Pullela Gopichand: When I started coaching, they said good players cannot be good coaches

File photo: PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal pose with their 2018 Asian Games medals, with coach Pullela Gopichand. NOAH SEELAM/AFP via Getty Images

Pullela Gopichand, the chief national coach of the Indian badminton team, believes he was "hanging off a cliff" when he first decided to make the transition from player to mentor.

Gopichand's rocky analogy was one among several insights he shared during a chat with R Ashwin on the cricketer's YouTube channel, as explained what he goes through on a daily basis managing his wards.

"When you finish your career as a player, it is almost like you are hanging off a cliff. You know that you have to fall off," he said.

"If you decide to jump off the cliff, when you have a bit of energy, then you can bounce back and use that fall as an energy for your next career.

"I was lucky, because the end part of my career, I jumped into coaching. That gave me energy going forward. Many of the times, players tend to push that bar for too long, and hold on to the cliff for too long. They almost fall down hard and find it hard to bounce, because they have spent too much energy hanging on to the cliff."

While he had doubts about his coaching acumen at the start, Gopichand said that active players were more inclined to listen to him because of his own career exploits.

"When I started coaching, they said good players cannot be good coaches. They asked how can a player who has played competitively against most of the current players, become their coach? That resistance was there from senior players. I took each one as a challenge.

Gopichand, who won the All England Open singles title in 2001, remains the only Indian other than Prakash Padukone to have won one of badminton's oldest and most prestigious tournaments.

"I trusted myself, but I knew I was working in a system and I had to take people along. But luckily, as All England champion, you walk into a badminton court and people respect you. That initial honeymoon was very important - the kids just trusted me blindly.

"Had I not won the All England, it would have taken so much time for the kids to trust me. That belief and trust, especially in the initial years, was very critical."

Gopichand also stressed on the importance of a proper coaching structure right from the grassroots level, to ensure that potential talents did not slip through the cracks.

"We need to understand that at a junior level, typically as a coaching structure, we have to look at structures in terms of hierarchy. More importantly, it is grassroots level, intermediate and elite level coaches," he said.

"That's how it should be, where each coach passes the player on to the next level. That's the structure that's most important. Today, coaches are believed to be good are awarded more and rewarded more if they coach with the national team. But truly, someone who works at the grassroots level and churns out player after player, should be really regarded as a top coach."

One area which Gopichand feels he could improve on is strengthening the personal connection with his younger players, something he says has become more difficult to do in recent years due to other commitments.

As coach, Gopichand has worked with practically all of a India's top players, including Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu, India's only Olympic medallists in the sport

"Between 2005 and 2008, every tournament that my players went to, I also went. I stayed with them literally all through the journey.

"But the last few years, I have spent so much time with only the top players, that I have not been able to spend that time with the younger generation. We have suffered because of that in the assembly line. Some of the players that could have become [good] have not transformed.

"For me, the greatest blessing was that I believed these players belonged to me. Owning the players is important, because when you own them, then you do everything and anything for them. Which means learning. You don't know something, you learn something to teach them better. But if you don't own them, whatever coach education you give them is of no value."