HYDERABAD: His journey as a coach began in the late seventies after he quit playing badminton at the young age of 28. Ever since, he has succeeded where others have failed. The who’s who of badminton in the country today are all his disciples. Be it former All England Champion Pullela Gopichand, Saina Nehwal, Jwala Gutta or Chetan Anand. What more, players who have been trained by him have won over 200 international and national titles.
Meet Syed Mohammad Arif who is among this year’s Padma Sri awardees. “It is all because of the Almighty,” says a modest Arif, who was mobbed by the media and well-wishers at his residence in Noor Khan Bazar, Old City, soon after the Padma awards were announced on Wednesday.
The man, whose passion for the game is second to none, took to coaching as he never got the right training. Walking down the memory lane, Arif recalls, “I never received the kind of training that should be given to a player. There was no systematic training. We would play three to four games a day. That was it. This was not to my liking. Sensing my discomfort, my physical director late Anwar Habib suggested that I should become a coach.”
Arif, who took the advice seriously, enrolled himself for a diploma course in the National Institute of Sports (NIS) Patiala and came out with flying colours. His attachment to the game was such that he had even left his family business.
Sharing his experiences as a coach, the recipient of the Dronacharya Award explains that he had figured out quite early that the old methods of training just wouldn’t work. “We had the talent, but no fitness. So, I focused on the importance of fitness along with the game. Sport is all about science. I read books and worked on various techniques. I have always believed that a player has to work hard but he/she must enjoy it as well,” observes Arif.
Arif had to literally start from scratch as back then, Andhra Pradesh wasn’t the badminton powerhouse that it is today. “The facilities were nil. I had to beg for Yonex shuttles, sometimes, spend from my own pocket or plead for sponsors. But I knew that if we put in a little effort, I could discover talent. I took it as a challenge,” he says.
His first success came with the grooming of Praveen Kumar and Manoj Kumar. The two went on to excel in national and international tournaments. The former was a nationals runner-up too while Manoj was excellent in doubles. The game became popular in the state and players like Vijayaraghavan and Gopichand came under Arif’s wings.
“If there was one player who I thought would be a world beater, it was Gopichand. He was a workaholic. I knew he would rule the world. I was very delighted when he won the All England in 2001. This was after his serious knee injury. Any other player would have quit the game but not Gopichand,” comments the proud coach.
Arif had also been the chief national coach from 1997 till his retirement. “He is gentle and never loses his cool,” points out Govardhan, who has been with Arif for 11 years, summing up the secret of his mentor’s success.
For a self-made man, the Padma award is a long due recognition. “These type of awards motivate me,” the indefatigable Arif concedes.