Smashing Success: A Candid Conversation with Shashwat Dalal

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In the world of badminton, where every shuttlecock tells a story of determination, skill, and relentless pursuit of excellence, one name that resonates with prowess is Shashwat Dalal. With a racket in hand and a passion that soars beyond the confines of the court, Shashwat has become a beacon of inspiration for aspiring badminton enthusiasts.

He has participated in several tournaments ranging from Odisha Masters 2023, Guwahati Masters 2023, Bahrain International Series 2023, and more. One of his most notable achievement of these were him securing 3rd position in Uganda International Series 2023

In this exclusive interview, we dive into the life and journey of Shashwat Dalal, exploring the highs and lows, the victories and challenges that have shaped him into the badminton powerhouse he is today. From his early days on the court to the defining moments that propelled him onto the national stage, Shashwat opens up about the relentless dedication required to master the game and the invaluable lessons he’s learned along the way.

Could you please provide us with a short introduction of yourself, your background and your sport?

Hello I am Shashwat Dalal, I hail from Sonipat, Haryana.  I started playing badminton at age of 10 here at a famous school called Little Angel School. I joined Malik Badminton academy where all elite players practiced as a side hustle. I kept on playing one after another and got to even play district tournaments though nothing major happened. But after 2018 things took a turn for me where I got to play Nationals. Alongside this I was also pursuing my studies where  I scored 91.8% in my higher secondary from CBSE and then appeared for the IIT JEE examination in which I cleared it with a 99.9 percentile and secured a seat in Delhi Technological University. 

So, it was not an easy journey because generally you see, either someone is doing well in studies or someone is playing at the top level, but I had a different perspective. Besides these I also cleared the National Defense Academy for Indian Army and Air Force exams and had an SSB Interview which is known as the world’s toughest interview. So, I was also recommended by the SSB board and I was out in the medical examination unfortunately. Though later I got the opportunity to represent India at the International Circuit so things worked out well for me. 

And now I’m like 197-198 in the BWF ranking. So yes, it has been good. Also I have a small back fracture also. So the things are very dicey as I can’t train for long sessions, I can’t do rigorous training like for a very long time. So things have not been easy by my side. And also I have to manage my Bachelor of Technology in Computer Engineering program. So the path was not easy, but it was definitely worth it. 

With such a phenomenal background being academically sorted while excelling in sports, how did you set your targets?

The thing was I was playing professionally till 2020 where I was doing rigorous training, with two sessions in a day. Everything was going right, but when the Covid-19 stuck I had my NDA exam in like four or five months. My thought process was to become an officer in Defence forces and  pursue sport at a greater level as the opportunities we get there are amazing too. So, I already cleared JEE in January and completed schooling in March. But my exam for NDA was in sometime so I wholeheartedly focussed on clearing it owing to which I took a break from playing then the major setback was my medicals. During that time there was a lockdown in the entire country and I had started training in Malik badminton Academy under coach Harinder Malik. So at that time I started playing again but with a clear vision to go for NDA. But then I was ruled out of medical reasons due to some very minor issue. And then all of a sudden, my life came to a halt because I had prepared very rigorously for it. 

So my coach and my parents helped me move on and I started playing again and by then I had also confirmed a seat in engineering. I was back at my game and my coach suggested to me that if I kept going well it could be my road to the Olympics and provided me with a roadmap of things I had to achieve to get there. Following the same, my first international was in 2021 in Infosys International Challenge. 

How are you coping up with your engineering classes with your tournaments and practice?

I can proudly say, I don’t have a single back in engineering here with an 8.2 CGPA currently. I believe it’s my mindset and my parents always motivated me to do well in both aspects of my life as it was equally important. I undertook that it was all about time-management and if I put in some dedicated hours today I can surely have a better tomorrow, which has been my mantra so far in life. My path has not been easy and my days are quite tough.My daily routine is like training from 5am to 6am then getting back home and having breakfast. After that I take a local train from Sonipat to Delhi to my college and thereafter I rush back for my evening sessions around 3pm to 4pm and then study till late night. This keeps going for 365 days except when I have off for my classes. 

This is insane. I mean, the amount of effort which is going into this, the amount of activities you have just lined up in one day, hats off to you… How far is the distance between Sonipat and Delhi?

So actually, the distance is 50 kilometers, actually, it takes like around one hour. But like the thing is, the local train is stopped by various Express which is why it is mentally exhausting, because you have to wait for another 15-20 minutes, then the train would start again, then we’ll stop again at next station because some other express train is passing, it sometimes even takes two or three hours like this. Generally, like on an average it takes one hour, one hour, 30 minutes, something like that. 

You also spoke about your back fracture, a short while back. If you can let us know how that happened and was it the reason you did not secure your place in SSB?

I am not sure how it happened but I cannot sit cross legged because my back doesn’t support it. I have spondylolysis in L45. It’s a minor fracture, but it’s triggers if I am training for long, then the back hurts. And even if in general sessions, like, my, I can’t do much weight training, there are many things associated with it. But like, it’s okay. I can’t use it as an excuse. And yeah, also, it was the one of the reasons for my exclusion in the medicals for the Indian Air Force. 

And so did you go through any surgery at the moment or you’re just treating it as a rehab process.

I’m not thinking of surgery at this time, though the doctor advised me to go to the surgeon, but the thing is, I cannot get surgery now at this moment of my career. It may take six months to one year to recover. And spine surgery is always very dangerous as even the doctor said that we have 50-50 chances of getting cured which is why I can’t take the risk.. So I’m doing my rehab and doing regular strength training for my back. 

What’s the schedule like specifically training in Malik Badminton Academy? 

I train in my city only at Sonipat where founder and our head coach is Harinder Malik supported by his younger brother Satinder Malik, and Gaurav Malhan all of whom have helped me alot in my journey so far. They have been a key guiding force in my journey showing me my true path in life and helping me level up in my game while helping me show where I stand and things I needed to do to achieve it. They keep my sessions according to my college timings and I share a very close bond with them, they are like my elder brothers. They even suggest to me which tournaments to play which can help me up my BWF ranking . Also they are most helpful to me on the off-court side. On-court every coach helps but what’s more important are the coaches who help you on the off-court side of what you’re doing other than those seven, eight hours of training in the 24 hours. So that is a very important thing. They have been helping very much on that side also and we are like a very small group. It’s not like that. 40-50 good players. We are five-six good players. There is Ravi, he’s also an extremely good player, and he’s internationally ranked 150 or 160. Then there is Gagan Balyan who is U19 ranked third in singles. Balraj Kajla is also a very good international player. So like we are a very small group but like we are like a quality group like just four or five senior players and then we play together and train together. 

In terms of the facilities, could you give us more insight about your academy? Also how much time do you spend there coaching? 

There are six coaches who provide us world-class training. They also have a hostel for people who travel from different parts of India with a good mess as well.  And the training session goes like in the summers we are training from 5am to 8am or 9am. Then there is a physical session for strength training. Thereafter, in the afternoon, we are training from 4pm to 8pm, generally during summers. Though now we also have an Indonesian Coach in our academy owing to which our timings have shifted a bit. So there is a 7am to 8am morning fitness session, then 9 amto 12pm , there is an onboard session which is taken by our coach and the Indonesian coach. And then again, there is an encore session from 4pm to 7pm or 8pm. Now things have changed a bit after the coach arrived from Indonesia, but usually we used to have two sessions from the last three, four years. One morning physical fitness session, and then technical on court session in the evening, four hours generally on court, and then two and a half hours to three hours or four hours, sometimes the physical fitness session.

And how do you take care of your recovery process? 

The thing I have been doing for three, four years is I have focused less on recovery time. Like I think it’s more of a mental aspect. I regularly do meditation. I think it’s more of a mental aspect. Like if you think I am tired you will be more tired. So I think it’s more of a mental thing because I don’t remember when I last had eight hours of sleep in the middle of a week. So I never like to sleep more than maybe five and a half or maximum six hours. Generally I sleep five hours a night. And I try if I can sleep one hour in the afternoon, but it’s also very rare because of my schedule. It’s not possible to sleep in the afternoon. So I have sort of found control on my body and yes, I can recover with a five hour sleep too. And yes, nutrition of course is an important part. I have a personal nutritionist, Charvi Ma’am from All is well, organization. She has prepared, very good, flexible diet chart according to my schedule for college and for training days. 

Can you tell us what is there in the blood of athletes of Haryana that makes them so motivated and tough towards their career?

Honestly speaking, Haryanvis are generally always attached to their roots. Also many athletes are middle class or very low middle class. It’s like in the villages where the real sportsmen come from, or normal towns, where the facilities are not very good. So we have seen the worst, this is nothing for us, infact it is very good for us. We have seen the worst and even the best of the athletes like Bajrang Punia he is from Sonipat even Yogeshwar Dutt and Sania Nehwal didn’t get top-notch facilities, but still they were on top of the Olympic podium and everywhere, like you see Neeraj Chopra, he’s the star of the nation. He has also gone through everything he also hails from the village. So the facilities are not very good here. But the dedication you can say is in the genes. Also improving facilities, like fresh hair and water most probably the food is very homely. And generally everyone like dairy products, like more dairy products, like ghee, milk, dahi and all these things. So that helps you build a very better immune system than others. So that’s what also plays an important part in Haryana. 

Shashwat with his family

I mean, you have been playing for so many years now, almost close into your graduation, but have you seen things change? How do you see things shaping up in the last let’s say 10 years?

In this thing I would like to say there is a huge role of media as if I compare this TV to the last 10 years, like it was when everyone used to focus on just cricket. So Cricket was fed into our subconscious mind. But now as things are changing, we are standing on the global podium, in every sport, things are changing. So that has also played a major factor. So even the badminton players and other players are getting interviewed. In general and also TV advertisements are done by all sports people now. So, it is more of a media thing now because if a kid sees like just cricket so obviously he will be bent towards it. So now if you see a whole cumulative approach, there is a slight bend towards every other sport and badminton specially, if I talk about badminton, it has become a very, very competitive sport, not just in Haryana, but in whole India and around the world. Players from every corner of the world are at the top in World RankingsSo the dynamics have changed very drastically and last year.

You have mostly been playing singles, have you tried doubles or mixed doubles?

I have tried doubles but I always stuck to singles as my coach suggested it. Some of the tournaments like India Open and Syed Modi are one of the biggest tournaments anyone can imagine participating in. During Covod-19 in 2022, my coach Satinder Malik had a world ranking at that time, and arranged for me to participate in the India Open with him in Doubles where people from international countries couldn’t participate due to the pandemic. I also participated in Syed Modi and Orissa Open in doubles to provide me with the exposure of what the world stage looks like, though I believe singles have been my thing so I decided to stick to it. Moreover I wanted to bring control in my game which was another key motivating factor. 

Absolutely.. Please lay a little emphasis on your family members and how their support and contribution has been throughout your journey? 

My father, Dr Jai Parkash Dalal, who is a senior lecturer in history in Delhi Government and my mom, Indu Dalal, is also a history lecturer in the same institute. I also have a younger brother who is presently studying in 7th standard. Both my parents hail from small villages in Haryana who have gone through some of the toughest challenges in their lives and yet provided me with a well-established lifestyle and fulfilled all of my wishes. They have been incredibly supportive throughout my life but kept on motivating me to do well. I believe everything in life is temporary and it’s only our parents who stand beside us during our highs and especially lows.

Do you have any sponsors or any kind of government or non-government support?

So there are two companies, Binary Sementics and Inlog Network, founders of which are associated with my institution DTU-DCE. They have been helping me during my toughest times and in my international tournaments as well where costs have been in lakhs. Since I am also studying here it’s more of an emotional connection. Presently these two have been of immense support to me and I am truly grateful to them. 

So what are your thoughts on things you have achieved till date? 

I feel what I have achieved is pretty average and there is a long way to go. . I am more keep presently on working towards my vision and changing the society I live in which will focus on academics and sports together which has not been a notion in our country and hope that someday I will change these dynamics. While I am grateful for whatever I have achieved, I believe I still have a lot to do to make a mark for myself and evolve as a more competent player.

FUN QUESTIONS 

  1. Favorite Badminton Player?

HS Prannoy

  1. Favorite Shot to Play on the Court?

Straight Forehand Smash

  1. If You Could Play Doubles With Any Player in History, Who Would It Be?

Mohammad Ahsan

  1. Best Badminton Memory So Far?

QF match in Uganda as I defeated him in 3 sets in a 1.5 hour match with a first international medal for India

  1. If You Weren’t a Badminton Player, What Would You Be Doing?

A fighter pilot in Indian Air Force 

  1. One Word That Describes Your Playing Style?

Speed

  1. Any cheat meals you enjoy?

Dal-baati churma

  1. Favorite Music Genre or Song That Pumps You Up?

I love Harynavi music as I like connecting to my roots

  1. Best Piece of Advice You’ve Ever Received?

“After every loss or win, just reset. The faster you reset, the better you get in the coming time. Don’t carry your baggage to your future. Start with zero everytime” – Pullela Gopichand in Korea Open

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