KOCHI: On a regular evening at the YMCA in Kochi, several young paddlers were locked in a fierce exchange of rallies. Amid the whirring balls and vaulting players, an unwilling six-year-old traipsed along and stood against her coach Ambika Radhika.
With her face up, she pleaded, “I want to go to Trivandrum with mummy.” “Sure. If you play well, I will let you go early,” said Radhika as she nudged her to the adjacent table.
“It takes patience. Sometimes, a lot of it when you are dealing with kids,” said the former international, beginning to describe the transition from being a star table tennis player to being a coach.
“It was not altogether easy in the beginning. But once I immersed myself in it, I started enjoying it,” said the 42-year-old, who started the K R Pillai Table Tennis Academy in memory of her late father, as an attachment to the YMCA in 2011.
The idea of starting an academy of her own was in her mind ever since her retirement as a player. A manager with the Indian Oil Corporation, she was in Mumbai till 2009.
When Radhika moved to Kochi with her family that year, she started dusting up her dreams of giving something back to the sport that made her.
“My sons had started going to school by then and they weren’t needing me around all the time. On top of that, I was finding a lot of free time in Kochi. So when the YMCA approached me to convert a one-room space into a table tennis training facility, I readily agreed.” she said.
What began as a one-room two-table facility today houses six tables arranged over a large hall with enough space for trainees to jog around and warm up.
Radhika spends close to an hour and half every evening at the training centre. After leaving the IOC office in Panampilly Nagar, she picks up her sons from their school and heads straight to YMCA in Kadavanthra. During the summers, she also spends her morning hours at the academy, where another coach Gladyson Correa and an automatic ball-shooting machine are her only helps.
“I do this because I wanted to teach someone what I have learned from the sport. Initially, when I started the academy, I had to put in money from my pocket. It changed after a year, but even today I don’t take a penny home from the academy,” she said.
As a coach, Radhika tasted her first success in 2012 when her protege Nithin Narayanan, all of 14 years, won the men’s title in an open state ranking tournament in Thiruvananthapuram.
“It is too soon to be listing out our laurels. I prefer to take in young trainees and train them into good players,” said Radhika, who is expecting her first batch of trainees to break into the national and international scene in the next two years.