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Are rugby players cracking up under the rigours of heavy training?

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by a Special Sports Correspondent

Former rugby player and now a coach and strength and conditioning professional Bilal Yusuf is concerned about the quantum of training done by both school and club rugby players.

It is no wonder that players today are taxed more than their systems can take. The reason, according to Yusuf, could be because these players are following a professional training routine in an amateur system.

Gone are the days when hordes of ex-schoolboy players, just out of school, awaited their turn to play club rugby. Very few among these school leavers walked in straight to the club sides of yesteryear because there was a gap between club and school rugby; in terms of the capacity needed to play senior rugby. But now the training load is basically the same for both club and school players.

And as how Yusuf sees it the players are being over trained. “The present training regimes are extremely demanding on the players. Players are training five days of the week and sessions are held twice a day. At the end of the season there is mental and physical fatigue,” said Yusuf who has also had stints both as a school and club rugby coach and also as the junior national coach for the under 20 Asian Championship. At present, he is a strength and conditioning coach for Sri Lanka Tennis.

There have been occasions where even some of the foreign coaches who have undertaken assignments at local rugby clubs having cautioned that the Sri Lankan players are trying too hard. The game has changed over the years and become more physical and the coaches now demand that their chargers pack on the pounds and spend more time in the gymnasium.

Yusuf sees the present system being counterproductive. “Sometimes doing more might make the players mentally tougher, but certainly it would not do good for the game,” he said. According to him rugby clubs around the world, where the players are not professionals, get their players to train twice a week (Tuesday and Thursday) with a game on Saturday.

But here in Sri Lanka players have to hit the gym in the morning, then shower and go to work and comeback in the evening for rugby practices. Even the sleep they get might not be sufficient. “This is a vicious circle and clubs might not be able to sustain the players in this manner,” opined Yusuf.

But a side like Kandy Sport Club could be an exception because the players are professionals and don’t really have to work, so after the morning training they ideally get to have nap and take a rest. When they comeback for training in the evening their batteries are recharged.

However, club rugby coaches and administrators might not listen to the views of a rugby coach cum trainer like Yusuf because the demands on the coach are high. Most coaches are desperate to hold on to their jobs, so they tax the players to the hilt. Yusuf cautions that school rugby players might be training more than club rugby players, hence the former might be close to total burnout when a season nears an end. We also hear of stories where the schoolboy players in their final year of rugby are skipping the GCE A Level Exam because the demands of rugby training don’t allow these players to balance sport and studies. “The problem with the system is that we might not be grooming these players to balance sport, family and life. The joys of a coach is to see them play top level rugby and when you bump into them in latter years to see them having turned out to be happy and responsible citizens,” said Yusuf.

The taking of supplements in rugby is part and parcel of the game. But some players are becoming too big too soon. “Sometimes the mass they are gaining is unbelievable; which makes us wonder whether these supplements that are given to them contain any illegal substance. The supplement taking of players must be properly monitored. We have enough doubts to suspect that some of these supplements may have performance-enhancing substances,” he said.

Insecure coaches can poison a system and make the players believe that more training is good, when the opposite is true. But there is also another issue regarding the psyche of the players. The majority of schoolboy players who have the brains and capacity to study and make good progress in life give up the sport and concentrate on higher education. The sad part of the equation is that the players who are not academics continue with rugby hence this would mean that ones who are playing club rugby might not be able to think for themselves and can be manipulated. But Yusuf cautioned by saying, “Even if you know that a certain way of eating and training is harmful you just have to follow the demands of the coach because rugby is a team sport and you are not playing for yourself”.

Yusuf concluded the interview by quoting what a foreign coach once gave as his response when someone asked whether he considers himself having done his job properly and having given something back to the game. “This coach said come and meet me in ten years time and ask me how my players are doing and whether they have become better human beings. And if they have then I think I could be considered a successful coach,” concluded Yusuf.



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All Seeded players through to semis

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P & S Sri Lanka Junior Open Golf Championship

The P&S Sri Lanka Junior Golf Match-play championship, sponsored by P&S Bakers group, entered the knock-out stage, with the quarter-final matches worked off with the seeded players moving through comfortably bar the thrilling cliff-hanger match between Jacob Norton Seeded 3 in the Silver Division and Varun Fernando (6th Seed) who fought all the way to take the match to the 20th hole, where Jacob prevailed.

Jacob Norton will meet second-seeded H.D. Adithya Weerasinghe (A’pura) who beat T. Deshan 6 & 4 comfortably. The top-seeded Reshan Algama beat Kaiyan Johnpillai convincingly 7 & 6, and will face fifth-seeded Jevahn Sathasivam who defeated fourth Seeded Keshav Algama with an easy 7 & 6 victory.

In the Gold Division, second-seeded Yannik Kumara withdrew after the qualifying round as he was scheduled to play in a tournament overseas and was not included in the match-play draw.

The top seed Haroon Aslam breezed through to the semi-final pulverizing W.G. Isurur  Shimal 9 & 7 and will meet Pranav Muralidharan the fourth seed who handsomely beat an experienced T. Vikash 7 & 6. In the bottom half of the Junior  Championship  Draw, second-seeded K. Danushan smashed Thenuk Sathnidu 8 & 7. He will play third seed Vinuka Weerasinghe who beat Yehan Kenthula 6 & 4.

In the Girls Gold Division number one seed Kaya Daluwatte will meet Yehani Perera who received a walk-over from Dhanushi Wanasinghe. Third seed Dhavinka Kanag-Isvaran beat R.M. Dinumi Sanjana 7 & 6 to set-up the second semi-final against second seed Sherin Balasuriya who also received a walk over from Sanduni Wanasinghe.

The Bronze Division Semi-Final clash between top seed Thejas Rathis Kanth and Keya Abhayarathne will be the feature battle. Keya Abhayarathne defeated Kaitlyn Norton 6 & 5 to set-up the semi-final match versus the top seed Thejas. In the bottom half of the draw second-seed Mohamed Saqeer Zuhar  will meet third-seeded Yehansa Senananayake.

In the Copper Division played over nine holes, Yuvan Rathis Kanth beat L.G. Anuja Methsara 6 & 4 to meet the second seed Jaeden Sathasivam whilst in the top half of the draw top seed Danik Daluwatte faces Taalia Silva.

The five semi-final matches scheduled for Thursday promise to be thrillers with the youngsters soaking in the pressure and performing well, adapting to the exciting Match-play format, that moulds the character of young golfers.

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Arjuna heads new Sports Council  

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Members of the newly appointed Sports Council pose with the Sports Minister

A new Sports Council was appointed by Sports Minister Roshan Ranasinghe yesterday with World Cup-winning captain Arjuna Ranatunga taking the reign as the head of the apex body.

The other members of the Sports Council are: Lieutenant General H.L.V.M. Liyanage, Air Marshal S.K. Pathirana, Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne, Amal Edirisooriya, Maj. Gen. Rajitha Ampemohotti, Dr. Maiya Gunasekara, Shriyani Kulawansa, Ajith Pathirana, Sunil Jayaweera, Chrishantha Mendis, Lasitha Gunaratne, Nalinda Illangakoon, Sudath Chandrasekara, Sujani Bogollagama.

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NH bids adieu to Ladies’ College after 50-year stint as TT coach

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N.H Perera pictured with the Ladies’ College table tennis team players

By a Special Sports Correspondent

Former table tennis National Champion, National Coach and sporting legend N.H Perera probably set a record in the Sri Lankan school sporting arena when he retired from coaching Ladies’ College Colombo in the ping pong ball and racket game after serving this academic institute for 50 years.

NH, as he is fondly known in the table tennis circles, started coaching Ladies College back in 1972 following an invitation made to him by the teacher in charge of sports back then Delita Fernando. When he turns the pages of time the only reason that came to his mind to say yes to this coaching assignment was that he wanted to give something back to the sport. He was quite young then (21 to be exact) and had won the table tennis national singles crown twice (1968/70) by then. He recalled with fondness how the lasses from this school won the National School Games title in 2019.

He produced many outstanding female players from this school and the secret behind his success was him being a strict disciplinarian. At the time he said yes to coaching at Ladies’ College he had laid down a condition for the authorities of the school. That was to arrange practices in the morning. This was because he was gainfully employed in work done outside table tennis. This goes on to show the caliber of players in the golden years of the sport. A good many of them had the capacity to contribute to society using their brains and education unlike today where the players are forced to supplement their income through table tennis coaching. For the record, NH served several companies and institutes in many capacities; proving that engaging in competitive sport and showing commitment to employment are a possibility when the individual has the capacity to manage both. When he finally retired from work he held the post of Marketing Manager at United Arab Shipping Lines.

He had his education at Nalanda College and had the honour of being the first table tennis national captain to be produced by this academic institute.

He rates the 1970s as the golden era of the sport. “I say this because we were invited by the ITTF to contest the Afro Asian Latin American Table Tennis Championship in Peking, China. During his playing days, NH had beaten top players from Russia, China, and also Europe. The picture he sees now in Sri Lankan table tennis is not so rosy. “We even lost to Nepal at the last SA Games. I believe the TTASL must be dissolved and a Board of Control for Table Tennis must be formed instead. Today we see many coaches out there who cannot put the ball over the net,” said Perera.

NH sees more potential in the Sri Lanka female players. According to him, the women’s players from Sri Lanka had finished sixth at the previous Commonwealth Games. “I trust that the way forward would be to bring down a female table tennis coach and male trainer; both from China. This would raise the standard of our playing,” said Perera who many years ago qualified as a coach from the Peking University of China.

He also spoke about the psychological aspects to training players. NH underscored the importance of bringing in psychology to training to help players handle unexpected challenges in the game. “You have to do sessions to develop the minds of the players,” said Perera.

He is at present engaged in coaching the students at S. Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia. The school by the sea won the All Island Table Tennis Championships in 2019 under his guidance.

NH maintains high standards for his players and himself. He recalls an incident in the past; which occurred during the time he was young and already the national champion. “I was coming out of the YMCA training hall after training and a photographer asked me to pose for a picture. I was in slacks and this picture appeared in the newspaper. I was summoned to the TTASL and a top official asked me why I had disgraced the sport by not being properly attired for a photograph that appeared in a national newspaper. I learned a valuable lesson in life,” concluded Perera.

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