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National swimming coach S. Pradeep Kumar has expressed delight at being chosen for the Dronacharya Award, calling his career “a fantastic journey full of sound and fury”.

Pradeep, who hails from Thiruvananthapuram, has spent nearly three decades as head coach at the Basavanagudi Aquatic Centre here.

“It’s not my achievement. I’m getting this award only because my swimmers have performed over the last 29 years. I’m honoured for them and their parents. I’m so happy,” he said. Pradeep was grateful to the BAC and the Karnataka Swimming Association. “It’s been a fantastic journey,” he remarked.

Early years?

In my childhood, we faced financial crisis.
Coaching was a natural choice for Pradeep, who hails from Nanniyode village in Thiruvananthapuram district of Kerala.

Nanniyode, known as Kerala’s swimming hub, has produced many talented swimmers. Pradeep too began as a swimmer and trained under a Kerala Sports Council coach in the village pond. When the coach failed to turn up, Pradeep donned the trainer’s mantle and initiated many children into the world of swimming.

Following his failure to clear the Pre-degree (equivalent to plus-two) examination, Pradeep began to spend much of his time in the pond. He also did many jobs to make an independent living.

“I used to load huge pieces of logs onto the trucks at that time. It was a distressing period in my life. But the difficulties made me mentally strong. I was ready to face any situations in life,” said Pradeep as he took a trip down memory lane.

It was during this time that Pradeep realised his acting potential. “The Venus Arts and Sports Club in our village, where I was a member, staged dramas penned by left-leaning writers. Many looked at us with suspicion and alleged that we were Naxalites,” he recalled.

How did you end up in an offbeat, unconventional and unique career such as swimming?

His life took a different turn when he got admission at the St Thomas College Sports Hostel in Pala in Kottayam. “I was influenced by the methods of my coach Joy Joseph.

Pradeep joined Sports Hostel as a swimmer and after completing his degree, travelled to Patiala to National Institute of Sports for his coaching diploma. “My parents have been a great source of support despite financial hardship,” he said. Waiting for a call from Sports Authority of India, the keen follower of politics began a post-graduate course in political science in Kerala University. One year into the course… and destiny came calling.
Neelakanta Rao Jagdale offered me a job as coach in Basavanagudi Aquatic Club. I took up the offer and within two weeks, I was offered a job in SAI, Kerala. It was tough to convince my parents why I was not taking up a central government job but my employer didn’t want me to leave. I owe all my success to him. I don’t have any regrets,” said Pradeep.

Your skills?

There was a time, not so long ago, when coaches in India believed that swimming was an aerobic sport. They had limited knowledge about strength training and supplements. “At that time, the BAC management sent me to the United States in 1989 to attend the American Swimming Coaches Association training course and learn the trends,” stated Pradeep. “I even got an opportunity to interact with the Miami University Team and its coach Jack Nelson.”

A person who believes that coaching is a continuous learning process, Pradeep did a post graduate diploma in Sports Management from Alagappa University in Karaikudi and completed a Master’s degree in Sports from the Tamil Nadu Physical Education and Sports University. He holds the distinction of being the first Indian coach to complete ASCA level 1 to 5 certification, which is considered the best in the world.

“Even now, I don’t know even 1% of swimming training. It is a vast subject. That is why I wanted to continue my studies,” said the coach who plans to begin his doctorate soon.

What is your approach to coaching?

Pradeep is known as a tough taskmaster with a knack to inculcate discipline in his trainees. “I won’t allow athletes to enter the pool if they come late for training. My tough attitude helps my pupils understand the value of time. I always work with 100 percent dedication and my trainees know it better.”

Though he trains elite swimmers, he shares valuable tips with fellow coaches who look after the junior programme. “If we need good swimmers at the senior level, you need to provide excellent training to the junior swimmers,” reasoned Pradeep.

The International Swimming Federation and the International Olympic Committee also realised his potential and deputed him to conduct coaching clinics in Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

According to him, BAC has got the best training facilities in India. “We have swimming pools, gymnasium and physiotherapist. However, even the best in India are nowhere near international standards. If we want to win medals in international meets we have to improve our facilities,” pointed out the veteran coach.