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Know your legend: Sanjay Chakravarty, the man who has given India some of its finest shooting stars.In his 40-year coaching career, the Dronacharya awardee, has helped guide champion shooters like Anjali Bhagwat and Gagan Narang among others.Shooting coach Sanjay Chakravarty continues to mutter something under his breath everytime a young rifle shooter at the Veer Sawarkar shooting range in Mumbai takes a shot and then tries to analyse his effort by looking at the target card.“You have to study your own position and not the shot to become a better shooter, ” he tells this correspondent. “The target doesn’t move, its your body that moves, ” the 76-year-old exclaims.The youngster probably wasn’t aware that he was training in the presence of a former India international, who is credited with producing some of India’s finest marksmen.Chakravarty is wondering whether to walk up and talk to the youngster.In a coaching career that has spanned over 40 years, Chakravarty has molded careers of many such youngsters and made them into champion shooters.Anjali Bhagwat, Deepali Deshpande, Anuja Tere (now Jung) and then Suma Shirur and London Olympics bronze medallist Gagan Narang are just a few who have trained under Chakravarty.Born in Uttar Pradesh, Chakravarty began his shooting career only after joining the Indian Navy. Though he represented India in quite a few international events, coaching proved to be his true calling.He doesn’t quite remember the number of players he has worked with in these years. “I never had an academy set up, it was not easy to keep a tab on the number of shooters who trained under me, ” he reasons.There are some number, though, which cannot be forgotten. Between them, his wards have so far won over 100 international medals, including a dozen podium finishes at the Commonwealth Games and a number of them at the World Cup.Building foundation for shootingSpeaking recently at a gathering of national-level shooters, Bhagwat recalled how tips from a senior shooter during a shooting camp kick-started her journey to becoming one of India’s premier shooters.“We had gone to the Worli shooting range as part of our NCC shooting course, ” Bhagwat said. “We were really really struggling when one senior shooter walked up to us to give tips and that is how it all started, ” she added.That senior shooter was Chakravarty, who was then part of the Services team.As a senior shooter, Chakravarty was also helping the team members at the range when he saw a group of young girls practicing and felt they had the spark to become good shooters.“I played for India but I always wanted to take up coaching, ” says Chakravarty.“After working with Anjali, Deepa and others felt like they had the spark to do something special, ” he explained.The technical know-how about the sport wasn’t as advanced in India as it is today. Chakravarty was first few who helped bring in professionalism and built the foundation of success for the youngsters on hard work and self-realisation of their strengths and weaknesses.“It was a very important role he played in our lives because we started in those days when everything was so unprofessional, ” recalls Bhagwat. “I didn’t know at the time that such a sport existed in the world and that it’s played at the international level.“We started from scratch. The knowledge which Sanjay sir also had was very limited. We actually grew together. That work was very important. And due to him, our basics are very strong, ” says Bhagwat, adding the coach was a very hard task master and that helped them stay focused.“We started and everywhere we had problems. We had problems in equipment, accessories, no ammunition, no ranges. We used to practice (for 50m events) by cutting our targets of that size and putting it on the 25 metres. In those conditions, we have started. But the only thing why we could survive was the push and a strong faith in our skill and capability and our calibre which Sanjay Sir gave us, ” she adds.Wry sense of humourApart from this, Chakravarty boasted of strong communication skills. His style of using sense of humour to drive home the point or motivate the players, stood out.Explaining the way he dealt with situations, Suma Shirur says, “Once we had gone for a Nationals. And it was an open-sight Nationals. I had to qualify for the nationals... I won the gold and I did fantastic. And then immediately I had to go for the nationals. So I went a high note and I was like ‘Wow, I’m in the nationals and I can do it.’“So I went to the match and my rifle broke. My cylinder started leaking. So I was shooting and the shots were dropping. I didn’t know what was happening. They tried to repair it, it didn’t work. But I just kind of hung on. I finished my match and I came out and I was so disappointed. It was a disaster. But I couldn’t see Sir anywhere. I’m like ‘Where’s Sir? Can’t find him anywhere.’“And then I went out, and I saw Sir sitting under a tree smoking. Sir is a chain smoker. He was sitting under the tree smoking, and I went there and I could’ve just started crying. But sir very calmly just told me ‘Thank God, this was not the Olympics.’ That one line just changed everything. That one line made me forget about what happened. That one line instilled that confidence in me despite the failure that I can do it. It’s the one line that defined my future and it was then on it was only the Olympics that was in my mind, ” said Shirur, who reached the 10m Air Rifle final in the 2004 Athens Olympics.The 76-year-old insists his focus as a coach was to let the players understand themselves and he felt that all technical adjustments had to be worked around that knowledge. “If you know your body properly, if you are say about 5 feet 2 inches in height, you should know what 5 feet 2 inches is properly. If you know, you can stop (control the movement of the body while shooting) it. And if you can stop it, you’re world number one. It’s very simple, ” says Chakravarty.That is precisely why even when he was part of the national squad, Chakravarty made it a point not to try and change the techniques of any players, who were not directly working with him as that would only confuse them.Gunning for gloryEven when he later joined the Gagan Narang’s Gun for Glory academy in Pune, it was with the motivation to work with younger shooters. He mostly concentrated on helping them understand the nitty-gritties and motivated them to go the extra yard.“He would normally call us to the room, chat with us, make us read motivational books after training and try to prepare us for next day’s sessions, ” says Shriyanka Sadangi, who represented India in many junior internationals while she was training in Pune.At 76, Chakravarty doesn’t travel much but makes it a point to come and sit at the Savarkar centre once a week to just watch youngsters shoot.“I did not marry. Shooting was everything for me, ” says Chakravarty. “It still feels good when I come and sit hear. Not many of these shooters know me but I am happy to come and watch, ” says the coach, who helped build Mumbai’s first 10 metre shooting range outside the Maharashtra Rifle Association facility at the Ruia college.His students held a special function to felicitate him when he turned 75 and then collectively nominated him for a Dronacharya Award which he received in August last year. While Chakravarty is happy to be conferred the honour, he insisted he never thought a lot about it.“Once you keep on working, I don’t think you see towards that. Because you are so busy with the players and even if you’re not coaching them, you know he can still become an international but I’m not coaching him. You see that also is a journey. So award - reward doesn’t come (to mind) because it doesn’t give me anything. Just a few rupees for smoking purposes, ” he adds.The award, however, has rekindled his interest in coaching and if anyone approaches him, he says he is once again ready to start from scratch and help produce another champion shooter.
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Learning from the Masters: How to Get Your Child Started With Shooting.Shooting should be introduced in the school curriculum, says Olympian Gagan Narang, who is also mentoring junior shooters to reach new heights.In his 20th year in the sport, ace shooting champion Gagan Narang is still going strong and gearing up for the Tokyo Olympics. Having made his country proud by winning a bronze medal at the 10m air rifle event at the 2012 London Olympics, Narang went on to triumph at the 2014 Commonwealth Games held in Glasgow with a silver and bronze medal each. His shooting academy, Gun for Glory is considered among the best training centres in India, across different sports. The champion has been helping young shooters to perfect their sport. He spoke to ParentCircle to share his views on children taking up competitive shooting.Q. Shooting is still a very niche sport in India and needs a lot of support. What can be done to popularise it? A. I think shooting needs to find a place in the school curriculum, just like chess. It builds concentration, endurance and stamina. For the sport to grow, the teens and the tweens need to be exposed to it. Once they pick up their rifles/pistols, parents should take the initiative to help them learn and actively participate in the sport. In the beginning it is a good thing if they are exposed to as many sports as possible, so that they can pick from a reasonable range.Q. How can we get more children to be interested in this sport? A. Shut out their iPads and smartphones and get them to the playground. Parents play an active role in that. Electronic de-addiction is very important for today’s generation. Internet is a huge magnet and a distraction at the same time. Unless the time is divided between internet, studies and sports, they won’t manage to channelise their energies into active sports.Q. What are the prerequisites for a child to learn shooting?A. There are no prerequisites really. For any child to learn a sport, he/she has to be interested in it. It all starts with the interest and then the ‘intent’ to do well. Once you have both the ‘I’s in place, there is no looking back.Q. What is the right age for a child to take up shooting? A. I would imagine around 11 years onwards. It is very easy to get the child into correct posture, help develop focus, concentration and then prepare his/her body for the rigours of the sport. The challenge is to prevent him from early specialisation.Q. What role can parents play in supporting the children through their journey? A. Parents really need to be the support cast. They need to realise how much is too much. They should not be doing too much or too little. There are some parents who push children very hard because they want to get instant results, which is not possible in sports. Everything is a process. At times, that ends up in injuring the child. So parents really need to understand the weight of the situation and act accordingly.Q. What are the biggest challenges that one might face in shooting?A. There are several challenges on the road to becoming a professional shooter. Firstly, he/she has to find a mentor and coaches who would give right direction; get the right equipment, get the right programmes, funding and then finally shooting good enough scores to make the national team. There are several stages to it.Q. What are the facilities needed in the country for making shooting more accessible as a sport to aspiring kids? A. One needs a range, accessibility to equipment and coaches. It is not impossible to get that in today’s India but is not easy either. Shooting isn’t a club sports so one has to either get to the ranges or contact the federation for the nearest facility.8. What are the training facilities available? There are several facilities across the country. Gun for Glory has as many as over 15 centres across India. Besides that there are private facilities run by other shooters. The shooting federation too is helpful when individuals approach them.Q. How can children be kept motivated, as the sport needs a lot of practice and precision?A. In the beginning it is the parents and the coaches’ job to keep the kids motivated. And the only motivation should be to win an Olympic medal. Once the kid is into the sport, then he/she is able to motivate himself or herself. There is no need for external factors. Q. Shooting is a precision sport. What kind of life skills does it enhance?A. It makes one a complete individual. You learn professionalism, managing self, discipline, precision. All of these have a huge impact in one’s life because they are essential life skills.Q. You are a true champion. What has been your biggest moment?A. My biggest moment in the sport was the bronze medal at the London Olympics in 2012. But shooting 600/600 twice in competition was no less satisfying.Q. You won the bronze at London 2012. Great great feat. But, you also missed the gold by just 1 point. Did you miss it badly? How did you recover from so-near-yet-so-far experience?A. It was very sad to miss out on the gold at London. But a lot of pressure had built up going into the London Olympics and I just had one mission- to win a medal. So it was like the monkey off my back when I won the bronze. However, the one gut wrenching moment was 2008 Beijing Olympics when I missed reaching the finals on countback. That served as the springboard to my successes in the next four years.Q. You had once said that your parents had sold their plot to buy you the gun. Can you elaborate on that story? Does shooting need plenty of sacrifice from parents?A. My dad and mum did sacrifice a lot. I came from a middle class background with working class parents. They went beyond their limits in order to support me and a sport that was a very expensive proposition 20 years ago. Right now, a lot of it is available through programmes at the shooting academies. The reason I wanted to start GFG was to give back to the system – to help children with the facilities I did not have while growing up.Q. Often in shooting, it is seen that the difference between the top place and the tenth place is hardly a point or two. How important is mental strength and should that be a focus area from a very young age for children?A. To be mentally tough is critically important in any sport – more so in shooting. One will get several roadblocks on the road to glory, that is why, it is very important to form strategies and find ways to deal with it. In fact, by winning over those key moments of adversity, brings out the best in athletes.Q. What are the nutritional requirements for a shooter, say at the age of 10? What should the child do to gain stamina? A. Its too early to get so deep into the subject..Keep things simple and as they are initially. Let the child’s mind evolve on its own. Nutrition is important and early detection of food allergies helps in the long run.Q. What’s your message to all the readers of ParentCircle, India’s fastest growing web and mobile platform in the space of parenting?A.Please be patient and give the child, the right guidance.Hitting the Bull’s Eye – Quotable quotes from Gagan“It all starts with the interest and then the ‘intent’ to do well.”“Parents really need to be the support cast. They need to realise how much is too much.”“Shooting makes one a complete individual. You learn professionalism, managing self, discipline, precision.”“One will get several roadblocks on the road to glory. Winning over those key moments of adversity, brings out the best in athletes.”Hall of FameBronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics (10m Air Rifle event)4 gold medals each at the 2006 and 2010 Commonwealth GamesPrestigious Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award in 2010Shattered the world record at the 2008 ISSF World Cup FinalRuns ‘Gun for Glory’, a world-class shooting academy at multiple locations
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