From Training Ground to Talking Points: Badminton Sensation Utkarsh Arora’s Story Unveiled

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In the pulsating world of badminton, where every rally echoes with determination and finesse, Utkarsh Arora emerges as a standout performer, a maestro with a racket in hand. Hailing from the realm of shuttlecocks and courts, Utkarsh Arora is not just a badminton player; he is a symphony of skill, strategy, and unwavering dedication.

From the crisp sound of shuttlecocks meeting strings to the lightning-fast movements on the court, Utkarsh Arora’s journey is a narrative woven with passion and perseverance. As a notable name in the badminton circuit, his rise to prominence is marked by countless hours of training, unyielding commitment, and a relentless pursuit of excellence.

Fasten your seatbelts as we embark on a journey into the world of Utkarsh Arora, where the shuttlecock becomes a metaphor for dreams taking flight, and the badminton court transforms into a stage for an athlete whose prowess is set to resonate far beyond the lines.

How has your journey been so far in the Badminton industry? Since when you are in the inner world of badminton, how did you pick up this particular scale? Give us a little bit of background to our readers

I hail from New Delhi. I was introduced to badminton when I was nine years old. While it was just a hobby back then in school where I used to practice before and after school. I used to do Gymnastics initially but as a side interest and to spice up things I pursued Badminton which turned out to be a life changing decision for me. The more I played, the better I became in the sport. I bagged a runner up title in my first state tournament and through that tournament my journey for it as a career began.  I started playing nationals for under 13 and qualified in the Nationals in under 17. I had my first nationals at the age of 19 where I won a title and then in Seniors I won multiple titles.. So it was like gradual growth, not a certain thing that I decided to, like, get into it. But everything was gradual.

How about your parents and your siblings?

I hail from a small family of four comprising my parents, me and my brother. I got introduced to the sport because of my brother when I used to accompany him for his badminton classes in school. He is presently in the US working in the IT sector. My father is a pharmacist and my mother is a homemaker. They are still based in Delhi. 

How did you get started in Delhi I mean, at that particular age and how you progressed from there to professional level. What was the transition like for you? 

Yeah, so the thing is, like in Delhi, badminton wasn’t that renowned when you compare it at the national level or from other states. The early expectations from us was never to be a professional player but to try our skills and see if we can qualify for it. So it was a huge thing back then. Like, for the beginning, when I played the first internal first national tournament. I never thought I would even qualify in a tournament like even qualify for the main rounds. I started qualifying after three years. And then I started like, when I was under 17, I played my first semifinals after which I played like 12 continuous quarterfinals and lost all of them. Though I was performing on a huge platform, I wasn’t able to get through it. This made me shift my focus and move to London where I won my first Nationals and everything started falling in place. 

Utkarsh Arora and Team Celebrate Bronze at Lagos International Challenge

So with so many continual losses did you ever plan on switching your field? What was your mindset like back then?

So the thing is, I always kept my education together, hailing from a progressive family. Given this I have grown up believing that the key to achieving my dreams in life is education owing to which I always laid great emphasis on my education and made it my priority over sports till 12th grade. After that things took a turn and I started emphasizing more towards badminton but I always had in my mind to continue my studies no matter what the outcome. Because even you know that India right now is not in a condition that everyone can take sports professionally as infrastructure is picking up but not fast enough and even the support system is the main hurdle. Maybe outside the sport, but a person who’s inside the sport is very scared to take up the sport as they are always in a double mindset

So in Delhi, as you said that there was not much of a facility and there was not much of a craze about badminton was there. So what was your next step? Did you move out of the city or what was it like? 

I was well aware of the fact that I wouldn’t be able to grow owing to which I took a major shift in my career and started training on my own for three years without any coach. In my college, Hansraj College we had a single court. They used to provide us shuttle, racket and all the supplies. As there were not players a lot of times and I used to call my friends over to help me practice. So I had to call a different set of people everyday who used to get people with them for training. So when I started this, I was like, I just got into the seniors and I was ranked I think 52 In India but when I graduated, I was ranked second in India.

After my graduation, I planned to shift due to lack of facilities as for International Circuit I knew I needed proper training and guidance. So I shifted it to Hyderabad and joined Suchitra Badminton Academy where I met Indonesian coach, Jonathan Dasuki, who himself played on International level and was among top 10. He helped me groom and enhance my skill set after which  I had multiple senior national tournament championships. Initially he came as a National Coach of India but later on shifted to a private academy. I trained with him from 2018 till 2022. From India, I played my last tournament, the World Championship in 2021. Later on, we got selected for the 22 World Championship, but my partner has already quit the sport. So there was no point like going for the world championship or Asian badminton championship, which we qualified for both into 2022.

So you used to play singles as well earlier, right? 

Yeah, I think that was the worst decision. It was like under 19, I used to play all three events. I used to play the quarterfinals, semifinals in all three events. But it’s like it’s a hectic schedule. And if you play all three events, you have to play like 10, like around five to six matches a day. And sometimes more. So it’s like till you come to the stage of quarterfinal semifinal, your body gives up on that and you lose all three wins. So it’s like you have to choose some way like either you have to go for singles or doubles and mixed doubles. At that time, I won a title and mixed doubles. I was doing well in doubles. So I thought that this way, like doubles, also interested me a lot. That way I can do it.

So who was the partner you mostly used to pair with in all championships?

My mixed doubles partner was Karishma Wadkar from Maharashtra and we played the Asian badminton championship for the world championship and we only got selected for the 2022 World Championship and Asia championship. She was also in the same academy. She shifted with me in 2018. 

So then you thought about pursuing your studies owing to which you applied in the UK. You got through, now you’re playing for the university. How big a change is it for you both, you know, different countries with different kinds of support systems? 

I think mentally it’s a big change. Because once I was trying to be the best in the world and now it’s all like, I actually don’t know what I’m currently doing. It’s not clear at all. Initially  I had a target before. But right now I don’t have any targets, like, I am not sure of my next step. So for every sports person, you have large targets and these smaller ones don’t make sense to you. 

When you talk to yourself after, you know, almost one year plus has gone by now you’re, you’re kind of part of the system already, but initially, that you’re missing something? Are you missing that goal, or you missing that vision?

So the thing is, like me, my family had to talk before going to the UK. I don’t want to say anything controversial here, but India wasn’t a country I wanted to live in, because of the sports journey I had. So it’s not that great but maybe my perception of it. I believe the efforts we put in court at times are not worth it. So COVID switched this back for everyone as after COVID both my partners stopped playing. So it was like in the world ranking if your partner quits your ranking goes to zero. All the money we invested, all the hard work we did went to vain and I had sto start again finding a new partner. I was having trouble finding a new partner because everyone was in the National Center, and I could be in the National Center by 2020. Okay, okay. Yeah, so I didn’t have a partner, then my Indian ranking was one or two. But I went for the world championship, and when I came back, I played a tournament, which I just took a flight and played. So I lost the first I think second round in that. And it was like, all the Indian ranking was then made on the basis of that tournament. Okay, so it was like they were not considering first it was like, they consider one year tournaments, or like 14-15 tournaments for constructing your ranking. But now after COVID They made a rule that okay, this is the deciding tournament.

So I didn’t even play mixed doubles because we were in the World Championship and my partner wasn’t able to come and we were supposed to have a seven day quarantine, which I have to land in some other place so that I don’t get into the quarantine thing. And I played the tournament, but due to traveling and everything, I lost the first time and my ranking from one came to zero. So my Indian ranking was zero, my world ranking was zero and I stopped playing. So I tried it against playing with a junior, but I don’t think that was working out because they have a different mindset in the category. 

It was like everything was coming through like we got selected for the world championship, but I wasn’t able to go for the world championship after getting selected, we had to face numerous challenges to just go there. We didn’t sponsor the Indian team, for the first time in history they told us that you have to go on your own money. My partner decided to drop. So we have to face a lot of challenges. Like, I think at the end of that flight, I decided that I don’t want to be a part of this sport anymore, like in India.

“Racket in hand, determination in eyes – Utkarsh Arora’s dynamic presence on the court.”

So now you’re in touch with your partners. How is it?

Yeah, it’s great with everyone. Like, they also had there they know that it’s actually very much. If you go deep into the spirits, you will find that it’s not as good as it seems from outside. So if you want to get a better life, you have to quit it before. Just because much of the place in India goes for government jobs.

Even from my family on myself, or my partner’s family or herself, it was never about the government job. And actually, I didn’t want it either. So to do anything else, I think that was the time she quoted it and then it was like, okay, there is no, isn’t the best thing I can do. I’m zero in India right now. From one, they made me zero in like a few seconds. So I can maybe start everything new in the UK. If everything can work out in India, maybe we can work out in the UK. 

So the COVID challenges and all, whatever happened during that time was definitely not motivating or will not motivate any athletes, not just you. But I think what is here to learn from your journey is that number one is to have that determination, and take your career along with your sporting career and your studies. So I think I mean, what I generally derive from each of these stories, which we talk to a lot of athletes is is is they have a vision and they have a dream.

Yeah, it’s like we have a dream. But the experiences built us that way that it won’t work out here, you have to leave. And to bring these factors to light I even worked on this issue in my research paper in my masters. 

Could you tell us more about your research paper?

My paper is about the initiatives taken by the sports industry and the mental health issues of athletes. As we are not doing a psychology course, it has turned into initiatives taken by the sports industry to help the mental health of athletes. So it’s basically the dual career, like how important it is dual-career for an athlete and its transition, help us with psychology and transparency in the sports governing bodies.

So are you doing some kind of research getting into the sports bodies and trying to discover more? Or you’re mostly looking at us?

I’m taking interviews from players and maybe coaches and comparing India and the UK in that way. So the university players who are playing in the Olympics are winning the Olympics or winning the Commonwealth Games in India. You have to quit education, for sure. for that. Even after 2080 I could educate for five years. So everyone has to quit education because you can’t go to the college and train at the National Center together. That’s a major difference. My project is about these less popular sports so maybe in India, I’m not considering cricket or maybe in England, I’m not considering football, cricket and rugby. Okay, so when you see other sports, I think it’s similar because the major problem is transparency is not in the system, not in India, not in the UK as well. There are many cases of players who like to work hard and are talented, but were never selected or never gotten to that stage. They could prove themselves that as you were saying that no one is as talented as without color, but there were many players like Virat Kohli, who didn’t get a chance.

It’s like I’m considering one point as transparency and control, considering, like psychologists, how important is a psychologist and a sportsperson. Moreover, I’m considering a dual career initiative as we have a target, till we are like maybe 30 or 35. But after that, from, like, aiming for being world number one, when suddenly change to like a no one, we don’t have any targets, we don’t have any routine, we don’t have any schedules to follow. So people went into depression after that. Because they don’t have anything to look forward to. 

As I have heard, traveling is a big chunk of the effort you guys put in and how you cannot get your international rankings if you don’t travel abroad for international tournaments. 

So the thing is with badminton, it’s like some players who’re playing internationally having international ranks also don’t have sponsors. I never had a sponsor in my life. So till the rank of 60 in the world, before COVID that we spent our own money for that. And players and it happens like and players who are maybe 150 in the ranking, they have a sponsor, they have a sponsor there is so there is no criteria, there is no system which you can trust on sponsors to the salary system. There’s a point, everyone’s taking a stance from being 60 in the world to leave the sport and change the country. 

I contacted some of my very close friends for the interview for my designation, like my project. And they were of a mindset that I don’t talk about the sport anymore. I don’t want to call out the country anymore. Like the association I don’t want to say anything controversial, but there’s nothing to say. It’s not a controversy.

A testament to excellence: Utkarsh Arora’s well-deserved collection of medals.

And you have moved on in life for good. I think you have picked up something you love. 

I think no one moves on with this because you’re you have you were aiming for like 15-17 years for a single target and you never thought of something else. So I think it’s just like doing okay, you have to survive somehow. You are surviving somehow.

How is your mindset now? 

So I have talked to people about this but I think I even went to a company where there was a transition program from athletes to like the business world or any corporate world. Even they suggested something similar on the line and recommended that it goes with time not completely but eventually.  Maybe a psychologist can help but I’m not sure about that. 

So how are the University games going around? Please put a light on it for our readers

So I’ll lay some emphasis on the differences between India and the UK. While the players are equally qualified and talented here like India, here people enjoy it as well where India puts a lot of pressure and gives you rigorous training.  In fact one of my friends decided to switch careers from Badminton after Covid-19 as the peace we got during that time is necessary for one to function in life while building our career at the same time. The mental pressure coaches create is somewhat necessary but at times it is extended which hampers us to a great extent not just mentally but physically as well. Even parental pressure is crazy for some. In the UK it’s a sport which you enjoy whereas in India it’s your life. So we are winning as well as taking things light so there is a great work-life balance. 

I believe it’s quite true. How you live with it as a sport rather than let the sport be your life is necessary for one. 

Yes right now I feel even if you are World Top 30 there is no guarantee to you having a stable career in this sphere. If you are in the right hands then yes you can get a sponsor and good job. Until the level I was 60 and aiming for 50-30 till Covid-19 happened, I was well aware that even at 30 I wouldn’t be able to get a sponsor looking at things. Even if we sponsor the matches, losing one match we lose around 1,00,000INR around which is extremely heartbreaking and unsettling mentally. For players who have sponsors have better growth, instead of focusing on financial burden, their key mindset is to invest their energy and skills on the game which helps them elevate much faster in this sphere. 

Could you also tell us about campus and your daily life routine?

The campus and facilities are world-class and nothing compared to what we have in India. The gym, its equipment and everything is highly advanced and still unavailable at National Centers there. My course ends in the next 10 days though before I started the University, my schedule was like gymming for an hour, training for an hour, attending classes, again training for an hour. After which I used to return and do the daily chores of cooking, cleaning and all. So training and gymming was similar to India but good enough. We have an Olympics medalist as a coach, another was world top 10, another world top 20, and so on. So overall everything was great. 

Do you also have any fellow Indian players there from the same badminton fraternity? 

Yes I have one of them who is pursuing his undergraduate studies. 

As you continue to advance in your badminton career, what message do you have for young aspiring players who look up to you as a role model?

If you are confident about it you should move ahead with the sport but never give up education as your background comes even when you give interviews. It is a personality grooming which is why having basics is unnecessary as after 30-40 years of playing you have to come back to the social world. While sports makes up 75% of your personality, you still have the rest which education provides you. I agree sports make you much more mature as you travel a lot, meet new people and get so much knowledge. The experiences we get till 30 I feel a normal person cannot get throughout their life as before I came to the UK I had traveled to 32 countries on my own with all my bookings and everything done on my own. No one even asks me where I am going or how I am going to do it which comes with experience. At 10 we five guys traveled from Chennai to Delhi in a sleeper class which allows you to build your personality and  builds up your knowledge. 

What are your plans after completing your Sports Management program?

I am keen on embarking on good opportunities with some renowned companies. Many people are not aware but Sports Management is like an MBA where we have similar subjects like Economics, Accounts, Business Analytics, and so on. The sports MNCs pick up some top people for different positions in Marketing, Accounts and more for their organizations who are also aware of how the sector works. It’s basically a bifurcation of MBA in the sports industry. 

Can you name some of Sports organizations for our audience?

ESPN, Nike, Adidas, Betway are some of the common ones. Every MNC indulged in sports as a key arena are some top organizations you can aim to hire people with these programs. 

When you applied for the University what was the process? Did you get any Sports quota or anything?

In 2018 when I  graduated from my college, I connected with the University in order to know my options as I wanted to play for some other country. They offered me a scholarship and everything but I wanted to play for India. They kept on asking me to pursue my masters from there while providing me commendable facilities, I was headstrong on staying firm on my decision. I never rejected the opportunity as life could be very uncertain but I kept it on hold. Though after Covid-19 and all the hurdles I had to go through, I decided to take the option as it was one of the best things for me back then. I even got a government job in 2022 but I wanted to keep going and explore my learning possibilities more. 

It was an online application and were you exploring through CommonApps for larger prospects or have you decided to move ahead with this one specifically?

So since 2018 I knew about the university as some of the players in India attended this back in 2016 or 2018. But moving here there are some more universities here in the UK with equally great facilities, infrastructure, players and are keen on inviting good players from all over the world. 

We get training in my University from grassroot level where we have five teams for badminton, A, B, C, D, E along with a development team. All the teams play BUC Tournaments, British University Championships. It’s like if our University is 18 they play at the same 18 level as other universities. The categorization of players in these five groups are done based on their play and skills, resume with A being the best and so on. Also in the international circuit everyone knows everyone so it’s easy to determine which group to put them in. The scholarships are also provided to students on the basis of best players getting the most. 

Do you have more Indian players in your team?

There are alot of Indians here, in fact, 45% of my class comprises Indians so we have a good community here. I play from A team and even one of my Indian batchmates play from A team. Masters are mostly done from these universities overseas by Indians as very few people from the outskirts go for such higher learning programs. 

A glimpse of Utkarsh’s childhood with his brother

FUN QUESTIONS: 

If you could swap personalities with a famous athlete for a day, who would it be and why?

MS Dhoni as I have an opposite personality to him so it could help me relax and stay calm 

If you could give your younger self one piece of advice before your first match, what would it be?

I would advise myself that you are aiming very low and to buck up

Do you have a go-to hobby or activity that helps you relax?

Chilling with friends 

What’s your guilty pleasure snack?

Momos

Do you have a favorite book or movie genre?

I like movies like Rockstar and Tamasha. I have read a few psychology and self-help books. Though I am more into documentaries and movies. 

From courtside to seaside: Utkarsh Arora’s summer escape

Any documentary you would like to suggest?

I am more into neuroscience so I see every movie associated with it. Even what psychedelics do to your brain, what neuroplasticity is and so on. These are all available on Netflix and Youtube

What’s the most used app on your phone besides Instagram and Whatsapp?

Zerodha 

Any hidden talents that your fans might not know about?

I enjoy sketching and also I have an eidetic memory so I remember each and every dialogue of every movie I have seen

What’s your favorite way to recharge your energy during the day?

A cup of coffee or going out with friends 

What do you do on weekends?

Going for clubbing or hanging out with friends

Any favorite TV shows or movies that you’re currently hooked on?

I like TV shows like Friends, Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother

Do you have a preferred style of music that you enjoy listening to?

Slow and calm songs 

Cynergysports wishes Utkarsh Arora, a safe health & a great 2023. We thank him for his time & the support to the community.

Follow us on Instagram for more updates.

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