Front Runner: Anup Kumar
You are one of the most accomplished players in kabaddi, how did you end up in such an offbeat and unconventional sport?
As a child, I enjoyed playing kabaddi during my spare time in my school days. I used to play for the school level and inter-village competitions in my village, Palra. It was a popular sport in my village, and I picked it up from there. I started out in my school days but began taking the sport seriously at the age of 17. When I look back, kabaddi is definitely my identity now and I owe a lot to the sport.
Famously known as the ‘Bonus ka Badshah’, you have innumerable victory stories attached to your name. Is there a distinct memory that you will never forget?
Kabaddi has given me everything I could have ever wished for. More than the accolades and accomplishments, what matters to me is the respect, support, and admiration of all the people. But, if I have to mention a distinct moment, it has to be winning the Arjuna Award. It was a very special moment for me to be bestowed with this honour by the President. My mother had accompanied me to the Rashtrapati Bhavan for the ceremony. This is the highest honour for any sportsman and being recognised for my contribution to the sport is very special. After receiving the award, when I went back, I will never forget the grand welcome I received from the people in my village. There was a huge procession with at least 15,000 - 20,000 people. I cannot put into words the kind of happiness you feel when you experience the love of so many people. It was definitely one of the most beautiful memories of my life which I will cherish forever.
If we talk about success, we cannot miss out on the failures. So, what challenges did you come across while playing the sport?
When I started out in kabaddi, the sport was nowhere close to what it is today. We didn’t have the advanced equipment and the required infrastructure. Although we use advanced equipment at the professional level now, when I had started playing we didn't have any of these things.
The Pro Kabaddi League has completely changed the face of the sport. How does it feel to be a part of such a great platform?
Being a part of such a popular platform is wonderful. Pro Kabaddi League has brought in the much-needed entertainment factor for the people. Today, the kabaddi fever has gripped the nation and players have become household names in the eyes of every sports enthusiast. It has created massive awareness for kabaddi and has immensely contributed to the growth of the sport.
India has won several international tournaments in kabaddi. Do you think any other country can give us good competition?
Being an indigenous sport, India has excelled in kabaddi. Iran and South Korea are emerging as strong teams globally. Iran and South Korea players have played in PKL also and have showcased their kabaddi skills in the 2016 World Cup too. Iranians and South Koreans bring in their uniques style and techniques of the game.
Do you feel if we mix entertainment with sports, the magnitude of the latter expands and becomes even more enjoyable for regular people?
I agree with what you are saying, and Vivo PKL is a strong testimony to that fact. The popularity that kabaddi enjoys now due to the intent of the league is massive. The broadcasting of the sport with gripping on-air graphics and increasing the speed of the game, has developed a strong interest among the audience. There has been a major overhaul in the manner in which people perceive kabaddi today. It is no longer the humble sport which was earlier, it has undergone a glamorous makeover throughout the years. Due to the last six seasons of Vivo PKL, the kabaddi fever has gripped the entire nation.
What else do you think should be done to improve the sport?
Although kabaddi has become popular now, facilities need to improve at the grassroots level. The focus should be more on the grassroots where the youngster talent can be developed. A youngster who wants to make a career in kabaddi can get the right training at an early age. I also feel that corporates should also make kabaddi a priority and participate in supporting the sport.
Tell us about your ongoing preparations for the league?
Our preparations for the league have gained momentum and as the head coach, I am constantly looking to push the envelope in terms of performance. As a squad, I think Puneri Paltan has a powerful bunch this season and the players are dedicated and focused towards achieving their goal.
Life of a sportsperson is filled with various forms of exercises. What are the fitness regimens that you follow for both on and off-season?
My fitness regime is pretty similar to my team’s regime right now. Our team trainer ensures that we thoroughly follow our routine. Kabaddi requires a combination of skills and strength training. Along with our usual training, we focus on building stamina and improving our fitness levels. Our fitness training includes activities like agility ladder, battle ropes, sprints, push-ups, gym and swimming. Being a fast-paced game, it can also get stressful at times, for which we indulge in Yoga. Meditation is helpful in improving our concentration and maintaining a calm demeanour during matches. In the morning we concentrate on exercise and fitness, and the evenings are more about improving my team’s skill-set.
You are extremely fit. Share your training and diet tips with the readers.
I think discipline is the key to everything, not just fitness. I feel it is necessary to follow a set routine and that is my secret. I rigorously follow our fitness routine and diet plan even during the off-season. I also think with discipline comes a lot of self-control, which is also required. I think in terms of diet, it is important to have a nutritious and well-balanced diet. I also have a very home-style diet which includes milk, curd and butter along with a healthy amount of almonds.
What advice would you give to budding kabaddi players?
I have been a strong believer of hard work, and my advice to the budding players would be on those lines. I feel nothing can replace dedication and determination, and with one’s continuous perseverance you will definitely achieve what you have set out for. They should aim to be the best at what they are doing, be it raiding or defending and success would follow suit.