A coach is both a mentor and a teacher, and the influence he has on an athlete’s life is significant. For many athletes, it is this impact that draws them to pursue a coaching career and SAG’s senior diving coach P Narsimhalu was no exception to it.
Born in 1956 at Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, Narsimhalu began his sporting career as a gymnast and went on to become a national gymnastics champion. However a freak accident, which resulted in a hand injury, forced him to discontinue with gymnastics. But his immense love for acrobatics saw him shifting to diving, and in his newly embraced sport the multi-talented athlete made sure that he did not disappoint himself or his followers.
It was way back in 1990 that swimming coach Thomas Jose introduced Narsimhalu to Sports Authority of Goa to guide the young Goan divers, and till date the association between the two has remained intact.
Asked to narrate his initial experience in Goa, Narsimhalu said, “Well, in the initial stages there were reservations by some as they thought I was an outsider but once they understood me better the bond only grew stronger,” comes an honest reply from the coach.
In the last 23 years as SAG’s diving coach, Narsimhalu has achieved many feats some of which are: produced 18 national champions; won a total of 293 medals including 116 gold, 91 silver and 86 bronze; overall winners in 4 championships, 31 team championships,30 individual championships; won 4 international bronze medals; was runners-up on 5 occasions.
With so many feats in a career spanning more than two decades must be making coach Narsimhalu a happy man today.
“Yes, I am extremely happy for the support and cooperation extended to me throughout by the Government of Goa, Swimming Association of Goa and the parents of my students. And of course the hard work put in by my students,” says the humble coach.
So does that mean he always had a smooth ride and never had to face any kind of criticism?
“Praise and criticism are part and parcel of everybody’s life,” comes a prompt reply from the coach.
“I did receive criticism from certain individuals at some point of time but at this point of time I only want to say is that I received more support and praise than criticism.”
It is often seen that criticism tests patience and tolerance of many and at times they do succumb to it but Narsimhalu, a qualified physical instructor in himself, is not the one to be bracketed in that category.
“I do a lot of yoga and meditation on regular basis and that perhaps helped me in keeping myself in good stead both physically and mentally,” he says.
At present the coach has only 9 nine young divers who are being trained at SAG’s swimming pool at Campal and out of these, he says, only 5-6 are regular.
At a time when hundreds and thousands of young children take up other sports like cricket, football or for that matter chess, one might wonder about the popularity of diving and probably the future of this sport in Goa. But the veteran coach, who has the credentials of winning a record 293 medals—highest by any Indian coach—seems to be unperturbed by it.
“Diving unlike other sports involves a fair bit of risk and it is not for weak-hearted ones. To take up this sport one really needs to be brave and courageous, and to excel in it one also needs to possess exceptional skills and talent.
“Moreover, as a coach I need to monitor each and every movement of my trainees with full concentration as any lapse on my part could lead to serious trouble. With more number of trainees I may not be able to do it,” he explains.
“All in all I can say that I am quite content with the present number of trainees and pretty confident about Goa’s bright future in diving. I am sure Goan divers will win many medals for the state in the future.”
The 57-year-old diving coach, who has so far produced 18 national champions, says that he loves this sport so much that he would love to help Goa produce more and more divers even after his retirement.
Narsimhalu, meanwhile, says that his immediate aim is to prepare three students from the present lot for the Senior National Games to be held in Goa, dates of which are not announced yet.
He is pinning high hopes on his exceptionally talented trainees — Aalhad Chati, Genevieve D’Costa and Nikhil Nagvekar, and expects them to bring more laurels to the state of Goa.
Ask him to pick his favourite student and the 57-year-old coach wastes no time in naming his first students Anika Madagaonkar and Anuj Timblo. From the present, he picks out Aalhad Chati, Genevieve D’Costa and Nikhil Nagvekar.
As a diving coach Narsimhalu has so far won 4 international bronze medals — two by Anika Madgaonkar (Asia Pacific) and one each by Szewinska D’Mello and Sayuli Vinaykumar Pai Raikar— but to win an international gold always becomes a dream of every athlete or for that matter a coach. So now that he is going to retire after 3 years and with no international gold in his kitty so far, is it bothering him anyway?
“Not really. But in hindsight I do feel Anika, with 29 national gold, could have won it with the exceptional talent and skills she possessed, but it was not to be,” he laments.
Ask him why Goa or for that matter India is unable to produce more medal winning athletes as compared to other countries like China, and he says, “Facility wise, obviously, there is a huge difference but I genuinely feel that our training regime is something which cannot be compared with theirs.
“They train for about 12-14 hours daily as compared to ours which is hardly 6-7 hours. Our education system is such that students cannot devote their full time to training and as such when their study load increases the training hours decrease,” he reasons.
But Narsimhalu is happy for most of his past students who, he says, besides excelling in diving also excelled in their academics and pursued degrees in MBA and other higher studies.
Narsimhalu’s coaching expertise is not limited only for young children but he does give diving lessons to the personnel from various government departments. He takes special pride in informing that the government appointed life guards posted at various beaches in Goa in 1992-93 were trained by him.
He is also happy to have trained the 40-odd crew members from Goa who were onboard the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia that ran aground at Isola del Giglio in Tuscany, in January last year.
“When the tragedy occurred the Goans not only saved themselves but also rescued many co-passengers using the life survival techniques at sea, which were taught to them by me, and that indeed makes me happy,” a proud trainer says.
On a parting note, the veteran coach has a message to the people of all age groups. He urges everybody to get themselves involved with some physical activity on regular basis so as to keep fit and healthy. “Keep fit and stay away from all the diseases” is his message for all the people. [NT]