Fitness is of prime importance in any sport and perhaps more so than ever before in Season 5 of VIVO Pro Kabaddi – an edition designed to challenge the limits of an individual’s physical conditioning over a gruelling three-month long campaign with 138 matches in total. Keeping fit in the all-action, adrenaline-fuelled environment of Pro Kabaddi raises the bar further given that it’s a contact sport. Keeping that in mind, caught up with central medical coordinator of the league, Niranjan Pandit, for an insightful chat surrounding the nuances of his job and guidelines for keeping fit. Here are the excerpts from the interview.

How does your team work?

We are working as the central medical co-ordinator team and our role is to set up medical services across all venues to make sure that we are providing high quality care for players in terms of their injury management to make sure that things run smoothly. In case of any injury to the players we make sure that they are getting a prompt response and an accurate diagnosis and good care.

How has been the experience so far?

It’s been brilliant. In a way it’s a tough job in terms of making sure that you’re writing up all the medical guidelines and ensuring that all the franchisee medical partners are following the same and ensuring that you take into account the distance to the hospitals from the venues. So it’s a challenging job.

Have you covered other sports as well?

I have been working with cricket for the last eight years and I am a physiotherapist by background. I have been working with cricket and other sports like badminton, soccer and kabaddi definitely.

How do you think kabaddi is different from the other sports you have covered?

Basically being a contact sport, the kind of acute injuries which you expect are much more frequent and it can be quite serious. So that way if you compare kabaddi with other sports which are non-contact games, the number of injuries and the kind of injuries will definitely differ and they can be quite serious at times.

This season we have seen a lot of injuries, so what could be the reason according to you?

The league being long this season could be one aspect but there are physios with each team who work on their players’ recovery and that aspect is taken care of and they make sure that the players are fit before playing any match and also I would say that being a contact sport you can’t predict when and what type of injuries will happen. If there is a tackle and there are probably two guys falling on top of you, things could go wrong. So I feel being a contact sport it is always challenging and you can’t really predict when an injury can happen. You have to be on your toes all the time.

Which aspect of fitness is of utmost importance for a kabaddi player?

A lot of aspects actually because if you look at this sport the players need to be very strong, they need to be agile, they need to be flexible. So it’s holistic fitness I would say which is very important. At the same time you want a good amount of cardio vascular fitness as well. Being a short duration game but a lot more intense, there are a lot of aspects of fitness which are necessary. So, you can take strength, power, agility, co-ordination, you name any aspect of fitness and it is needed in this and this is the beauty of this game that it challenges you from a fitness perspective.

Would you like to give any precaution or fitness tips to those who want to be kabaddi players?

I will definitely say that pre-season preparation is very important for any sport and it’s true for kabaddi as well because the time leading up to the competition is very important, how you build your training load and how you build your system and all that. At the same time when the league starts, recovery becomes very important. So things like cool recovery sessions and ice baths which will help the players recover faster and especially phases where you have your home leg, where you play back-to-back matches. So those are the crucial areas where you need to look at in terms of injury prevention and of course monitoring those training loads as well. If you feel that certain players are being overloaded then you need to monitor and control the load so that they can get enough time for recovery that reduces the chances of injuries.

Are raiders more prone to injuries or defenders?

Looking at the sport you will think that raiders get more injuries because that’s one against seven but if you look at the tackle there are three or more players involved, so a defender also has an equal chance of getting injured.

Tell us about the biggest challenge you have faced so far.

In this job the biggest challenge is writing up a medical guideline to make sure that it is uniform with all the franchises and all the medical partners. So making them aware of certain aspects of anti-doping in terms of sending out some guidelines which are put forth by WADA to make sure that nobody has any issues with anti-doping and also making sure that when you reach a particular venue, meeting all the medical staff and coordinating with them and getting them to know what is to be done if an injury happens on the field of play. So evacuating the players, having drills and the whole emergency part of it is quite challenging because when an injury happens it is important to take measures as soon as possible but at the same time it’s important that nobody panics. So we have to make sure that it’s calm and quick and that’s the challenge.

What is the daily routine of a medical coordinator?

Every day from morning it is to make sure that when practice sessions are happening there is a medical team always available and coordinating with those guys to make sure that they are there on time if anything is needed not only from an emergency perspective but sometimes it is a small illness that needs to be addressed. Each day is important because a common illness like the flu can put a player down. So it is important to make sure that they get the immediate care for their illness or for their injuries. After the practice sessions, setting up for the matches in terms of making sure the ambulance and the first aid station is available. It’s not just about the player medical facility, it is also about the venue medical facility. There are so many people at the venue, you have to look after general people as well. So we are basically prepared for every situation.

It’s a long season, so how do you sustain yourself?

I think it’s fairly easy if you have done your preparations beforehand. If you have your own preparation in place and you know what you need to do, it becomes easy then. First few venues could be difficult to find that pace but once it’s done, then it’s fairly simple to sustain.