When P. Kashyap, last year’s World No. 8, was on a comeback trail after his knee injury that virtually denied him a Rio Olympics berth, the one place he came knocking at was Thomas John’s door in Bengaluru.
He had been training at the famed Gopi Chand Academy in Hyderabad earlier.
The last few years has seen a long line of badminton players, including H.S. Prannoy, Arun George, Kiran George, M.R. Arjun and Aswin Paul, moving out of Kerala and landing in some of the country’s finest academies, run by big names like Gopi Chand, Prakash Padukone and Thomas John.
One was curious to know how these players were coping with life at these centres. Were they good enough?
Thomas John, popularly known as Tom John and who once guided stars like Gopi Chand, Saina Nehwal and P.V. Sindhu, feels that Kerala is loaded with talent but the players need proper guidance.
“We’ve had some boys who couldn’t survive the discipline. They couldn’t get up in the morning because they were not used to sleeping before 11 or 12 at night,” the Thrissur-born former England national coach told The Hindu on the sidelines of the State senior championship here.
“We start our sessions at 5.30 a.m. and if you don’t get to bed by 9 p.m., your training cycle will make you tired. Some of the Kerala players who came there, they could not eat before 9 p.m. I forced them to eat at 8 p.m. so that they could sleep at least at 10.”
Once, after a tournament, some of the Kerala boys once took off on a 10-day trip and lost in the second round in the next event, said Thomas.
Kerala players need to think big, feels the seasoned coach.
“They need to have a bigger vision, they need to realise that they are in badminton to become the top in India, not the top in State,” said the seasoned coach who runs the Tom John Academy in Bengaluru.
“In badminton, every day, they are building courts. Every day, you are getting players, the boom is such.”
Parents have to take some blame for Kerala’s problems, said Thomas.
“They should keep control of their kids, not let them out if they are professional players, they should be in bed early, not wandering around cafes. The culture here is a little bit against producing top-class players. They all want to have a good time.”
After having guided players in countries such as Spain, France, Italy and Portugal, Thomas now is keen to coach players in his home State Kerala.
“There is a lot of talent here, you just need to revitalise the system. I’d love to come to Kerala, I’m looking at it seriously,” he said. “I want to do it for Kerala, I want to make Kochi a centre where the kids are so tired, they don’t want to go out.”
He pointed out Ernakulam’s Niranjana Anil, Kannur’s Treesa Jolly and Kozhikode’s Aswin Paul as being very talented.
“The talent is there, you need to harness the talent in the 15 and 17 age group. You need to have 10 or 15 Niranjanas,” he said. “Aswin Paul was very talented, he could have gone up to Prannoy’s level.”