Legacy of Fitness
Cricket is more of a mental game. That’s what we knew. Sandy Gordon the Australian sports psychologist came to the National Cricket Academy in 2006 and said, “To be mentally fit you got to be physically fit”. In fact, physical fitness plays a key role in most sports. In soccer, athletics, hockey, tennis, badminton, swimming and cricket, physical prowess can give you a head start. Of course, in games like chess, archery, shooting physical fitness comes secondary.
The history of India’s performance in the Olympics reveals that we hardly have a legacy. Athletics, the mother of all sports demands physical attributes to its maximum. So far, Milkha Singh and P.T. Usha have made any impression in 110 years of the Olympics. Unlike Ethiopians and Kenyans we are not born athletes. Why pick Kenya and Ethiopia? Because without much support from sports science, they keep producing phenomenal long distance runners. They inherit a muscle group rich in type 1 fibre that can use cellular oxygen to its maximum capacity. Distance running runs in their blood.
Even without gifted body types China, Japan and Korea have taken big strides. It is achieved with sheer application of sports science. For us, even in 2017 there is no uniform system prevalent across all sports. That is the stark reality. Different sports bodies have different perspectives.
The most popular sports, cricket thought of liberating itself from the dark era of a pimp called Ali Irani around 2000. Australian physio Andrew Kokinos along with coach John Wright were the first two foreign professionals. Afterwards, physio Andrew Leipus and trainer Adrian Le Roux made great inroads in changing the perception to fitness. What previously was a mundane jog around the park now turned into a run for dear life.
Controversial coach Greg Chappell put the icing on the cake. Fitness parameters became mandatory. All the Indian trainers, (this columnist included), enriched themselves by learning from Andrew Leipus and Adrian La Roux. The sense of vision seriously triggered in the Indian board. It realised that a standardised system should spread across the country. Through the National Cricket Academy’s educational programme, BCCI created a sound pool of trainers. Now fitness wears a total professional look in cricket across all age groups.
Look at football, the most neglected sport along with athletics. Neither the All India Football Federation (AIFF) nor Athletics Federation of India (AFI) ever made any endeavour in putting a system into place across the country. We had a streak of foreign football coaches – from Ciric Milovan, Jiri Pesek, Rustov Akramov to Josef Gelei. Their coaching skills were modern but they never had any support staff.
The AIFF must have missed how the Argentina team trained physically under a trainer back in 1986 to adjust to the heat and height of Mexico. Gelei or Milovan cannot teach you how to do clean and jerk for strength work. There is no doubt that the foreign coaches did ask for fitness trainers. Also there is no doubt that the federation refused it.
Subhash Bhowmick inducted South African fitness trainer Kevin Jackson before his ASEAN cup hurrah with East Bengal back in 2003. That was first of it’s kind in club football. Afterwards Peter Macnite of England also trained East Bengal. Our footballers gained immensely from it by having a feel of scientific approach to fitness. They had a feel of fitness tests such as beep, IRM squat etc.
Finally, AIFF felt the need for a foreign fitness expert in 2010, what Bhowmick thought at the club level in 2003. Football and other sports should take a leaf out of cricket. Till the time we have our own quality experts, we must hire them from abroad and then create an educational programme with the help of foreign experts. That way the sports will have its own pool of fitness experts.
It’s not that whoever comes from abroad is a class act. But one has to accept that the strength and conditioning courses abroad along with the practical exposure of those who come are well ahead of us. After Paddy Upton left, Indian cricket team is in the hand of Indian trainers. It is obvious that our trainers are now as good as the foreigners.
(Chinmoy Roy is a veteran fitness expert & trainer and has been associated in different capacities with Indian and Bengal cricket for decades)