Abu Dhabi: On Wednesday, the Indian volleyball team was left in awe of the Korean side's total domination against hosts UAE in the divisional round. Right next to the boisterous Korean crowd, sat the Indian contingent as they took note of how one of the best teams in Group A approached the match. The Korean team was on top yet again on Saturday, easing past Bangladesh to secure top spot in the league stages.
The way they defended in all the four matches was a sight to behold. While Korea cruised past their opponent in a jiffy, Indian coach Abhay Arjun Gaonkar took note of the gameplay employed by both the teams. "I was keenly following how the Koreans defended. Watching them has helped me analyse the game for my boys and girls. We play a traditional game like the Koreans, so we're open to learning the tricks," Gaonkar said.
The Indian contingent consists of 10 athletes in both men's and women's categories with five coaches. The men’s team humbled hosts UAE on Friday with a comfortable 2-0 win before beating the women’s team with the exact same margin. “Agar hum maarne lagey, toh koi Korea wala nahi bacha paayega” (If we start attacking, the Koreans won’t have a chance to defend), said team’s best attacker Ritesh Gautam, who hails from West Bengal.
The celebrations continued after the men’s team came from behind to beat contenders USA 2-1 on Saturday. However, the women's team couldn't match up to their opponent's game, losing all three matches. Amidst the mixed feeling, Goankar had to make sure that the girls don't feel that have let their team down. "They often feel dejected due to the lack of concentration. That’s why we have to analyse every athlete, see what’s needed to be changed and then we manage," said the coach from Goa.
For coaches handling athletes with disabilities, building a bond with their wards is a huge mountain to climb. Often, these athletes are reluctant to interact and reciprocate to familiar faces, let alone new individuals. "Our athletes are reserved unless they approach a known person. They only speak to people whom they trust. The camps are short, so we, as coaches have to build that trust in a span of just two to three days. Most of the coaches have that knowledge of handling these kids with patience and politeness," said Gaonkar, who is also a physical trainer at a special school.
Back in India, athletes with intellectual disabilities undergo a step-by-step training practice every year, which they have to follow religiously, even in schools. Despite the drills, they tend to get distracted by the atmosphere and often lose focus before matches. Many coaches who come from special schools get frustrated with training various age groups after a few months due to athletes' low grasping power. However, patience has been Goankar’s strong virtue.
"In sports, you need a lot of patience because they won’t understand in one go. We shape them in such a way where they are open to learning even if they forget it the next day. Many coaches get frustrated too,” said the coach who’s been coaching such athletes for 11 years now.
At the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC), the setup is such that the athletes are likely to pay heed to other matches around them. “We face difficulties on the court when it comes to sticking to a certain plan. This is a completely different environment than India. Many of them were left in awe of the occasion and the setting here. To make sure they’re focused, we need to speak to them regularly about the style of play,” said Goankar.
The coach admits that the team faces difficulties while communicating as athletes come from various parts of the country, but he insisted that the hard work would bear fruit with every passing day. “All are from different areas of our country, so you have a language barrier. Southern athletes cannot understand the Northern languages. We basically try to communicate in Hindi with them and there are a few who have hearing difficulties, so we use sign languages,” he said.
At the last World Games, held at Los Angeles, the women’s team won bronze. This time around, the coaches have pinned hopes on the in-form men’s team to bag medals in Abu Dhabi.
The writer is in Abu Dhabi on an invitation from Special Olympics World Games.
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Updated Date: Mar 16, 2019 21:24:25 IST