25-30 April 2017, Visakhapatnam, India
On day five of the camp, eighty of us watching Bahubali together, was a thrilling experience. Even as I write this, news is that Bahubali has become the first Indian movie to cross the 1,000 crore collection mark – and it still shows no signs of slowing down! The movie was a visual splendor. It is a technical masterpiece oozing class in every frame and bowling everyone over with its aesthetic magnificence. For us though, it was part of a larger setting. Riding in two buses decorated with carrom banners, singing and playing on the way to and back from the theatres, selfies in front of the theatre, screaming and whistling in the theatre, popcorn and ice cream during the break, it was a real, palpable, personal experience for all of us. SPSMT INTERNATIONAL CARROM COACHING CAMP in every respect was a COMPLETE EXPERIENCE. The camp was a culmination of togetherness, care, passion, practice, mentorship, humility and entertainment. Calling it a mere Camp will not do it justice.
The magnanimity of a GRAND SLAM event can be planned and delivered with sufficient funding. But a GREAT coaching camp can only be achieved with proper care and personal touch. I can’t think of a better setting than an excellent school facility, with Dr. Preeti Sampathy and Dr. Neeraj Sampathy in charge. United States Carrom Association is proud and humbled to be part of such an experience as a participant, supporter, and a sponsor.
It was a memorable experience for all of us attending the camp. By the end of the second day, overly shy girls from rural background danced enthusiastically with the corporate girls and had a gala time. The quietest of the boys, started mentoring players that traveled from across the lands and oceans. By the end of the third day we started counting days with a fear that this joy and pleasure will come to an end. By the end of the fourth day we were able to look into each other’s eye, with a bond firmly established. By the end of the fifth day all of us were one family and the time froze for the rest of the duration. This was a carrom coaching camp that could be easily mistaken for an Art of Living or ISHA foundation session. The environment was such where the coaches unveiled, the players thrived, the game excelled, the pleasure multiplied, the supporters enjoyed and the organizers looked back in satisfaction.
Two adjoining halls adorned with pictures of the greatest of sports personalities, including that of Nissar Ahmed, the carrom great, made it an inspirational venue. The newly done up vinyl flooring and air conditioning created a pleasant ambiance. A
retractable projector screen dropping down from the ceiling was used to display information as well as for presentations in the evenings. Brand new GREEN carrom boards arrived just the day before the camp from the factory, and were nicely arranged with 18 boards in one hall and 12 in the other. The smaller hall was reserved for girls and youth, while the bigger hall was for corporate and advanced players. A few steps away from the carrom halls was the conference room for lectures and demos. Rooms adjacent to the main halls were dedicated to food and relaxation. An outdoor Basketball Court just outside the halls was ideal for fun, play and exercise. Huge carrom banners were installed inside and outside of the halls uplifting the look and declaring the event. Two buses and two cars were dedicated for carrom transport. Girls, coaches and corporate players were set up in a hotel nearby. Others, more than half, were setup in the same building as the carrom halls.
In the backdrop mentioned above, were sixty players, eight world-class coaches, four managers, one admin and other dedicated support staff. For six days, they were on a mission to showcase the Carrom Grandeur.
In learning, at first a skill is acquired and developed through the use of correct technique and appropriate practice. Then, the skill can be nurtured and put to use with right knowledge. Knowledge is abundantly and freely available all over the place in the form of experience, books, discussions, advice and videos. What is the right knowledge and how it can be put to use, can only be taught by a COACH – a coach who has done enough experimentation and gone through failures and successes in his own career, while also having a will and passion to share. Self-tutoring by observation, practice, trial-error and imitation is necessary to an extent, but it is time consuming and carries a risk of not knowing which direction a player is headed in his development. In fact, once headed in a wrong direction, for most players, stagnation is bound to occur followed by a downward slide. Every player needs guidance and direction at some point in their career. The earlier the better. COACHING IN PERSON becomes very important in a game like carrom, which is primarily a visualization centric psychosomatic activity, where in, it is easy to get caught in the shadows of reality with illusionary manifestations of techniques and themes. In this world of intellectual excesses and over dose of analysis, you need an atmosphere of humility and grounding to excel in carrom. For many players who fail to make enough progress in years, un-learning is a required exercise that can clear the path for forward development in the execution of a skill. In such circumstances COACHES become the necessary guiding technicians and psychoanalysts, for the educated and novices alike.
During the SPSMT camp, the coaches were the busiest folks on the floor and the most sought after. The environment provided by the organizers inspired a tremendous enthusiasm, motivation, and purpose in the coaches. Every player at the camp was evaluated on the first day and fifth day of the camp by their coach in a comprehensive manner. Managers helped the coaches in documenting such evaluations. The two evaluations were then compared to arrive at an individual prescription for the players.
Head coach: Mr. Arokia Raj – Chennai. For few years now my game (author’s game) suffered due to a bad break. The head coach was able to point out an anomaly in my breaking technique in just five minutes of observation. He was able to test and confirm the issue soon after. He suggested a break that suits my power and grip, as according to him there is no universal technique for break that suits all. Now I am extremely satisfied, not just because the coach was able to identify my issue with the break, but I am more impressed with the philosophy of providing personalized prescriptions to resolve issues, as against generic solutions and coaching. Many players flocked around the head coach and contended for his one-on-ones. Mr. Arokia Raj is a very humble man himself.
Special Coach: Mr. Satyanarayana Dilli – He was one of the legendary players beside Mr. Nissar Ahmed, Mr. Suhas Kambli and others. We were very fortunate to have him at our disposal for six days. Many of us got our game evaluated by him. He is a strict evaluator and his observations are par excellence. He was able to provide us with prescriptions for weakness in technique and strategy. He still has lot of carrom left in him in spite of his age!
Senior coach: Mr. Radha Krishna – Chennai. He is the most popular carrom player in the world from the current generation. He has a slight drawback in that, he finds it difficult to communicate in languages other than Tamil. But the beauty is that he is a coach by example. You just need to see him play or play with him to learn the nuances of the game. His actions are worth a million words. During the camp so many of us made use of his time by actually playing with him. Mr.Radha Krishna is cool and composed and can read any angle with ease that shows up clearly during his execution of a stroke. If learners can emulate his style of play, they are sure to benefit tremendously. Rhythm and angles are his strength.
Senior Coach: Mr. G. Srinivas – Andhra. One of the best coaches for youth players. Several players trained under him during the initial stages of their careers have done extremely well at the State and National level too. Some of his students were able to secure jobs because of their capability in the game. He adopts an extremely strict and disciplined approach. Following his recommendation is bound to yield positive results in the medium and long term. Mr. Srinivas teaches with emotion and passion, therefore you will get the best out of him at all times.
Senior Coach: Mr. Sobhan Raj – Hyderabad. He is exceedingly well mannered and quiet. Has a superb knowledge of the game and its nuances. He is a perfect mentor for the girls. One of the parents joined a girl in the camp after the first day. Mr. Sobhan was able to quickly determine her level and provide feedback to the organizers. That helped the player and parents to make a decision about her future plans for carrom. Mr. Sobhan is a silent motivator and insists on strong fundamentals.
Coach: Mr. Gopi Bhaskar – Chennai. Very disciplined and systematic in his approach for pocketing practice, sitting positions, and other nuances of the game. He never says no. I had suggested to him to help a few corporate players that I knew personally. After one session with Gopi, with his help these players were able to come out with a program for themselves for practice. They drew up all the coin positions they learnt from Gopi and practiced throughout the remaining days of the camp.
Coach: Mr. Anil Kumar Vemuri – Hyderabad. MVP of US Open Carrom Grand Slam 2016. Dr. Neeraj and I converted him into a coach specifically for this camp recognizing his willingness to share, analyze and explain. He is an excellent communicator. He has been successfully guiding many US players for the past few months. On the very first day, Mr. Anil identified that my striker is too thin for my index finger to execute the flick with full nail. He attributed my inconsistency of pocketing easy straight coins to the thin striker I am used to. He then custom ordered a striker that was a bit thicker and allowed my index finger to reach and stroke the striker better. The striker was delivered to me during the camp itself. With this change, my pocketing improved and I grew more confident. Consequently, I was able to defeat the pocketing king Mr. Shibu Jose. In addition to that, I was able to take more points than usual against players like Mr. Radha Krishna and other top players. Mr. Anil has a high potential of becoming a great coach. However, it is too early for a good player like him to take up coaching as a profession.
Coach: Mr. Sujan Kumar – Andhra Pradesh. Years ago as a national player, he was one of the very few to trouble Mr. Maria Irudayam when in peak form. M. Sujan has a different style of thinking and approach to the game that is worth paying attention to. He recommends use of pairing or connections a lot. He is suitable for advanced players and his defensive techniques are extremely useful.
For most, carrom is introduced to us during childhood. Curiosity makes initial learning smooth and easy. Very few players retain their curiosity beyond childhood into their serious carrom careers. These few players are the ones, who continue to perform to the highest levels and live up to their potential. However, for most of us, once we learn enough to understand the game, the initial curiosity fades and the desire to exhibit our knowledge and seeking pleasure in defeating lesser players takes over. At that juncture, learning becomes slow though the innate desire to perfect and achieve remains. This results in conflict and stress. Learning without or with low doses of curiosity, is like cooking by holding a recipe in one hand. You will make up a final dish, but the taste is someone else’s and therefore it fails to integrate into your core self. As you see today, playing as ‘naturally you’ is non-existent in most of us. This is a symptom of lack of real passion and burdening ourselves with expectations. This also causes a carrom personality that is stagnant and inconsistent in performance.
For the SPSMT camp, players came from ten different states and three different countries, with varied carrom personalities. Players of all ages, men and women, participated. These players joined this camp with goals and expectations, some of which were specific and some vague. The communication levels of these players varied from excellent to poor. Players from the corporate world joined the camp with a thirst to learn different aspects of the game. This camp included players from the remotest of the towns to the most developed cities. Whether it was Dallas or Assam, Malaysia or Adilabad, the extreme passion or desire ‘to play carrom’ is what brought these players to the camp. Some parents traveled with their kids and stayed there all throughout. Amazing!
Players were divided into four groups. Seniors (Advanced), Seniors (Medium, including Corporate players), Youth and Girls. Each group was assigned a senior coach, junior coach and a manager. As structured as it was initially planned, it was heartening to see players jumping walls and reaching out to players and coaches from other groups. These crossovers helped the overall purpose of the camp by accelerating exposure, mentoring, and thereby enhancing their learning. For example one of the corporate girls reached out to play a match with me, and my overconfidence ultimately made me bite the dust. That perhaps increased her confidence in addition to making me more humble and determined. Several such cross trainings occurred automatically. Likewise, I also had many one-on-ones with coaches from different groups. The carrom playing time was for 12 hours each day, from 8 AM to 8 PM.
In carrom, like in any other sport or art, different types of skills are required for execution. The first type is called, motor skill, which is primarily an execution of a physical moment. This skill is mostly acquired by repetitively using your fingers, hand, and other parts of the body in a certain way. Motor skill forms the basis of your carrom technique. For example when you want to learn or improve your thumbing technique, you grip your thumb and other fingers in a certain way and make sure the final release is free and natural while pocketing a hand coin. When you practice such an action repetitively, thumbing skill is automatically stored in your muscle memory for later use. The second type of skill that you need in carrom is, cognitive skill. This skill is the ability to solve problems and make correct decisions. The cognitive skill is mostly developed by observation, imitation, and willingness to succeed. This skill can be mostly developed during match practice. The third type of skill needed for carrom is called, perceptual skill. This skill is the ability to read the game and anticipate the play. This skill is developed with experience and is also enhanced during match practice. Once a technique (motor skill) is refined and memorized during regular practice, match practice becomes the Holy Grail to learning execution and strategy. Most players in the carrom world suffer from poor execution and strategy, but rarely from lack of technique. This is where match practice could do wonders to such players.
At SPSMT camp, on each day of the camp, there were league matches played within a group. COACHES were tasked with observing their players during the league matches and recording their conclusions with the help of evaluation forms. On the last day again a master league was conducted. Some players who have done well in their respective groups were promoted to play in the Advanced Group for the master league. In addition, few well recognized players from outside of the camp were invited to play in the master league. This provided more exposure to the players from the SPSMT camp.
Human civilization evolves and refines, then again, it evolves and refines. So are sports and art that are products of our own making. The contemporary way of achievement is through teamwork, not necessarily through an individual working in silo. Modern professional leagues in sports are an embodiment of such teamwork in its most refined fashion. Carrom professional leagues are not far from reality.
At SPSMT, a SUPER LEAGUE was conducted on the day four of the camp. This is to introduce the concept of modern format and teamwork to the participants. Players from advanced group joined by the top players from other groups were formed into four teams, DALLAS, CHENNAI, HYDERABAD, and VISAKAPATNAM. Each group had five players that included one Girl. In each round, two singles and one mixed doubles was played between two teams. Each group played all other three groups. At the end of round robin, finals were played between the first two ranked teams. Each game was for four boards only. SPSMT SUPER LEAGUE used the same format that was first implemented in US OPEN GRAND SLAM 2016 in Dallas. Extraordinary enthusiasm and energy was flowing throughout the super league matches. Players at this camp got a taste of the future.
Every sport needs research and development to evolve. There is a huge amount of work done in sports psychology that accurately applies to carrom as well. In addition, yoga and breathing has a direct impact on execution during a game of carrom.
At SPSMT camp, lecture demos were conducted for the players on each afternoon. We were fortunate to hear Dr. Neeraj Sampathy’s lectures on couple of such occasions. He focused his lectures on sports psychology that applied to carrom. These lectures were well received by the players and coaches. There were also other sessions on Yoga and Breathing by other renowned subject matter experts. This is perhaps the first time in the carrom world that such a proven, researched content & material was presented to the players and coaches.
A human being only exists in relationships. Families with proper bondage flourish, on the other hand members of a family without proper relationship between themselves will suffer. This is a generation of video games and mobile devices. There is nothing abnormal about that; the society is always evolving technologically. However, on one side the gadgets connect far and dear, on the other they are likely to increase the disconnect within a family. For example, traditionally a mother announces dinner to their kids by a gentle shout or a knock at their rooms. Now a days, a kid is likely to have hooked up with head phones in his room, and mother looking for a quick response, is likely to announce dinner via an IM. Many teenagers spend a lot of time playing video or computer games by themselves. Not only kids, many parents themselves are lost on their WhatsApp or Facebook during family time. As a consequence, small but critical opportunities for proper bonding are lost due to excess use of gadgets. Also, future generations are likely to grow up in silos with only virtual connections. Just like artificial drinks cause physical abnormalities, leading a virtual life can cause psychological conditions not suited for a healthy society that can only exist with togetherness and real relationships.
As a necessary antidote to the virtualized future, games like carrom are perhaps the most suited for a family or a group. It is cheap, occupies little space, it is real with touch & feel; has emotion & joy; concentration & teamwork; support & fun; One or two hours of carrom every week could work wonders within a family or friends. During SPSMT camp on the second evening United States Carrom Association hosted a social banquet for increasing awareness of the game among families. We had a carrom quiz, magic show, entertainment with songs and dance, excellent food during that evening. Such carrom gatherings increase the brand value of this game while re-establishing the connection between families and the game. This banquet was also meant to recognize the extraordinary efforts of Dr. Neeraj Sampathy in promoting this family game.
An event like this is impossible to succeed without personal touch and care from the organizers and coaches. At the same time it is not easy to consistently provide assistance and attention to all the players for a stretch of full six days.
At SPSMT camp we found generosity and friendliness at its best. All players and coaches were treated with utmost respect and care. For example, one of the senior coaches being allergic to air-conditioning fell ill. Dr. Neeraj Sampathy delivered medicine personally and followed up with his recovery. Food and snacks was definitely one of the highlights of the camp. Variety and quality of food was extremely generous. I put on five pounds in six days of the camp and am still struggling to shed the extra pounds. Free Bahubali movie for all the participants was another example of extreme generosity.
The total experience we had at the SPSMT carrom camp can only be made possible with proper planning and execution. Every detail for all six days was well thought out, strategized and executed flawlessly. Not to mention the huge financial costs that may have incurred in bringing out a truly unique and useful activity to furthering carrom.
During the closing, one of the senior coaches put it aptly, Dr. Preeti Sampathy and Dr. Neeraj Sampathy as a model couple involved in promotion of carrom. The statement is not too far from the truth. Qualified as doctors, turned into educationalists, they understood more than anyone, how to combine care with education. If you look around the world of carrom that is riddled with selfishness, complacency and political bickering, none comes to my mind that serve this game with total lack of inhibition or restraint, other than Dr. Neeraj Sampathy. His pursuit in the development of carrom is unparalleled. Dr. Sampathy’s contributions range from technical research, equipment design, sports psychology, educational material, mentoring and administration. Few more people like him at the helm can take this game safely into the zone we always dreamed of. We are proud to have him as the advisor for United States Carrom Association.
I would like to reiterate again that, SPSMT INTERNATIONAL CARROM COACHING CAMP was not a camp by any stretch. It was a COMPLETE EXPERIENCE that was humbling and transformative.
(With permission from USCA)