October 23, 2022 – the Tamil Thalaivas‘ the young brigade walked off the mat with their heads bowed and a lingering sense of disbelief written all over their faces, with just one victory to show in six Pro Kabaddi 2022 matches.
Just hours after a 24-41 hammering of the UP Yoddhas, the Thalaivas announced via a post on their social media that coach J Udayakumar was stepping down for “personal reasons”.
A kind of double whammy – first the team barely fought hard enough, and suddenly they found themselves without a coach. The announcement came with an extra line at the end, which read – “New Tamil Thalaivas coach will be announced shortly. Stay tuned!”
Now the little things in life make a big difference. In the statement above, the exclamation point at the end meant that better things were in store for the Thalaivas.
Sure, reading into the exclamation mark might well be considered inessential, but it still suggested that all was not lost, and the atmosphere within Camp Thalaivas was hopeful.
Soon, alongside all the Diwali celebrations, came a cracker of an official Thalaivas statement.
Enter Ashan Kumar, the coach of the Indian national team and a man whose CV is adorned with unparalleled achievements. For the uninitiated, in addition to his role at the head of the Indian kabaddi, Ashan comes with the experience of having coached Iran and South Korea internationally and Puneri Paltan in previous editions of Pro Kabaddi.
The Thalaivas knew exactly what they were getting into with the appointment of Kumar as their new head coach, and it was only a matter of time before Pro Kabaddi aficionados saw if he could indeed bring life to life. to the team’s failing PKL 9 campaign. .
Kumar’s biggest challenge was to get the team out of troubled waters and back to winning ways, but it wasn’t entirely straightforward. Facing Jaipur Pink Panthers and Dabang Delhi KC, both teams are firmly entrenched in the top half of the Pro Kabaddi Points Table 2022 was to be nothing less than a Herculean task.
A 38-27 win over Jaipur followed by a 49-39 thrashing of delhi, however, seemed to suggest otherwise. For those who had followed Pro Kabaddi 2022 closely until Thalaivas’ victory over Delhi, it was probably something that was not fathomed even in their wildest dreams.
Two matches into Ashan Kumar’s coaching tenure, Thalaivas’ exuberance returned to the fore, the smiles were back on their faces and they had now delivered statement performances that were impossible to beat. match their team with six matches in Pro Kabaddi 2022.
Mind you, it was still the same team led by right corner Sagar, with Narender trying out his raider role. Sahil Gulia was still a big presence in the left corner, and youngster Abhishek continued to shamelessly try to eliminate raiders from the right cover position with left cover Mohit for company.
Himanshu and Ajinkya Pawar worked in unison to complete 18-year-old superstar teammate Narender – so what was the difference, if the Thalaivas’ starting 7 remained the same?
Simply put, Kumar’s training philosophy was ushering in a new dawn. Love and respect are two massive elements that define Kumar’s coaching style, and for a Thalaivas unit filled with youngsters waiting to be molded into future superstars, it was the perfect modus operandi.
In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, Ashan Kumar from Tamil Thalaivas explained his coaching vision, the challenges of coaching youth and more.
“When we (Ashan Kumar and assistant coach Anup Singh) joined the team, they had lost many games and the biggest challenge was to regain their confidence, otherwise they weren’t going to play on the mat.”
“I believe in respecting the feelings of the players because if you don’t they won’t play well. I don’t yell at my players, I try to give them as much love as possible and understand. That said, when the situation forces me to be mad at them, I make sure they know it and understand why I’m yelling at them.”
Despite years of coaching experience, taking on the challenge of guiding a young team lacking in confidence was never going to be a walk in the park. Kumar has worked with the who’s who of Indian kabaddi, but the Thalaivas team is the exact opposite – talented youngsters waiting to make a name for themselves through Pro Kabaddi.
Typically, most teams often sign 2-3 star players from the PKL auction who form the engine room of the team, with some youngsters having to fill in the gaps. However, the Thalaivas put all their eggs in one basket and splurged on Pawan Sehrawat‘s services for ₹2.26 Crore, only for the PKL star to be taken off the mat with a serious injury 10 minutes into their 2022 Pro Kabaddi season.
Asked about working with so many junior players who have yet to learn the ropes without any senior players to guide them on the mat, Kumar highlighted another characteristic of his coaching method. : equality.
“In my opinion, a good coach will never consider a senior or junior player. Yes, a senior player will understand the strategies better. Junior players will grasp it faster but take time to implement it, but above all, it It’s a coach’s job to respect the players and guide them.”
Ashan Kumar also explained how his first instinct was to be emotionally and mentally available to Thalaivas players in an approach to make them feel comfortable with his presence.
“For any coach who joins a new team, he has to understand the players and they too have to listen to what the coach’s plans are. My first plan was to motivate them, improve their psychological situation and relieve all the pressure that “they feel. I feel that by doing this the morale of the team has improved and I’m sure they will do a lot better in the next games.”
You have to give the players endless support and love – Ashan Kumar on what makes a good Pro Kabaddi coach
As part of Pro Kabaddi’s rich folklore, there have been coaches who jumped out of their seats and waved their arms around, a trait often seen in the tense moments of a match.
Kumar, however, is cut from a different fabric. In the game against Jaipur, he had one leg crossed over the other, only clapping vigorously to celebrate every point the Thalaivas scored.
Against Delhi, the cross leg was missing, but not once did he have a look of displeasure on his face even though the game was close at times. Notably, at the end of both matches, one thing was common.
Kumar was quick to get up from his chair and made sure to give each player a warm hug and a ruffle of hair in appreciation for their performance on the mat. In the two matches, he only needed to make two substitutions, both late in the game against Delhi to give his players an opportunity on the bench.
In his unique way, Kumar showed the Thalaivas youngsters that he was more than their coach with these small gestures – and it was a reciprocal approach through great performances on the mat.
“You see, how we are with these youngsters is everyone’s thought, but we are coaching because of the players. My first principle is to make sure there is no pressure on them and to help them express themselves freely on the mat. No talent will ever be out of show if they are under pressure, it is important to maintain the coach-player camaraderie. You must give the players love and endless support which will only make them happier.
“In this Tamil Thalaivas team, we have a lot of youngsters and however you mold them and teach them, they will listen and grasp the learnings quickly. It is important to teach them technique and coordination. Our goal is to understand how these young people think, their body patterns and then give them certain roles.”
Kumar also praised Thalaivas captain Sagar who the former said did a terrific job in just his first season in charge.
“Some players lose performance due to pressure, but Sagar is not one of them. He does his job very well, he leads from the front and executes plans with certainty.”
Anup Singh, who was paired with Ashan Kumar as Puneri Paltan’s assistant coach in PKL 6, also shared his thoughts on how the duo approached the task of changing Thalaivas’ fortunes in Pro Kabaddi 2022.
“Team morale was down when we arrived at the start but we worked to make sure they were relieved of all the pressure from the results of previous matches. Our main focus was to make sure every player played for the gain of the team and to get the most out of We primarily give each player the confidence to learn from their mistakes.”
You could say it’s too early to judge Ashan Kumar’s success just two matches into his tenure, but two convincing wins are enough evidence to prove he’s making more than a big difference.
Until his arrival, the Thalaivas struggled to piece together individual performances to record wins, but Kumar’s philosophy of fueling player performances with love and respect, intertwined with plenty of conviction, might just be what the team needed to get out of a rut.