Tamil Thalaivas is a team studded with both stars and youngsters. When the debutants entered VIVO Pro Kabaddi this season, the management appointed none other than Indian kabaddi team coach K Baskaran to give shape to their aspirations. Coming back from a World Cup-winning campaign, Baskaran’s impact on the young players in the squad has been huge, even though the results have not been often in favour of the Thalaivas. Prokabaddi.com spoke to Baskaran in an exclusive interview recently, where he mapped his entire journey from his village to the world stage of kabaddi over the years. Here are the excerpts from his interview.

Please give us a glimpse into your kabaddi journey.

Kabaddi is a Tamilian game and everyone in my village plays kabaddi and kho-kho. Our village has big grounds where we played every morning and evening. We played it as a habit and not for becoming a player. When I was 16 years old, we won the state-level school competition and then I joined a club. I played other district and state-level tournaments as well.

Shortly after, I came to know how important kabaddi was as various companies were appointing kabaddi players through sports quota. I was quite surprised and at the age of 19, I worked in some departments and participated in tournaments there. Thereafter, I played in the Asian Games where we won gold. I was the captain of the side.

I always had a knack of learning more and more from the coaches. When I was in Bengaluru for the Asian Games in 1994, I carefully observed the coaching style of one of the coaches and was highly impressed. He used to brief the players on how to raid and tackle. He was a great coach and it was then that I decided that I will become a coach after I retired. This is how my coaching journey started and it’s been a great experience so far. It feels great to coach the players, share my experiences with them and help them in making their game better.

How is the kabaddi scene in Tamil Nadu?

Kabaddi started in Tamil Nadu and the state’s team was the strongest across the country from 1993 to 1997. But unfortunately, the players received no support from the government from 1993 onwards and hence the players stopped playing the sport as there was no future. They shifted their focus to studies and their parents also didn’t allow them to get associated with this sport. But recently, it has been much better because of Mashal Sports, Kabaddi Federation of India and VIVO Pro Kabaddi.

What are the challenges that you face as a coach?

The people of Tamil Nadu are very eager to see their team perform and this is the biggest challenge for me. Another challenge is the fact that I have picked young players in the team over experienced players. I like to challenge myself as I have played so many tournaments and have learnt a lot from other players. Many of the players are new to the league so training them and making them perform is another challenge.

Can a good kabaddi player become a good coach or does it require a different set of skills?

No. A good player may not be a good coach and a good coach may not have been a good player. The difference is in the individual and the coaching capacity. It also depends on the technique. For example, there can be a maths teacher who makes the students understand the subject easily, while another teacher keeps on talking but the students do not understand a thing. So, a coach should make the players understand strategies in a simple way.

What do you think about the balance in your team?

We had discussed with our team owner as to how to go about picking the right players and he had told me to pick them myself as I was the coach. I told him that I wanted to give more opportunities to youngsters in the team as they will come at a less price and we can train them to become better players in the future. For experience, we had to pick good players like Ajay Thakur and Amit Hooda. This was the criterion with which I selected my team. We have three players for each position in the defence which is very important in the practice sessions as every defender has a different technique of tackling or body movements. So they all are learning new techniques every day.