Hyderabad: Coaching in any sport is not cheap. Higher the quality, so also the fees. In addition to the gear, gear, and diet costs that parents moan at, the added cost of coaching weighs down many of them. Some programs thrive on the blessings of the sports organization, the powerful, while others have the knack of connecting with the rich, who have been misled into believing that higher costs mean higher quality.
Fortunately, there are some coaches and schemes that are affordable and within the reach of the common man. One such institution that has provided high and consistent quality training over the years is the Gujarati Seva Mandal Table Tennis Academy (GSMTTA) next to the Arya Samaj Mandir on RP Road in Secunderabad.
Teaching beginners is the most difficult form of coaching. Children are easily distracted, often not interested, because parents encourage them to play sports to free their hands. Worse, they harbor bizarre ambitions for their children.
Three dedicated mentors have made the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad proud of their great dealings with children. Each of them went to the wavelength of their departments, encouraging them to express themselves best with their skills and even offering them incentives when the little ones spiced up their performance.
The names of Bana Ravinder in basketball, the late Mir Mahaboob Ali in badminton and Maduri Venugopal in table tennis come to mind very simply because of the yeoman services they have provided to their respective sports. Each of them has spawned with a handful of international and national players, mainly because they have kept their trainees’ interest, ensured that they blossomed and lived up to their potential.
The tragedy of this trio is that it didn’t get its deserved share of reward or recognition. Despite their selfless contributions to building children’s careers, supported by athletic achievements, two of them languish, but mostly survive by their sweat and toil. Sadly, Mahaboob Ali, who learned the biggest names in badminton from correctly holding the racket, died much poorer after his retirement from the Accountant Generals Office.
Of the aforementioned trio, Venugopal was the last participant in this select club. He first joined the YMCA in Secunderabad in 1991 and learned the game by watching others play. Little did he realize that in years to come his powers of observation would bring him laurels for the winning ways he had instilled in children. This trait was noticed early on by his guru Telukunta Nagaraj, who encouraged Venu to push the youngsters to achieve better results.
Mutual respect between educator and student has lasted for nearly three decades. If a tree is known for its fruit, Venugopal has produced champions with regularity on an assembly line. Bhaavitha Nagulapalli and Varuni Jaiswal played a prominent role in winning the bronze medal of Telangana youth teams in the 2019 senior Nationals in Jammu. Although Varunis’ exploits are widely known, Bhaavitha first appeared on the scene by becoming No. 1 among juniors and No. 2 among women.
Palak Ghia became State Junior No. 1. Another promising prospect is Ananya Donekal, runner-up in the State Juniors, who participated in WTT Youth Contender tournaments in Otocec, Slovenia and in Varazdin, Croatia from September 4 to 10, 2021. Satya Aspathi, ranked No. 3 in the category of cadets (under 12 years old) also took part in the 2019 sub junior Nationals at Abhay Prashal indoor stadium in Indore, MP.
The early success of Venus efforts was due to Veeshan Gupta, who became the champion of the Andhra Pradesh (AP) states cadet (under 12 years old) in 2000. Two years later, B. Bhavana followed suit with cadet girls, while her brother B. Sridhar became state cadet No. 1 in 2003.
In the same year, Venugop’s star student, Nikhat Banu, was to appear. The 10-year-old took the crown not only in her age group, but also among older girls in the sub-junior section. In the following year, she became the cadet National Champion, 36 years after Mir Khasim Ali ending the drought of AP’s triumphs at the national level. On one occasion, it was a blank slate by Venus students as Nikhat took the state women’s, youth and junior girls’ titles, while Akshi Sancheti took the cadet and sub-junior girls’ crowns.
Though always a humble and gentle man, the achievements of the Venus wards spoke most eloquently for his selfless service. District, state, and national officials began to take note of his most prolific work, free from fanfare and commercialism. From 2005, he was charged with looking after Andhra Pradesh’s squads for the sub-junior, junior and senior Nationals. His students made him proud and made sure they never came back empty-handed when he accompanied them as a coach.
The Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) appointed him coach for the 2007 Fajr International Junior and Cadet Championships in Iran, from where his students returned with a string of medals. His next international assignment was to the 27e Open Golden Racket international tournament in Vietnam in 2013, where Indian women’s team claimed bronze.
As national coach for the India Junior Open 2015 in Indore, Venu led the junior squad to gold. Three years later, the junior and cadet girls won the bronze medals for team events in the Thailand Open. Those international forays were made possible by the twelve bronze, four silver and eight gold medals his players AP and Telangana brought to individual, doubles and team events in the cadet, sub-junior and junior categories over a decade from 2006 to 2016.
In recognition of his expertise, Venu was invited as a coach for the 2012 National Junior Coaching Camp in Indore. Promising players from his stable include seasoned internationals Varuni, Rachana A., Ayushi Ghia, Tejeesh and Jishnu Vakharia. While he would never begrudge their success, his divisions have made tremendous strides in their sports and careers. Venu remains unmarried, true to his craft, often misunderstood and unrecognized for his quiet efficiency and unobtrusive profile.
A. Joseph Antony was a Sony TV commentator for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, more recently Euro 2020, Copa America 2021 and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. The author of My wayThe biography of ML Jaisimha (Amazon, Apple Books) and a postgraduate in history from the University of Hyderabad, he was Senior Assistant Editor at The Hindu in Hyderabad.
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