Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXV No. 11, September 16-30, 2015
It is a long drive to the Parry’s Bus Terminus. The buses do not seem so huge out on the road, but there in the neighbourhood, we feel small and helpless as the big guys roll past! Just as one loses hope of finding the destination, a signboard is visible and we enter the compound that encloses the Prime Sports Academy.
Getting of the blocks…while training..
It is early in the afternoon and the sun shines straight into the eyes , but some of the young, prospective athletes of India are already at it – some doing short and brisk run-ups alternated with long-stride walking; some hang inverted from bars and do stomach crunches and still others stretch their muscles in preparation for the day’s training. The brightly coloured jerseys emblazoned with their team or school names add a splash of colour to the dusty running tracks. It is not noisy and throbbing with energy; quite the contrary, the youngsters work but at an almost meditative pace; then there is a sudden burst of speed and all eyes turn to the clay track in the centre, as two sprinters race, raising a load of dust, and just as abruptly ends with some verbal exchanges, hand-shaking and some good-natured back-slapping. The atmosphere of mentorship and mutual admiration brings a smile to the lips of spectators. There is such joy in sports!
Far enough from the dust and grime is a small cluster of trees under whose shades sits a group of dedicated fathers and mothers. Snacks boxes and coffee flasks do the round, as do tips on healthy diet, fads in running shoes and some snippets of information on the latest in the field of athletics. The one thing that these parents have common is the dream they cherish of seeing their young one competing in various athletic meets and one day representing the country. And the man who has brought together all these people, hot summer notwithstanding, is the founder of Prime Sports Academy – Coach P. Nagarajan.
The St. Joseph’s College bus rolls in and we are joined shortly by the coach himself. A few steps behind him is the college Track and Field team and greetings and pleasantaries are exchanged. Coach rattles out a few instructions to his boys and then directs his attention towards the non-college trainees. He echoes the same thought, “There is such joy in sports!”, but in the same breath rues the fact that India’s accomplishments in the Olympic arena do not match the talent that is available.
He has spent every moment of his last 24 years trying to make the difference and ten of those years were spent here at Prime Sports Academy that he founded. The Academy has seen a few athletes who have held national records and around 40 athlets who have competed in international meets. PSA is a private coaching academy funded entirely by St. Joseph’s Engineering College which also pays the rent for the training ground besides maintaining it. Most of the trainees here are from the weaker sections of the society and can ill-afford to pay for the coaching, much less afford high quality running and training gear. Nevertheless, there are those who do pay a princely sum of rupees fifty towards membership. With a fairly large network of talent-hunters, especially in the rural belts, the numbers are ever increasing. The alumni of PSA too play an active part in keeping the academy going – proof of this is seen on the Facebook page of the academy.
Coach Nagarajan was born in Arundavapuram in Thanjavur district. Born into an agrarian community, he did not find too much support among family members, though his sports-skill did fetch him a career in Central Excise where he is now a Superintendent. The passion for athletics soon transformed into a passion for coaching. He formalised this by completing a 10-month Diploma in coaching from the National Institute of Sports, Patiala, and began his career in coaching with the SBOA College and School. He has been a favourite among athletes of schools like Velammal and Pachaiappa’s College Higher Secondary School, some of whom continue training with him at PSA. Some of his renowned trainees include K.N. Priya and Revathi of St. Joseph’s Engineering College; Shanthi and Neelaveni were identified from schools in rural belts and brought to Chennai by coach Nagaraj and went on to represent India at the Commonwealth Games. These girls have since passed out of college and are grateful for his guidance. Similarly, Kumaravel Premkumar of Thanjavur too found his way into Coach Nagarajan’s fold and has since competed in the long jump event at international meets. He won the bronze in the indoor category at the Asian Athletic Championship in China in 2012 and the silver in the same event last year in Pune. G. Gayathri and Dipika are current favourites in the sprint hurdle events.
According to Coach Nagaraj, the most crucial aspect of sports training is understanding the physical attributes and psyche of the trainees and what to expect from them in terms of technique. He begins by saying that the body is a framework related to a certain genetic make-up; the best sport suited to one body type may not be suited to another – “simply said, a middle distance runner cannot hope to be a sprinter.” What is of prime importance is the field or category under which one is likely to perform best, and where there is a better likelihood of winning medals. This, he says, requires tremendous understanding. It is now provided by research on human biodiversity. Apart from the information, the athlete must trust his coach who knows from experience! He laments the fact that with the arrival of the internet, information is available to one and all which has led to the deterioration of the coach-trainee trust – in such cases, unhurried diplomacy to communicate with youngsters is another aspect that influences coach-trainee bond.
“Training for athletics and training athletes are two very different things and, believe me, it takes a lot of mental strength to be objective as a coach; body constitutions being different, people perform very differently in varied climatic conditions,” he says. Both trainers and trainees need to have a good rapport and trust in one another, in order to give the best. He explains, citing the example of athletes from mountainous regions like Sikkim, having trained under low oxygen conditions even in their peak physical and mental fitness, how they fail to deliver in the plains where the oxygen concentration is high.
In recent years, he has seen cultural differences play havoc with his own athletes. His star hurdler was to train at a camp in Punjab and then in the US. Her metabolism that worked around rice and lentil or, in other words, a moderate protein diet, did not co-operate with a differed protein-rich diet followed by strenuous weight training. Coach Nagaraj says that, though diploma programmes for coaches mention this in theory, sensitisation to these aspects of training is something that takes time to acquire. In this respect, he says that there is need for more regional institutes like NIS Patiala so that athletes can work closer home and in more suitable training conditions.
G. Gayathri, who completed her MBA two years ago, has still not found job-placement and says with resignation, “Those who interview me on account of my qualification feel my sport pursuits may oveshadow my contribution to their business. Perhaps they are correct!” With regard to this, Coach says that in training centres the world over, there is intense specialisation and technological advancement in the field of Sports Medicine, Biomechanics, Physiotheraphy and Psychology. “Strike while the iron is hot!” he says. Sportspersons should also be given performance incentives like aid to study sports-related subjects where they can continue to contribute even after their prime. This is something he is very passionate about and hopes to bring about some positive change with the help of his wife Dr. Mrs. Grace Helina, who is the Vice-Chancellor of Tamil Nadu Physical Education and Sports University. His next milestone is to start a sports academy that would offer short term certificate courses in the above-mentioned categories in addition to Sports Administration. “Those who know the pain and tears that go into training will understand the disappointment of rejection at boot-camps on account of poor administration. As for others who have no prospects after their performing days are over, we have to bring about a huge change.”
“Each and everyone of us has been put in this world with an intent and purpose. We have been given unique talents to fulfil this purpose. We just need to search within ourselves to identify this and go after it! We can each be leaders in our own right,” he says with great confidence and is an exemplar of this. P. Nagarajan, with his unrelenting work as a coach, mentor and one who is trying to bring about a mass transformation in the attitude towards sport, is a fitting champion of Chennai. – Courtesy: Champions of Chennai, KSA Trust).