We have all been inspired by Shah Rukh Khan’s character in Chak De! India. Well, V M Asokan from Kerala is pretty much the same. For him, being a coach of 33 girls means getting up during the wee hours of the morning, following the students like a shadow while they practise, and keeping them motivated through the year. And hang on. He does all this at the age of 53!
Asokan, who is currently working as the coach at St Mary’s Academy in Sultan Bathery, Wayanad, also runs his own academy in his village, Kalloor. And what makes him special is the fact that more than over 100 of his students have played at the national-level, with eight of them representing the Indian women’s Volleyball team.
But 20 years ago, the situation was not as good as it is today. As Asokan recalls, “We neither had the coaching, nor the resources to do well.” The Wayanad team had to endure an indifferent attitude from the sports authorities. Perhaps it was this experience that inspired him to do his bit and give back to the world of sports.
“I wanted to make sure that no young player had to go through what I did. I was sure that players from the region had potential – they just needed the right technical guidance,” he says by way of explanation.
It was only recently that he got an offer from St Mary Academy wanting him to run a volleyball programme. And he took it up because it was right up his alley. “Even when children from our district went on to do really well, the district team failed to replicate that success. I was confident that if I could develop a good enough system, I could convince these college students to stay in Wayanad.
It was around this time that St Mary’s College decided to revamp their volleyball programme and they wanted me to run it,” he says.
But when you are building a team that is going to compete on international grounds, expectations are high and success is not easy to come by.
With a lack of funds forming the usual barrier, there was another problem that had to taken into account — convincing the parents to let their girls join the training. “We bought nets and balls using money donated by parents of the players. While I provided them free coaching, the monthly expenses came to around `3000, but this was still a huge sum for many of them who came from tribal backgrounds,” he says. While getting the girls was not the easiest things to pursue, with time, Asokan’s actions spoke for itself. “Not many in the region are aware that playing volleyball can often lead to stable jobs. But with time, more and more people have come to hear of what the girls at our academy have achieved. Now they want their daughters to do that too,” he says smiling.
The sweat and hard work paid off, “Today, if you look at the state competitions, Wayanad is the team that adopts the latest tactical innovations faster than anyone else. More than 200 students learnt how to play the game here. A number of boys who studied here went on to secure jobs in the Army and Navy, based on the strength of their game. Many of them came from really poor backgrounds, so volleyball really changed their lives,” he says.
The girls, who initially had a hard time adjusting when they first came over are so comfortable now that they don’t even want to go back home for the holidays.
Among the various achievements that have made Asokan happy, there is one that makes him ecstatic. “While my students have done well, my own daughter Ashwathy has done me proud this year. She represented India at Beach Volleyball and has qualified for the Rio Olympics.