It's my happiest moment: Badminton coach Arif

Hyderabad, Jan 25 (IANS) Sidelined in the cricket team during his college days, he decided to opt for a game in which he could personally excel. That is how Syed Mohammed Arif, coach of Pullela Gopichand, took to badminton in 1960s. Five decades later, the Indian government has recognised his services by naming him for a Padma Shri, the country's fourth highest civilian honour.

"What can be a happier moment than this? I am a strong believer in the Almighty Allah and he has rewarded me with the talents for which the government decided to give me this award," Arif told IANS.

At his home in a dingy lane of Noor Khan Bazar in the old city of Hyderabad and accompanied by his mother and wife, Arif was receiving congratulations from a stream of visitors.

Arif, popularly known as Arif saahab, is proud to be the first badminton coach to be honoured with Padma Shri. All England Champion Pullela Gopichand, one his many disciples, won Padma Sri in 2001 but it was for his performance as a player.

"Gopi's victory (in All England championship) was the high point of my career as a coach and also Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponappa winning the bronze medal at the World Badminton Championship last year," said Arif, who received Dronacharya award in 2000.

"It is the performance of my children which still keep me enthused," said the 68-year-old Arif, who has also been awarded by Badminton World Federation (BWF) in 1997 for his meritorious services.

Arif, who used to play cricket, football and table tennis during his college days before taking to badminton, recalled that there was no coach and basic facilities for the badminton players.

He represented the state in various national events from 1965 to 1970 and was a member of the Osmania University team which won Inter University championship in 1965.

It was Habeeb Omar, physical trainer of Anwarul Uloom College who saw the coaching abilities in Arif and encouraged him to join National Institute of Sports, Patiala in 1971. He topped the diploma and there was no looking back since then.

Arif joined Sports Authority of India as a coach and his first assignment was in Jammu and Kashmir. In 1974 he was included in the national panel of coaches. Arif came back to Hyderabad in 1978.

"From 1978 to till date, the players trained by me have won 200 titles. It was a huge achievement for a state which had only two national junior titles in 1960s and 1970s," said a proud Arif, who was national chief coach from 1997 till his retirement in 2004.

At the request of SAI, he again took up coaching in 2006 and still grooms the youngsters.

"I am doing this without any remuneration. Even as a regular coach my salary was only one-third of what I could have earned in family business. I am still active as a coach as it is my passion. It looks after my physical and mental health," he said.

Arif believes coaching is not an easy task as the coach has to study a lot and develop physical, technical, tactical and psychological talents in the players.

"Coaching is a scientific art or artistic science. It deals with both human beings and science. A coach has to come up with something new every time to bind the interest and develop the same talents in the players with different ways. This is the most difficult task for a coach," he said.