When you want to be the best, you need to train with the best. Perhaps this would have been the thinking of the Badminton Association of India (BAI), when they roped in Denmark's Olympic silver medalist Mathias Boe, as the coach of the Indian doubles team for the second time now.
Just come to think of it, the Dane has medals in all competitions that matter, but most importantly the mindset to pull Indian doubles out of a big hole. Indians, over the years, for a great part, have only trained with the Asian coaches, producing a few results here and there. But what was needed was a fresh approach, and who better than Boe to bring it to India.
The man in his first stint had trained Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty ahead of the Olympics, and the duo had nearly made it to the second round. Despite being ousted, the team looked completely in control and also got the better of the world no.4 pair of Lee Yang and Wang Chi-Lin. Such was his effect on the world no.8 Indian pair, that when he departed later that year, the team's performances came down too. While many including the Dane might just write it off as a mere coincidence, but what explains Satwik and Chirag's sudden rise in performance at the Thomas Cup, where on Boe's return, they won five matches out of six. Those results have only given us food for thought.
Now whatever the case be, the 41-year-old coach is ecstatic that India won the most prestigious tournament, where the team played a crucial role, just like the singles players did, and it's time to build on this success. "Satwik and Chirag did win crucial matches for India, but it was not just their matches that gave India the title. Lakshya Sen did wonderfully well to come back in the final tie against Anthony Ginting and give the team another win. Kidambi Srikanth and HS Prannoy were equally good in the tournament too.
"To win something of this stature is huge. I still don't think many understand how big is it to win the Thomas Cup, considering only a few nations have won it so far. It is not just one player or one doubles team or a singles player who can win this tournament. Just about every player needs to give it their best in every match, and things just need to click, so credit to the entire team there. Satwik and Chirag did win crucial matches for India, but it was not just their matches that gave India the title. Lakshya Sen did wonderfully well to come back in the final tie against Anthony Ginting and give the team another win. Kidambi Srikanth and HS Prannoy were equally good in the tournament too," Boe told SportsCafe from Malaysia.
Boe is well aware that the Indian teams, over the last two years, did not really have the services of a foreign head coach, and it is not about finetuning the game of the players, as much as it would be about changing the mindset. Training with the coaches in India, as Boe rightly points out, might be a regular thing for these players, where keeping themselves motivated could have been the biggest challenge. So the coach certainly has the clarity of thought, as to what the players need.
"It has been a little hard for the Indian doubles players not to have a foreign coach around for almost two years or have a coach who can stick around for a long time. It is a little tough to find a coach who can make Hyderabad their home and put in the hard yards with the team regularly. In all fairness, it is not easy for the players to keep themselves motivated, if they think they don't have anything to learn from a coach.
"Not that the ones they were training with were not good, but it is just about bringing something new to the table. This is what has happened with the doubles teams in India, and it was just the opposite of the conducive environment you want to give the players. Hopefully, I can bring a positive change in their training and can motivate them in the way I want. I feel, that with these players, I can bring in a better structure, and make them train hard and smart, mostly the latter. I'm trying to bring in a change, and give them a push so that they can realize their potential," he added.
While fully understanding what his responsibility towards the players is, he wants them to also commit 100 percent to the game, no matter what. In fact, Boe did not mince his words and elaborated on the problem which could be stopping some of the youngsters from becoming their best versions. The hard taskmaster that he is, it is obvious that he wants his players to improve.
"There is one thing I'm struggling with, ever since I have come back. I'm not talking about Satwik and Chirag, since they have already reached a certain level, but others, who are talented, but yet to make a big mark. Badminton is a demanding sport, and to be at the top, you need to put everything else on hold, and this is something players are not understanding. Maybe once you reach a certain level, you can manage your personal life and badminton together, but for now, the sole focus should be the game. I've had this conversation a few times, but I think they have still not realized the full importance of it. Right now there are a lot of obligations for them.
"There are a few talented teams around who are in the top 30, but from there to go to the top 5 is great hard work. Although it is only a step-up of five percent from where they currently stand, but still the most difficult to achieve. In all fairness, not every team will make it there, but the ones that decide to focus only on the game as of now, and nothing else. All of them have the potential to dream big, but only time will tell who makes sacrifices to be there actually."
While he praised the women's doubles pair of Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand and believes the pair operates on a very high level, he sounded a touch disappointed over the mixed doubles resources India possesses at the moment. "Honestly, there hasn't been a lot of focus on the mixed doubles as of now, and I haven't seen a culture also. Satwik and Ashwini were a great pair, but he can't focus on both, and for that matter, Ashwini as well. It is hard for any player to focus on two categories at one time.
"Now Sumeeth and Ashwini are starting to do well, and then we have Ishan and Tanisha too, but I don't really see a structure. The girls have sessions together, and the same with the boys, so that also makes it tough. Right now the focus is on men's and women's doubles, where we have chances of winning medals. Currently, I don't see any profiles, that I can invest only in the mixed doubles. At some point though I will have to look at that as well."
The work that Boe puts in with the Indian team becomes all the more important, as for now, he is not in a position to commit to a long-time contract. But he certainly has set goals for himself and is fully focussed on achieving them.
"My contract is for six months since I can't commit for a longer duration as of now. I have spent years, as a player, and now as a coach, in the grind, and need to see what happens after the end of these six months. But all that is a fair distance away and right now the focus is solely on what I can do with the teams I am with. There is the World Championship approaching, then obviously there are the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games, so I would like to see if I can win these tournaments as a coach now. It is for later that the contract with the BAI is discussed," he signed off.