As I was driving from the concrete jungle of Bangalore, the approaching lush green country side of Yelahanka leading to Padukone – Dravid Centre for Sports Excellence (CSE) was so serene and refreshing. With green trees and fields all around, the picture of what is supposed to be India`s premier seat for sports excellence somehow did not fathom my mind.
After a few kilometers drive, the big imposing names of Prakash Padukone and Rahul Dravid at the entrance of the centre transcended my mind to something robust, reliable and classy. Without wasting much of a time I straightway went to its tennis centre where the young and energetic newly inducted coach in his late twenties, Rituplawan Gogoi asked me to wait for sometime. As I was waiting to meet Clark Corey, its Tennis Director I was enjoying the young players enjoying their tennis with utmost sincerity under the roof.
I took my opportunity to take a round at the other facilities and what I saw was purely one of its kind in India. A lush green football ground with a gallery, cricket ground, running track, 4 squash courts, 16 badminton courts, Olympic sized swimming pool to name a few.
As I come back, I finally meet up with Clark Corey after he finishes with his afternoon session.
ME: Thanks Clark for the time. Seems like you are enjoying India.
Clark Corey: Yes I am. We started the tennis operation in Dec`17 and I have been enjoying my time here in India. And I am unlike a few foreigners as I have no problem with the food and the traffic here. I love India the way it is. Also maybe because I have already spent so much of my life in the Asian countries I felt India was always just a few miles away.
ME: So what is the arrangement for tennis here at Padukone – Dravid Centre for Sports Excellence?
Clark Corey: I represent Peter Burwash International which has over 40 years of expertise in tennis training and tennis management. I have been with Peter Burwash International (PBI) almost right from its inception and I was given the responsibility to set up the soft infrastructure here. We also have Jorge Pinilla from Colombia who is also part of PBI. We have two more coaches to assist us and we are in the process of having a few more to have a full fledged team.
Also India is not an entirely new territory for us. PBI already worked with Britannia Amritraj Tennis Academy (BAT), the brain child of Vijay Amritraj from the year 1985 to 1995. Leander Paes was the product of the same association. We also nurtured Asif Ismail who is now in fact a PBI coach.
ME: And what do you say about the overall facilities and vision of this place in general?
Clark Corey: I am simply floored by the infrastructure here. I am told this is the best in the country when it comes to a multidisciplinary seat for sports learning. For example you might have a big tennis academy in India which will be only into tennis. Here a player gets access to different sports. This is what is Rahul Dravid`s philosophy that you should make a kid expose to all the sports and the let the sport decide you. Also getting exposed to different sports make a young player more athletic and less prone to injuries when he goes on to the next level.
Also sometimes it lets a player relax better with a different sport. The other day we had a national level swimmer coming here and wanting to hit a few tennis balls. It kind of sometimes take off your mental pressure and the mind off your main sport and make you a better player. This is what this place is all about. Also when you talk to Vivek Kumar who is the brain child of this project you will come to know that he has the right vision to take this to another level.
ME: You have traveled the whole world. How would you compare this to say a facility in the U.S? Or there are many like this?
Clark Corey: No. A facility like this is not necessarily common even in the U.S. If you are talking about the IMG it is different as it has such big stakes. Otherwise what we are having here is truly world class.
With Clark Corey who is at the helm of things at the Tennis Centre of CSE. He is also the Technical Director at Peter Burwash International.
ME: I am sure you have many plans for the tennis centre here. If I may ask you what are the top goals?
Clark Corey: The topmost priority is to help Indian junior players and have a larger base of talent. Also to develop better coaches through training, workshops, seminars etc. The plan is to make all levels of players- Under 6, Under 12, Under 18 etc so that we have a good stream of players coming in for India. Also we have different programs like 4 day programs, evening programs and other programs which are flexible enough to cater to different young players, keeping in mind their different priorities and goals in life.
It is also important to develop not only good player but to have responsible human beings. We also teach them life skills so that tomorrow when they go outside of India, they represent the country well. Not only that even at a lower level, they should feel that they have become more confident individuals.
ME: How do you find these young players playing here skill wise?
Clark Corey: These are all young who are still developing their games. So often you will find them having an attacking forehand and there is always a room for improvement in the other areas of the game.
ME: So how do you intend to improve them?
Clark Corey: The goal is to improve the overall game where they can have an equally strong backhand, service and bring in more consistency to their game. They are young and can only get better.They have to learn to add more variety to their game. They need to know the right time to go for the winning shots. They need to learn to use the angles of the court. Things like drop shots always add variety to the game. Good thing is that they are still young and have time to pick up. Because this is the right time to mould them.
Often coaches do not allow the kids to express themselves. The coaches go with a one solution fits all kind of a mentality. I still remember Pete Sampras changing from a double hand to a single hand backhand at the age of 14 years. What if the coach would not have allowed him to do so and we would have probably lost one of the greatest players in the history of the game.
ME: And what about the fitness of our kids compared to kids from say Europe and the U.S?
Clark Corey: Kids here have comparatively weaker legs and tennis is more about legs. Tennis becoming so much more physical you need to have good strength and conditioning. The body should be conditioned in such a manner that you can take any load on the tennis court.
ME: How do you plan to do that here?
Clark Corey: More focus has to be on Prehab so that the body does not give away to the rigours on the tennis court. That is why we have the Abhinav Bindra Targeting Performance Centre here. Abhinav Bindra had a first hand experience of such a regime in Italy while preparing for the Olympics and thus he has brought the same model here in India. This is the second such centre in India after Chandigarh. It has scientific techniques that give the right balance to the body, range, motion and strength in the core.
Sneak peek into the world class facilities at Padukone Dravid Centre for Sports Excellence (CSE)
We also make them do sandpit training here.
A very rare thing that you will find here is the training ramp. I first saw it in the U.S way back in the 1970s at an American Football academy. It helps players build legs with the momentum and against the momentum. In tennis it is very important to know not only how to accelerate but also to decelerate. One can use it in multiple ways. For example you can use it medicine balls, hurdles and many other ways.
We also make our players do different resistance training.
ME: And how about weight training?
Clark Corey: I do not recommend weight training till they are around 15 years old when their body is ready for it. Again it is very subjective. Also when the time comes for weight training it should be done with some method. I mean it is more important to pick up lighter weights many more times than very heavy weights for only a few times.
ME: I was told by the former coach of Sumit Nagal that often India is not the right place for long hours of tennis training because of the hot climate? What is your take on that?
Clark Corey: I do not agree to that. If you see Roger Federer he often comes to PBI in Dubai and trains there outdoors before the U.S Open. Also there are places in the U.S that can be hot too. What I mean to say is it is not about how much you train but how well you train.
When you are doing tennis training for 3-4 hours, it has to be solid training. There will be rest before fitness training after giving a good break to the body. For example here we have kids staying here from 8.30 am to 4.30 pm but it is not that they play the entire time. We have breaks and meaningful discussions in between.
ME: When you first meet a kid coming to learn tennis what is the first thing that you expect from him or her?
Clark Corey: I will give you a small example. There was this girl from Belgaum who came with his father to meet me. She played a little bit of tennis there and she had a break of about a year and wanted to play again. When she came here I asked her why she wanted to play tennis. She said she wanted to play tennis for money and recognition. I sat with her for sometime trying to analyse her mindset and then asked her to go home and think about it again. What I mean to say is that kids first need to pick up any sports for the pure fun and interest of it. Rest will follow accordingly.
ME: Often passion and interest might not be enough for somebody to still make it big in tennis. How do you tackle that? For a player who is still giving it all he has and you as a coach with experience might find him still not good enough to make it big professionally.
Clark Corey: I guess that is a very tricky thing to handle for any coach. As a coach my duty is to make the best possible player that he can be. It is about self realization at some point of time. If a 17 – Year -Old player is not doing enough even in the ITF Junior circuit he might as well find it for himself that he might not do good in the professional circuit.
Also it depends on the player`s self goal. For example, if a player chooses his goal to play college tennis abroad he might as well do it. In that case everyone including the payer, coach and the parents are on the same page.
ME: How is the scenario different in India and abroad when it comes to a player taking sports as a career.
Clark Corey: It is huge. In the U.S a young kid chooses the life for himself. Here in India academics is a priority. But I guess both can be balanced simultaneously and sports can only help make better individuals. In fact even in Singapore where I used to train the situation is the same like in India when it comes to sports.
I believe academics can take you to places while sports can take you to far-off fields.
ME: Any comments on the current international circuit?
Clark Corey: Women`s game has become very longitudinal and they believe in hitting as hard as they can. While Men`s game apart from being a power game we also find players finding angles on the court (especially clay court) and bringing the backspin into play.
ME: Well it has been a good day for me spent with you in this world class centre. Thank you so much for your time and keep on doing the great things that you have been doing.
Clark Corey: Thanks to you too Kangkan. It was wonderful meeting you too.
As the evening unfolds Clark walks me through the facility to say goodbye and I can sense that I am in a place where we will have many future stars to be born here.