The coronavirus pandemic has forced athletes to fend for themselves in order to remain fit and connected with their sport stuck at home. It is now also pushing them to personally plan and stage mini camps to ensure the flow of resumption of training doesn’t halt.
With the national camp for the core table tennis players in Sonepat having ended on December 8 and nothing to look forward to after that, India’s top paddler Sharath Kamal took it upon himself to assemble a group of players in one city and train. On Sunday, four national level male paddlers reached Chennai for a 10-day camp organised by Sharath to fine-tune their game ahead of the planned restart of international competitions in March and the possible resumption of domestic events before that.
Gujarat’s Manav Thakkar (U-21 world No. 1) and Manush Shah, Telangana’s current U-21 national champion Snehit Suravajjula and Arjun Ghosh from Kolkata will join Sharath and a few other local players in Chennai for the camp that will run till January 13. The Tamil Nadu players include world No. 99 Anthony Amalraj and junior India No. 1 Vishwa Deenadayalan. They will train in the table tennis hall of the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium with Chennai-based fitness centre Sports Dynamix providing the gym facility.
From coordinating with players on the dates to getting special permissions from the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu (SDATN) to finalising the venue, accommodation for outstation players and forming an internal Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), 38-year-old Sharath did all the work to turn the idea into reality.
“It’ll be a group of around 10 including the local guys, so it’s a fair number of players,” the world No. 32 said. “I had to coordinate constantly with SDATN and get hold of a few permissions to allow us to train through the day. I’ve also asked officials at the TOPS (Target Olympic Podium Scheme) for a masseur for our recovery. So I’ve tried and covered most aspects of a camp.”
The coaching will be overseen by Sharath’s father and Dronacharya awardee A Srinivasa Rao, uncle and veteran coach Muralidhara Rao and brother Rajath Kamal. “We will have a conference call with the coaches of the other players as well,” Sharath said.
The objective of holding the 10-day camp is to carry the momentum forward from the federation’s national camp (held from October end to December with a Diwali break) and to ensure they get into match play zone in the lead-up to resumption of tournaments that will include the Tokyo Olympic qualifiers.
“We sharpened a lot of things in the national camp after the long break; while pre-Diwali the focus was more on footwork, technique, movement and fundamental and foundation work, post-Diwali we went more into specifics like service. Here we will focus more on match play. When you have a certain level of players to train with, you need to get the best out of each other and get into match play zone, strategy building, tactical play and specific things like that,” Sharath said.
So desperate were most players to get back to the table that they needed no convincing when Sharath made phone calls to them. “In fact, they were the ones who convinced me, saying, ‘Bhaiya, camp accha ho gaya, chalo aur ek baar karte hai (the camp went well, let’s do it once again)’. They wanted to come in December itself, but I asked them to wait. Someone like Manush Shah will also be giving his college exams during his stay here.”
Sharath has also arranged accommodation for the travelling players and formed SOPs that include ordering food in and restricting movement only to the stadium as much as possible. “I’ve asked them to not venture out too much from their rooms and not visit restaurants or supermarkets. I’m also asking them to always wear masks, except while playing. We will have to maintain all that and exercise caution.”