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  • Aniketh Mendonca

Interview with Chief Coach/ High Performance Director of the national luge team - Mr. Shiva Keshavan

Shiva Keshavan, an Arjuna Awardee and India's fastest man on ice, has represented .India at six Winter Olympic Games (1998-2018). He was recently appointed the High Performance Director of the Luge Federation of India. As Shiva was a part of the High Performance Leadership Program conducted by the ELMS Sports Foundation, we caught up with him to talk about his plans in High Performance!

What are your thoughts on being appointed as the first High Performance Director of a winter sport in the country?

After announcing my retirement from active sports following a career spanning 22 years as a winter sports athlete in luge, I'm happy that I can now try to push for some change in the way things are administered in winter sports. High performance needs to be system driven and this is something that is completely lacking in winter sports. In winter sports, one of the challenges is the lack of a long tradition and so, there is a dearth of athletes who have had ample exposure at the higher levels, based on which they can bring ideas to the table and be a part of the development process in this field. Thus, being one of the few winter sports athletes with an international experience, I am always eager to give back.

But, being part of the decision-making process is not easy since winter sports federations, including olympic committees, have very different considerations than just sports performance. There have been several issues in the past and we need to look no further than the fact that there is still not a single association of any winter sport that is recognized by the Government of India, which is extremely worrying as it basically means that there is no system, no official way in which the government can fund the plans of these federations. I’m not trying to place any blame here. It's just that no recognised federation exists yet and, therefore, being officially appointed as a high performance director by the Luge Federation gives me a lot of hope that we can start to build a system that will create certain benchmarks for the development of winter sports.

Considering infrastructure required for taking up Luge, are the talent identification and infrastructure plans codependent or can they function independently?

Ideally they should be working in sync so that we have an all-around development, but it can also be done individually. We have to start with what we have and work towards a longer term objective. I think having an active talent scouting program is very important, especially since we are at a stage where we want to develop a sport practically from scratch. So my focus will be on implementing a two-step process of talent scouting and basic training. We don't really require a huge investment to get people to know about the sport but we do need a longer term plan in terms of building natural tracks and artificial tracks following which we can talk about hosting international competitions eight to ten years down the line.

With the 2020 season starting in December, will it be a part of your plans?

This season will be a scaled down version of the main plan. The athletes we have access to at present are older in terms of age, and at times it doesn't make sense to invest in an older athlete. But in our case, since we need people to fill various roles such as that of support staff, coaches, technicians, etc., what better way than to train the current lot of athletes and upskill them to fit into these roles? So, we'll have to look at things strategically and try to integrate and make the best use of our resources. If we work with only 12-year-old kids right now, we will have to wait another eight years till they reach their prime, but if we work on the current lot of athletes as well, we will be able to train them to fill in various positions.

What are the next steps with 2026 and 2030 in mind?

What I would like to see in the next five to ten years is that we are able to reach out to a large number of athletes who have taken part in our initiation- and beginner-level development camps that we plan to hold across India. We want more people to be actively involved in the winter sports ecosystem, who have an active understanding of luge as a sport, so we can build a broad base and then have our teams become a regular feature in the international circuits from there. Once we start having consistent representation in all these events, we'll be able to increase the level of performance, and I have no doubt that within eight years, given there is proper budget allocation and consistency in training and participation we can create champions at the asian and world level. This is the vision which I have for the next 2 four-year cycles.

What was the intention behind joining the High Performance Leadership Program?

I think this program is probably the most important need for our current sports ecosystem. Right now, we need to be able to create professionals who understand the system of high performance support and who have the competency to implement it. I had no idea that I would be nominated as a high performance director when I signed up for this course but it is my conviction that the skill sets taught in this program are necessary, and it's almost prophetic because I have immediately experienced the results.I hope this course continues in the longer term and it creates new professionals who can work in our sports organizations.

Are there any aspects of the program that helped you develop a different approach to achieving better outcomes?

Absolutely! This program has given me a slightly different perspective and it has given me practical goals to achieve. This program was definitely an incredible opportunity where some of my doubts were answered and where I got the confidence to build a high performance program. Although I learned a lot practically on the job, thanks to my experience in the high performance field and having worked with several international teams, I believe the process and theory is also extremely important to build a solid foundation. Which is why now when I'm following the classes in the program, I look at them from a very practical point of view. For example, I have to build this high performance program and for which I can directly get a lot of inputs, not just from the course but also by reaching out to the faculty and following up with them on some of my questions.

Furthermore, from an infrastructure perspective, when it comes to setting up high performance training centers, the course is teaching us a lot of best practices that need to be considered. Another important aspect is the creation of a cohesive environment for sports professionals. We all need each other and we often have to work with each other. Being a part of this program has helped build an understanding about what each person's role is, be it as an administrator with the Sports Authority of India or some of the multi-sports training centers that we have in india, as well as the various organizations that are working to support athletes. So this can help in forming a network of sports professionals. I feel like this program has been tailor-made for me right now.

The interview was conducted by Aniketh Mendonca.

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