Going back to the memories in playgrounds always make this 75-year-old volleyball legend rejuvenated. It’s been thirty-five years since Shyam Sundar Rao, the chief coach of the national volleyball team, has been in deep romance with volleyball. Rao was recently in Vadakara for the third anniversary celebrations of the programme ‘Nakshathrangal Virunnethunnu,’ where he was honoured. On the occasion, the coach from Andhra Pradesh seemed to have gone back to the memories of the games which he led on the soil of Vadakara.
“Never can I forget Vadakara in my life as a volleyball coach. In 1966, I led my team for the all-India volleyball tournament held at Vadakara for the first time, and later on in the four consecutive years too, I had to lead my team on the same soil of Vadakara. Needless to say, the people of Vadakara have a deep passion for volleyball. Their mass ovation after we won the match resounds in my ears even now,” says the infallible coach, who himself was a player of outstanding reputation.
In the hot seat of the chief national coach, Shyam Sunder had surmounted several hardships with sportsman spirit rather quietly over the years. First he was the coach of the junior national team from 1991-95 and then senior coach from 1995. During this period, he shouldered the responsibility of being a volleyball trainer in the Sports Authority of India (SAI ) southern centre, Bangalore. Never in the history of the centre had the players witnessed a full-fledged trainer like Rao, for whom there was no shortcut to success.
“My experience in Bangalore was really eventful. There were 200 trainees under my guidance. Initially they all seemed to have put up a dismal performance. It took much painstaking effort from my part to bring all of them to the level of international players. Now they are all excellent players,” says the coach.
Asked about the expertise of Rao, his prime disciple Joby Joseph, who is one of the best international players of volleyball, says: “I still remember Rao sir getting very upset and irritated even over the slightest mistakes from our side. He was so fastidious and we were given severe punishments too. At the same time, we had felt the warmth of his love and affection on several occasions. During those days, there was a common talk among us that if Rao sir was at the helm, volleyball in the country was sure to have a bright future.”
When asked about the basic needs for the promotion of the sport, the coach says, “If the departments like Police, Telephones and RTC recruit sportspersons as they did in the past, their future will be at stake. The southern states were the leading performers in the national circuit in football and volleyball. Unless the players are assured of a decent employment by virtue of their consistency at different grades, how can one expect them to continue in sports? The case of girls is particularly distressing.”
The Government of India had honoured Sundar Rao by conferring him with the Arjuna Award for the best volleyball player in 1974 and the Dhronacharya Award for the best coach in 1995.