Kabaddi started out as a hobby for me and today it is the reason why people know me around the world. Whatever I am today, it is all because of the sport. I owe my life to the game. It has given me much more than I could have ever asked for!
My Kabaddi journey began during my school days when my sports teacher in school introduced me to this sport. It was my good height and agility that led him to asking me if I was interested in playing Kabaddi. From there on, my interest level spiked and I started playing regularly in my village. During those days Kabaddi was not very popular and it was majorly restricted to rural areas.
Playing for the nation and winning a gold had been my dream since the day I started playing this sport. I always lived with this dream and kept on performing at domestic levels, and finally the breakthrough moment arrived in 2006 when I represented India at the South Asian Games in Sri Lanka. From then on there was no turning back. I was part of the national team that won gold medals at the 2010 and 2014 Asian Games. In 2014, I was bestowed upon with the responsibility of leading the Indian side. Winning the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup is the most memorable moment in my sporting journey and to lift the World Cup trophy was a dream come true.
After having a successful career on national and international level it was time for the Vivo Pro Kabaddi League. The Vivo Pro-Kabaddi league was a golden chapter. Pro Kabaddi, with its fast-paced action and a gripping format, has definitely given Kabaddi a much-needed momentum.
Honestly, none of the Kabaddi players ever thought that Kabaddi would gain so much popularity and recognition. When I was playing, I had never imagined of seeing a day where I would be playing a match in a stadium filled with people screaming and cheering for you, at the top of their voices. I consider myself lucky to be a part of Vivo Pro Kabaddi League as a lot of our senior players did not get this opportunity to perform in PKL. This league has given me the popularity and has made me a household name. Just like the World Cup, here too, I was fortunate to have led a team to the coveted trophy.
Your age plays a large part in how you perform on the mat. After the first couple of seasons, my performance had been on a decline. Towards the end, I could not attend pre-season camps, or train as much as I used to. Constant niggles too marred my performances. I could have extended my career by a couple of years. However, my body did not support that decision and it was best that I called it a day.
After playing so many games for the country and in Vivo PKL, I felt that this was the right time to hang up my boots from all formats of kabaddi. However, Kabaddi has been an inseparable part of my life. I cannot imagine living a life away from the mat. I had been thinking about taking up the role of a coach, for several days after announcing my retirement. When I was approached by Puneri Paltan’s management, I saw an opportunity and grabbed it immediately. I felt that now it’s my turn to give it back to this sport which has given me so much love and respect. I am really excited to continue being a part of the action and returning to Vivo PKL, but as a head coach of a team. As an individual, I have always believed in taking up new challenges and I am thrilled to be a part of Puneri Paltan.
As a player, I was always under the spotlight, so now working on the side-lines quietly is an experience I am looking forward to. My experience as a player helps me a lot in devising strategies for my team. I’ve had a comprehensive experience of the League-format as well, which does make it quite easier for me. However, the pressure is still the same. In fact, the stakes are much higher as a coach. As a player, it was just about my performance, but now, it is all about my team and the way I guide them.
Until now, in the short coaching career that I have had, I’ve realized that you need to give time to every individual player as well as the entire team and make sure that collectively as a team they perform better. In coaching, you also need a lot of patience because you cannot win every single game and after each defeat it’s your responsibility to motivate your team. I feel you need to be extremely passionate and be ready for hard work when you think of taking up coaching. To ignite the passion within the players of the team, the coach must be equally passionate as well.
Personally, I have been quite lucky in terms of the coaches I had throughout my career. Their ways of coaching are helping me today. I have been using many strategies that were taught to me by these coaches, when I was a player.
As the head coach for Puneri Paltan, I would only want the best for my squad. Our team has some of the finest players in Kabaddi and I have full faith in my players. Just like I want to be the best at everything I take up, I want my team also to be the best side of this season. This season as head coach it is my utmost priority to make Puneri Paltan shine and help them clinch the title.