Gujarat Fortunegiants may have faltered at the final hurdle in front of Pardeep Narwal’s super show for Season 5 champions Patna Pirates but the dominance, depth and talent which the debutants showcased in three arduous months has surely set a benchmark. And the person under whose guidance the young side converted into an overnight powerhouse is none other than Manpreet Singh. Singh was the captain of Patna Pirates in VIVO Pro Kabaddi Season 3 and led the march to their maiden title. He returned as Fortunegiants coach this season with a vision to win the coveted trophy and the mission to make stars out of newbies. In an exclusive interview with during the season, Singh shared how important the role of a coach was and how he managed to turn Fortunegiants into a formidable unit. Here are some excerpts.

What according to you is the role of a coach in VIVO Pro Kabaddi?

I am playing kabaddi since I was a kid. I have been playing for the last 25 years. Our times were different and this format is different and professional. So, the coaches must understand that we can’t make the players slaves here. The coach needs to be on the same page as the players. They need to think like players. If a coach understands this, then that team will definitely go ahead. I only think about how I should make the players play this sport and also have fun with them like playing other sports or watching movies. These things are also important. You can’t always ask the players to think about kabaddi. Practice is also important but they need to enjoy their life as well. Then only you will be a good coach and make a good team.

Gujarat Fortunegiants topped Zone A which was no surprise considering the consistency you guys showed. What was the strategy during team selection?

Pro Kabaddi is a different format and we should give young players more opportunities to play so that they can do better. We can’t expect more from players who have crossed 30 because they have injuries here and there. On the other hand, the young players tend to recover faster. It’s a body-contact game and injury is normal in such a game. The old players take time to recover from injuries and by that time the team may get behind in the league for good. Building good bench strength is also important. If a player picks up injury in my team, there are others to take his place. These are the things which have taken us to the top.

Tamil Thalaivas coach K Baskaran had the same strategy regarding young players but their campaign fell apart. So do you think it was all luck for Gujarat or your coaching tactics made the difference?

They have more young players compared to all. They have 25 players and we have 19 players so if we give the youth opportunities to play, they will do well and if you don’t give them opportunities then how will they perform? If they sit on the bench, then how will they do well? Jaipur have good young players. If they had got opportunities, then they would have performed better than the senior players. The sooner a coach understands that the younger players will perform, the better it will be for the team. Tamil Thalaivas have many young players but somewhere in the matches which they played at the start, they forgot to set the right combination. If we play with some players and lose a match, we shouldn’t get disheartened. We should make the young players play again and again, then only you can get a winning combination. But they forgot to do this and by the time they realised this it was too late. They have good staff and in the next season, if the coach works harder on the players and the players in their turn respond, they will be at the top.

Sachin has been a revelation for your team. How did you unearth this talent?

Sachin is the youngest in the league. I have known him for two years. We knew that he will do well in this format. During the auction, every team started to bid for him but I wanted him in this team no matter what. I had trust in him and he didn’t let me down. Whatever we expected from him he has delivered.

As you have participated in VIVO Pro Kabaddi as both player and coach, how different has the experience been?

There is a difference being a player and a coach. If you are a player then you only have to practise and play. But a coach has to build a team, make sure all the players are practising and have to take the entire responsibility of the team. If the team loses then also he can’t get angry with them. A coach always has to keep on motivating the players. Even if the team wins, he has to sit and make plans for the next match. A coach’s job is very difficult and I am seeing if it happens properly then I will continue or else I will leave.