Tell us about the national practice facility.
It’s in the Indira Gandhi stadium, New Delhi. We have a room that was given to us by the stadium authorities and we filled it up with all our equipment. We knew all along that there are bigger and more expensive weight rooms, but there is nowhere that is built specifically for a sport like this one is. So 90-95 percent of this facility is custom made for us.
What about the use of videos in your training camps? Do you use videos of the players’ training? Do you freeze frame and point out to the players what they are doing right or wrong, or are these just things you see and catch with your own eyes?
Usually, it’s just seeing and catching them because I’m working simultaneously with an entire team. It’s a better environment when you work out as a team, but that means you don’t have a lot of time. You have to coach very quickly to a group. I’ve had some guys like Vinay Kaushik, who have come in to get extra work, so when he is the only one in there, there have been times when I get out the camera and film him. Then I’ll show it to him and he’d say “yeah it’s helpful to get feedback this way.” But when you have 12 guys or 16 guys all at once, a one hour session will take five hours if we take videos of everyone!
Tell us about your support staff.
It’s just me and my assistant, Akriti Sharma. But I also manage the physios for our camp. So, in a sense, I look at the whole spectrum of athletic preparation. Our physios operate at the baseline. When a player gets hurt, our physios have to get them back up to the level where they can be of use to me. My job is to take them from there and improve them.
So aspects like recovery and injury prevention i.e. getting somebody out of injury, that’s a physio’s job. Your job is to take a player from fit to uber fit?
Yes. But there’s obviously a cross of that. For example, if an athlete has a hurt right knee, I talk to the physio and if I find that his left knee is healthy, we will still do single leg squats on that left leg. He’ll still do all his push ups and pull ups and everything else. We’ll work around his injury. It’s not all or none. Slowly, as they become more and more healthy, they can do more.
A HARD TASKMASTER
So you have your players constantly training irrespective of injuries?
Absolutely. Unless they are in bed dying, I expect them to be with me. If they are bleeding then I’ll tell them to stop the bleeding and get back in with me. I don’t have a lot of mercy with them on the court. There is a point of understanding where you are at. When you are in the national team, you are not playing basketball anymore. You are ‘competing’ at basketball. This is vastly different from little kids playing. Kids should just have fun and enjoy themselves. But when you are representing your nation, no one else cares if you are hurt. They just care about how (well) you are representing the country. That is something each player should take very seriously. When they wear the India jersey, that’s the highest honour. So if you are not broken, but just in pain, I don’t care. You still have to work. But if you have an injury that’s only going to get worse, then you should go to the physio. When you are working, you are working. Afterwards, you can call your mom and she’ll care but when you are on the court and in the weight room, your mom’s not there. Let’s get the work done. Let’s get better and afterwards, you can let your emotions get the better of you.
Well Done! Zak peps the squad members who have just completed all their lifts
These lines sound rehearsed! If you find that the energy is missing from players, do you use pep talk? Do you yank them?
I do whatever I can to help players get where they need to be. Sometimes it’s talking, sometimes you need something more. But yes, if I don’t have any energy, it’s hard for them to have energy.
You must prepare yourself too, right?
Sure, yeah! You should come and watch sometime. When we have a session, say at 2 o clock, I don’t let players come in at 1:59. I don’t let them come in at 2:02. At 1:59, I’m getting myself ready. I’m zoned out and trying to get myself psyched up for it. At 2 o clock I get up and get the door open. I bring them in. I’m yelling at them. We’re clapping and running straight in. They get set up and we go. If a player’s late, then I send him away to do his punishments, which isn’t really an issue anymore. Now the guys are there (on time).
So, to answer your question as to whether I get myself ready beforehand? Yes. I take a couple of minutes and gather myself and when I’m ready—Boom, we are on! Once the players are done and out of the gym, I’m usually exhausted even though I’m not the one working. I’ve got to keep up the intensity. I’m watching everything they are doing, walking around, correcting guys, making sure they are not getting hurt and encouraging guys who are going heavy.
Is it a problem communicating with your players? After all, India is a country of many states, each with its own language.
80 percent of the time when athletes act like it’s a problem, they are trying to get out of training. We have a couple of players on the junior teams who don’t speak or understand English. But for most part, on the senior teams, communication is a pretty minimal problem.