player to a coach? Even as a player, you were the captain who guided the entire team. So, is it a similar job?
Anup: The job of a player is easier, I think. coach's job is a little difficult. When I was a player on the mat, I knew how I have to play. What kind of strategy has to be developed, how the different players have to be used, which raiders to send and when to send them? It is easier to handle all that while being on the mat.
It is difficult to handle the team from outside. As a player, when I was in the game, in crucial moments, I used to take the decisions myself. What do I need to do and how to do it? Mostly, I used to try and do the needful myself. When the team was going through ups and downs, I myself used to try making a difference. Because I could put my own mind to that.
Now, as a coach, I am away from the mat. I can tell the players what to do but it is they who have to execute it on the field of play. Whether they can do it or not is their responsibility. My job is to tell them and explain to them what is required. I can do that properly.
But they have to put that into action. If they are not able to do that, the mind becomes upset. Then there is a problem. Then you realise how much difference there is between a coach and a player.
Is man-management and understanding the psyche and mind-set of players the most important part of coaching?
Anup: Absolutely. Coach's job is not to just get the players to practice and then tell them to rest, get them to play and tell them to rest. Coach should know about every player and his situation. How are things at his home, what are his eating habits, how does he get rest, what he likes in his diet, how much rest he needs before the match and after the match, how long can he practice, how much capability he has, his level of fitness, everything has to be paid attention to, each player at a time.
What is the nature of the relationship between a coach and a captain? You have been in both positions. Does the nature of this relationship vary in each team, or, is it the same?
Anup: It is the same in every team. The conversation between the coach and the captain is very important. It is also very important that they sit together and talk. Because the coach is outside the playing area during the match. He sits in the dugout whereas the captain is on the mat.
So, whatever we discuss with the captain, whatever we plan, from outside, we can't keep repeating it as we have only one timeout. It is the captain who can put those plans into effect. If the entire strategy gets discussed before the match between captain and the coach, then it becomes easy for the captain to take decisions during a match and tell his players what to do.
You seem like a very cool and calm person. Do you try to keep your team calm as well during the match, especially in tense moments?
Anup: I always remain calm myself and keep my team calm as well. Because there is no gain by being hyper-excited. I think whenever we take a decision while remaining calm or do something while being calm, it would be good.
But if we are too excited, angry or have an attitude about ourselves, then, we even do the right thing wrongly. So, I try and remain cool generally and as a coach also. Even when a player comes back after making a mistake, I never scold him. I tell him that "You have made this mistake and you shouldn't do it like this. You were unsuccessful here and now you only will correct your mistake. You focus on what I am saying and play like this and you will be successful." I never get too angry.
As a veteran of Indian Kabaddi, do you think that Indian team's loss to Iran in the Asian Games last year, while being a big jolt for India, was good for Kabaddi in general as it will create a great rivalry between the two teams, on the lines of Ashes in cricket?
Anup: Absolutely. You see, this is very good for the game. Currently, the biggest problem is, as you said just now, it was a big jolt when India lost and people felt very bad about it. The reason why everyone felt it as a big shock was because we never lost in Kabaddi. Losing for the first time, in such a big tournament, something that has never happened before, lot of people found it strange that such a thing could happen. "Such a thing cannot happen!"
But it is good for our game because players from other countries who are coming here, like those from Iran, Korea, Japan, etc., they are playing well here in Pro Kabaddi League. When they play here, look at their fan following in India!
Whether it is Fazel (Atrachali), Abozar (Meghani), Meraj Sheykh, etc. Look at how much they are liked by our people. That is improving our game. They are getting to see our skills and we are getting to see their skills. That is also benefiting them. The more other countries come up, the more that competition grows, the more India's game will improve.