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Arundhati Pantwane, a former badminton athlete sensation, has gracefully transitioned from being a prominent player to a visionary badminton coach. Her unwavering passion for the sport has led her to empower aspiring badminton talents, instilling in them the winning spirit and nurturing their potential. With a remarkable coaching philosophy and a string of triumphs, Arundhati continues to leave an indelible mark on the world of badminton, inspiring a new generation of champions.
In this Behind the Sport Series, let’s unfold her inspiring journey in an exclusive interview with Cynergysports and know more about her.
We know you so well. But for our young audience, please tell us a little bit about yourself, your childhood and how/why did you choose Badminton as a career?
Hailing from an athletic background, I commenced my journey following in my parents footsteps. My father used to assist Rajeev Bala Krishnan back then who was an Olympian. Observing them excel in their career inspired me to make them proud of my achievements. I was good at sprinting for 100m and 200m. I was even adept at the 100m hurdles. I used to compete in that at the state level. I remember one fine evening I started playing badminton with my father and enjoyed the thrill and excitement I felt with every smash. To further fuel my interest in the sphere, my father put me in training sessions. I used to get coaching for athletics in the morning and on court badminton training in the evening. This went on for three to four years.
Eventually one fine day I remember my District level Badminton championship and Athletic School finals clashed on the same day which put me on the fence. After weighing my options suggested by my parents, I went for badminton as my interests were more inclined towards the field. This is how my journey commenced and I started to soar high by winning District, States, All India Nationals and International tournaments as well. At the age of 16, I was U-16 India Rank#1. Only me and Saina Nehwal were playing U-16 back then. Gopi Sir was planning to open his academy and offered me to join him during my play at Calicut Nationals. He was one of our biggest idols and that opportunity was a dream come true. I have been associated with him ever since.
I had a fulfilling journey in this sphere, though in the Kerala National Games I twisted my knee and got an ACL tear. Almost took 6 to 9 months to make a comeback and start playing tournaments. It was tough for me to perform after the injury. Though, I tried but eventually got married and had a baby. God had some other plans. Now I intend to give back to the sport and started working as a coach. Witnessing my juniors today and the level at which I indulged in the sport back then, I feel we still have a lot to do to get there.
Can you share some of the notable badminton tournaments you participated in during your playing days? Which tournament victory stands out as the most memorable and why?
During that time of span, I represented my country in World Junior Championships and Asian Badminton Championships. I won the Bahrain Open as well. I had even played for a club for Sweden, for two years in between. Runner up in Czech Republic tournament, Bronze in Polish Open. I was good at European tournaments mostly, I really adored the country and its culture. I was at my career peak back then where I won National games Gold medal, National Runner ups, and so on.
Wow. That’s a long list to count. Tell us about the factors that influenced your decision to play singles in badminton and how it has shaped your career as a player? Was it your decision or did your coach suggest the same?
So the era I come from, there were only singles. Doubles did not have as much attention & significance. But I was good at singles and I was an athlete so I had good footwork and was fast on court. I used my athletic genes on court. I had good power also, the game suited my physique. I played doubles later, but my knee injury restricted me after a point of time.
How has your experience as a singles player influenced your coaching techniques and approach, when guiding other athletes?
My experience has been completely different in coaching as compared to playing on court as a singles player, where I had to just think about myself. Being on the other side I have to think collectively and plan accordingly for my juniors. Gopi Sir has been of immense help to me throughout this tenure which has also helped me cope up better.
Can you tell us a bit about how you met Arun and what made you decide your journey from Maharashtra to Kerala, coming from different backgrounds?
So me and Arun met at Gopi Sir’s academy when I was 16 years old and he was two years elder to me. Even in the camps we used to meet each other and connect together. Though, it was during the Asian Games we clicked and realized we were meant to be together. After knowing each other and being together for around 5 years, we got married in 2017. I had a baby thereafter who is two years old now.
Besides your vast journey in the Indian Badminton world from playing international tournaments to coaching upcoming aspirants now, do you have any other associations or hobbies?
So I used to write blogs on core badminton topics for BadmintonHub, where I used to share my insights and provide them with detailed technical aspects of the sport. I have taken a break of three months presently from it. I even provided consulting services for their website sometimes.
So, having been coaching for a while now, what do you feel is the difference in the coaching methods presently, from the training sessions you have taken during your days?
I believe there is a huge difference, because as a coach I comprehended that we need to evolve with the time as the sport is advancing. So even I needed to upgrade my skills and theories in order to help my players realize their full potential. Earlier the coaches used to provide suggestions from outside the court whereas now it is imperative for the coaches to get inside the court and get things done under their mentorship. Now it’s more of doing quality work and giving productive sessions rather than going on for hours. Moreover, players nowadays are looking for instant results which also requires us to be patient with them and keep motivating them at every step of the way. The scenarios were quite different back then and so has our style of coaching enhanced as well.
What is the present scenario of the badminton industry according to you? Also, how many kids are training approximately at the academy currently?
I believe that the scenario of badminton has changed drastically as the people are understanding the importance of sports and are indulging more into this sphere. The parents are also keen on helping their children grow, motivating them to channelize their attributes and excel in the field of their choice while investing money in their training which is helping our country produce better results. Besides the increase in the competitiveness and hunger to grow among the young aspirants, have also helped in enhancement of the sport. The government has also taken great initiatives in the growth of badminton which has played a major role. Currently the academy has close to 300 students and I manage around 40 to 50 of them. We have different batches for different skills and age groups. We also use video analysis to make a comprehensive comparison of players’ matches to comprehend their play and provide them better guidance.
Being married to a fellow badminton player, Arun Vishnu, must bring a unique dynamic to your lives. How do you both support and motivate each other in your respective badminton journeys? What are your and Arun’s usual weekends like, do you indulge in any activities besides Badminton? Also, which was the last movie you two saw together?
So earlier our weekends used to be like going for a movie or chilling with our friends mostly from the Badminton fraternity itself. Things have changed since we had a child, as our weekends go in spending time with our kid. Though we try going out for lunch/dinners or going to our friend’s parties. But mostly life is busy and Arun keeps traveling due to the tournaments. It’s tough but we manage and motivate each other. The last movie together we saw was Avatar.
Having been associated with Gopichand Sir for such a long span of time from getting tutored to providing coaching now, can you tell us about your equation with him? How has your relationship with him evolved over the years?
Since I was an outside academy student, I always had a special place in his heart. As a coach he was quite tough on me and the quality of training he provided was phenomenal which helped Saina and Sindhu evolve. Even the positive environment and inclusiveness he creates in the court is incredible. Now with me being a coach, he is more strict. He imparts his knowledge and keeps guiding me while showing me the right way, whenever I fall down. Every month all of us have a meeting with him where he provides us with certain guidelines and keeps on suggesting and solving our doubts. In fact he knows the game of each and every player specifically, despite his academy having around 200-300 students. He is just incredible I would say.
Are there any travel locations you visited recently?
We went to Dubai recently, but I adore Maldives as I believe I am more of a beach person. The place is quite serene and has a calm kind of environment which will allows you to rejuvenate. Moreover, it’s an island so you can go and have time for yourself which is one of the best parts about Maldives.
What is your and Arun’s go-to meal?
I am not much of a foodie; I mostly like home cooked meals. Though I enjoy authentic Maharashtrian food. Arun on the other hand is a big fan of Biryani, from a place called Paragon at his native place.
CynergySports wishes Arundhati, a safe health & a great 2023. Onwards & Upwards…!! We thank you for your time & your support to the badminton community.
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