Rarely do we walk away from an encounter with a legend without learning something new. A rendezvous with a sporting legend opens newer perspectives, both towards the game and life in general. For many, sports is an avenue for recreation or entertainment. For some others, it is about fitness. For some it is about building team spirit and living in the moment. For some, it is also about glory and achievement. The boundary of sports is custom-defined and is a gold-mine of lessons, open for all to explore the depth and learnings. Read on for perspectives from someone who catapulted India onto the international sports & badminton scene as a formidable country and was vital in changing the course for badminton in India.
What does a sport teach us? There is more to what a sport teaches us than just technique and skill. An Arjuna awardee and recipient of the prestigious Padma Shri, Prakash Padukone’s journey is an excellent illustration of the multiple lessons one can learn. His career began at the tender age of seven. Over the next few decades, his presence completely changed the face of Indian badminton and we now know him as the living legend in the world of badminton.
Looking at a career spanning decades with a wide variety of challenges and experiences, it is fair to say that sporting talent is not the only thing one can see and aspire to learn from him.
His first official tournament, the Karnataka State Junior Championship was played at a time when there were only two categories – below 18 and above 1. It was a match where a seven year old played against an eighteen year old. But he lost his first big game.
The first loss was a win – he discovered that there was always a feeling of ‘Wanting to win’. He recalls being given a ‘best loser’ trophy. The urge and want to win was there from the beginning. He went on to win the state junior title two years later.
As demonstrated at many junctures in his career- Champions don’t wait for things to happen; they find their own ways to win, fair and square. They don’t wait for success to come to them; they go after success. That’s the hallmark. A true fighting spirit and intense passion is a crucial learning from sport.
Inspired by his father Shri Ramesh Padukone in the early 50s, Prakash Padukone starting playing in the club. Accompanying his father kindled his interest in the sport. The journey from there to the present was not a steep rise – it was a gradual step-by-step expedition with challenges at each turn. With his father as his coach, he took his initial steps into the world of badminton at a time when the sport was not popular in the country. With not much popularity, support was scarce. Another crucial learning at this phase was to be self-propelling and not let external limitations curb our experience and potential.
With sheer determination and focus, his career saw the first under-18 tournament win at state level at the age of twelve. He went on to win all the five titles in the state championships at the age of 15 – a record set again. The Junior and Senior national titles were won by him the same year – a record still unbeaten.
Playing a sport can be extremely rewarding as it literally demonstrated how working hard with a willingness to learn from mistakes pays off. It was only with extreme dedication, discipline, concentration and an ability to analyze that Prakash Padukone could understand his strengths and weaknesses on court. It is what enabled him to perfect his presence on court through self-learning and watching other players.
In his own words – If you love what you do, nothing else matters, not even awards. Follow your heart and live your dream.
His achievements came at a time when there was no proper support system for a player to just concentrate on his game. Technology was still building and the sport was not so popular as to engage financial and technical support leave alone churning out champion role models.
From doing whatever one knows to learning to do what one doesn’t know – taking the leap is another huge takeaway from sport. It allows oneself to broaden the boundaries and tackle the uncertainty of the unknown.
One example to illustrate this would be Prakash Padukone’s Indonesian training period. With support from his work-place, he went on to train at some of the world’s best facilities in Indonesia. Yearning to learn and broaden perspectives, to improve skill and expose oneself to better talent, this phase was crucial in enabling him to discover his true potential. Post-this journey, he marked his presence on the international arena by winning the commonwealth, All England Championships and there was no looking back after that.
The game is not about copying technique and skill, it is about playing to one’s strengths. It is about focusing on strengths and working on weaknesses. The sport teaches us the difference one can make by removing one’s limitations. A well-known fact is that in terms of speed, power and fitness the outside nation competitors had an edge. It was this awareness which helped Prakash Padukone in developing a style of his own, using his strengths, perfecting his game.
For many the journey ends at retirement. The story ceases. But in his case, passion fueled his presence in badminton beyond the two-decade long competitive career. With a passion to enable badminton reach everyone and to see the country’s badminton talent flourish, Prakash Padukone began his own coaching academy to increase focus on the sport and provide the right resources and platform for talent. A trendsetter, the academy is the first ever privately funded badminton academy in the world!
One can also learn how passion ensure success in all walks of life. Passion towards the sport can make a champion out of you, it can also make you champion the cause of the sport itself! From a time when one had to demarcate the difference between ball badminton and shuttle badminton, India is now seeing a time where we are embracing badminton as an all-round sport. Moving from a concept of ‘play to become a champion’, badminton is now a hugely enjoyed sport with an increase in the base and reach to become a sport for all. It is a sport that now competes with cricket in terms of its popularity and patronage.