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Chak De! Mumbai: Meet the city's top school coaches

Meet the city's top school coaches who spot and groom talent right from the early years

That some of Hollywood's most inspirational stuff is scripted around high-school coaches should come as no surprise. Pep talks, abuses, and giving them a dream to fight for, the school coach lays the foundation for a good player. Olympian and former Indian hockey captain Viren Rasquinha swears by his two coaches — Marcellus Gomes and Marzban Patel. "I learnt all my technical skills from Marcellus in school and from Bawa (as Patel is known) after school. Bawa believed that I could play for India; I wouldn't have if it were not for Bawa. Subconsciously, I guess, I did not want to let him down." That's the power of a coach. We bring you four of Mumbai's best school coaches who have toiled for decades to give the game its shining moments.

Patel trains students daily for two hours on a small cemented court that has no goalpost. Pic/Nimesh Dave
Patel trains students daily for two hours on a small cemented court that has no goalpost. Pic/Nimesh Dave

Marzban Patel
Hockey coach, Children's Academy, Malad
Until he was 14, Marzban 'Bawa' Patel, had no idea what hockey was. Sometimes, in the bylanes of Sion Koliwada, where he grew up, he would wield a rudimentary hockey stick. It was his neighbour, Munir Khan, a well-known hockey player at the time, who got him interested in the game. "He and his sons were playing for the Republican Club and I would often watch their matches. From very early on, I had a knack for spotting talent," says the grizzly haired 68-year-old, who has been a hockey coach for 35 years.

Patel is known to have unearthed and groomed talent, largely free of cost. "You can't do this job for the money, because there is hardly any. I wouldn't advise anyone to become a coach if they are guided by the economics of it."

Bawa Sir, as he's fondly called, has trained many top names in hockey, including his latest talent, India's goalkeeper Suraj Karkera. Children's Academy approached him 10 years ago. The setting is not ideal. There's a small cemented court, without a goalpost. It's fascinating, therefore, that India's goalkeeper Karkera, started his training on this very court. "Suraj was not a goalkeeper; we made him into one. His parents were not keen that he pursue the game. I had to take him for tournaments without their knowledge."

Ask what's that one quality a coach must have, and Patel says, "Patience." And, what does he do when his temper gets the better of him? "[Use] Bad words," he smiles. "Those bad words have made good players. Parents don't like it, but it acts like a tonic."

At 68, he's more mentor now, than coach. He travels from Vile Parle to Malad every day for training. He has a slight hunch, his pace is slow, and his demeanour, quiet. But, retirement is far from his mind. "I'll keep going till I am alive. There's no life without hockey, without looking at these children, without feeling that you have to groom that boy."

Wilfred Alex Alva
Sports coordinator, Campion School, Colaba
1986. A year before Wilfred Alex Alva passed Std X from St Dominic Savio High School, Diego Maradona's Hand of God goal had sent a shiver down his spine. Growing up at this Andheri boarding school, Alva had Maradona posters and paper clippings lining the lid of his trunk; in the years to come, when Alva would sign up for the Indian Navy, Maradona would adorn his lockers too. "At school, we had the option between cricket and football. I was too poor to afford the former. And, once I saw footballers like Maradona, who came from the slums, I had hope. I wanted to become like him, have a body like him," says Alva, 49.

We are seated in the gym room of Colaba's Campion School, where Alva has been working as sports coordinator, first from 2003 to 2005, and then 2008 onwards. A neat row of glistening trophies — winners and runners-up — is placed at a corner.

Alva says getting the 'elite boys'of Campion to play hard football is truly something. Pics/Datta Kumbhar
Alva says getting the 'elite boys'of Campion to play hard football is truly something. Pics/Datta Kumbhar

From outside, the unbridled enthusiasm of boys during PT class fills the hallway, making it nearly impossible to hear Alva. Unbothered by the merry din, Alva tells us, "I joined Campion to teach football as my way of giving back to society. I find it more purposeful here than to be associated with some club. These are elite boys here, and getting them to play hard football is truly something."

Last year, the school clinched the under-16 Mumbai Schools Sports Association (MSSA) Division 1 title against Don Bosco. It was a proud moment for Alva, even more so because, as he says, making two teams out of the modest student population that Campion hosts — arguably half the number at Don Bosco, as he puts it — is quite a task. Last month, Alva cast Rahul Verma — a Std X student, tennis champion and captain of the school's basketball team — as goalkeeper for the Boys' under-16 Division 1 league of the MSSA Inter-Schools football tournament. "You've got to do what you can when you have fewer students. I had to train him in just eight months," he says.
Alva's ingenuity lends itself to the under-8 group that he coaches. "You have to catch their legs, literally show them where to shoot. You get to mould them rather than get readymade players," he explains.

Before he took voluntary retirement from the Navy, Alva worked as a physical instructor across centres such as the National Defence Academy in Pune and Sainik School, Thiruvananthapuram. He is married to football coach, Jyoti Alva, whom he met while studying at the Netaji Subhas National Institute of Sports in Kolkata.

"You see that there?" he says, pointing to a bunch of footballs. "My household runs on those. While I train my students in several sports, including lawn tennis and badminton, I think football is the king among them."

Cyril D'Souza
Athletics and handball coach, Jamnabai Narsee School, Juhu
When we catch coach Cyril D'Souza on Juhu beach on a weekday evening in the middle of a training session, there's a slight drizzle. The training, however, continues unhindered. "This is resistance training. The more it rains, the better. Sometimes, during high tide, I even make them run in the water," says the 51-year-old who has been athletics and handball coach for 30 years. In his younger days, it was his natural stamina that drew him to athletics. When he was in Standard IX at Dominic Savio High School, Andheri East, D'Souza had set a record in the U-19, 3,000-metre category. But at that time, his talent did not find the direction it needed. "I became coach to give back to students what I did not get as a player."


Pics/Satej Shinde

One of the key strategies he uses as coach is to record games. "That's the only way to get students interested in the game, spot their mistakes. Children are bombarded from all corners these days. There's the pressure of academics. As coaches, we need to calm them down, push them, but not burn them out. I don't promise parents any fortnight wonders. Let them play their game," D'Souza says. The 51-year-old, who has coached several Bollywood star kids, including Esha Deol, Masaba Gupta, Alia Bhatt, Fardeen Khan and Kunal Kapoor, says that the greatest challenge coaches face these days, is that "children now are fattened". He adds, "When I say 'fattened', I mean over-indulged. Those star kids were never like that. Their parents meant business — rough it out! Nowadays, you make the kids work a bit hard, and parents call you out on it."

He keeps contact with his celeb students, often getting them to attend functions. "I want to give my students a message — if these star kids who were born with a silver spoon could do it, why can't you?" Deol, Bhatt, Shraddha Kapoor are among the many state level handball players that D'Souza has groomed. "Esha was particularly rebellious, she has played every state level match, even though her father did not agree [to allow it] all the time."

He has over 3,000 friends on Facebook and "all are my students", he smiles. D'Souza also trains underprivileged kids. "Quitting school coaching for monetary prospects has never crossed my mind. Working with children keeps me young!"


Pic/Datta Kumbhar

Leslie Machado
School team football coach, Don Bosco High School, Matunga
THE journey from Cadell Road to Don Bosco High School at King's Circle is one that Leslie Machado looks forward to every day. The home-to-football-field drive is something of a pilgrimage for him. As he sprints across the school's basketball court to reach the sunny field, his cinereous hair glistening in the afternoon, there is a swagger about him that belies his age.

"Bosco's is Bosco's," says Machado, 62. As he takes in the two football fields in the school's backyard, his pride in the boys' school is obvious. It is an admiration that is returned in equal regard. This past week, when the school won the Mumbai Schools Sports Association under-16 Division I title, Don Bosco skipper Manan Dang dedicated the win to Machado, who finishes 25 years as coach at Don Bosco this year.

Machado recently retired from the Central Railway, where he worked both as chief office superintendent and played in their football team. It was in 1991, however, when a severe cartilage tear forced him to take it easy on the ground. His passion for the game found new avenues when Adib Kenkre, then a coach at Don Bosco, asked his hand at coaching. Soon after, Machado was on the school grounds after office hours, training students right from under-8 to under-16.

Machado calls himself shy, but, on the field, he is a fierce mentor, making students yield their best to the game. "On the field, everyone is your enemy. If you are playing against your dad – even he is your enemy," he says. If it sounds harsh, that is hardly what Machado is. "Off the ground, I am a friend to the students," he laughs.

Over the last couple of decades, Machado has taught batches of students and, now, their sons. There are parents who say that Machado is as good as a father figure to the students. Taking care that the young players are not pushed beyond their capacity to exhaustion, Machado's specialty lies in making sure that students are not moulded to fit the game but, to see how their strengths can be put to the best use. "I love teaching the under-8 lot. They are very raw. They run wildly on the ground and jump on me. It's amazing to see how they get into football as they qualify for under-16," he says.

Star kids he groomed
Esha Deol, Masaba Gupta, Alia Bhatt, Fardeen Khan and Kunal Kapoor

35 No. of years Patel has been a coach

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