by Reemus Fernando
Dilshi Kumarasinghe, the golden girl of the last South Asian Games had been permitted to stay in the hostel of Sports School Ratnayake Central College, Walala for months after completing her education until she found employment, because of the far-sightedness of Central Province authorities, both past and present, Susantha Fernando, who trained her to win three Golds at the regional event, revealed in an interview with The Island. That was a decision the authorities of other Sports Schools or seats of learning, bound by various rules and regulation, would hesitate to take, he said.
With the restructuring and reinvigorating of Sports Schools in the country being discussed by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Sports, The Island interviewed Susantha Fernando, the coach behind the success story of Ratnayake Central Walala, the most successful Sports School of the country.
Fernando who culminated his three decades long coaching stint with t
he Sports School recently, revealed that the special place of prominence given to sports by the Central Province education authorities and the individualized training plans were among the reasons behind the unprecedented success of Ratnayake Central.
Ratnayake Central dominated track and field sports for more than two decades. If title victories are of any indication to the success of a Sports School, then there was no school that could even come closer to beat the records set by Ratnayake Central. There are three major Schools Athletics Championships conducted yearly, namely the Sir John Tarbet Senior, All Island Schools Relay and the All Island Schools Games Athletics. They won both the Boys and Girls titles together in these championships on an unprecedented 19 occasions. Under Fernando’s stewardship Ratnayake Central athletes have gone on to win at Junior Asian Athletics Championship (seven medals), Asian Youth Games, Youth Olympic (1000m B grade 3rd), South Asian Junior Athletics Championships (7 medals at the last meet), Asian Athletics Championships, Asian Schools Games, South Asian Games (four goalds at the last edition) and many regional international events apart from representing the country at many World Youth, World Junior, Asian Championship, World Championships, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games. Here are the excerpts from the interview The Island had with Fernando.
What makes Ratnayake Central different from other Sports School?
“Ratnayake Central was selected as a Sports School because we performed better than any other school in the Central Province. We are the only Sports School that is run by Provincial administration. When the school was established Palitha Elkaduwa, the former Secretary of Education of the Central Province played a special role. The central province circular on the Sports School was a very strong one. There were two other sports schools in the Central Province (Poramadulla Central and Weera Keppetipola NS, Akuramboda). But they were taken over by the Ministry of Education later. The officials who made the school a Sports School understood the importance of sports. Even today the Department of Education of the Central province has no hesitation in going out of the way to help Sports programmes. We were also lucky to have a sports loving Director of Education in Thilak Ekanayake,” said Fernando.
Asked to be more specific Fernando compared and contrasted Ratnayake Central with other sports schools.
“Generally Sports Schools provide scholarships and recruit athletes for grade eight. But if we identify a future prospect who is in a higher grade we could take the athlete for that higher grade if there is a vacancy. That is not so with the Sports Schools that are under the Ministry of Education. They are strict. Dilshi’s case is another example. We knew that she is a future prospect. We could keep her in the hostel for months after she finished her Advance Level until she found employment in the Army. She went on to win three golds at the South Asian Games. We could do that because the Central Province Education authorities understood the need. I don’t think that would be possible with any other Sports School.”
Media had been highlighting the absence of a 400 metres track at Ratnayake Central for years. How could the school still perform better than the schools which had facilities.
“I had a plan for every athlete. At the school we maintained files for every athlete. There were over 70 files every year. The individual training plans were the secret. When others take leave for three months during school vacations we continued training. We conduct special training. Go for high altitude training. We send home sports scholarship holders for only ten days during vacation. My recommendation for other Sports Schools too is to continue training with probably ten days of leave during the school vacation. True we did not have a proper track. Not even a proper 200 metres track. The 200 metres track at Ratnayake Central has a 55% bend which is harmful for athletes. From 2018 we could take athletes for training to Digana where there is a good 400 metres track.
How do you compare the financial support Ratnayake Central received with other Sports Schools?
“The Central Province department of education has been good enough to understand the need for funds to run a proper programme. We’ll just take the case of competitions. You have to spend a lot of money on transport and food during competitions. There was no restriction on funds for Ratnayake Central in meeting expenses on transport or food for athletes. The other Sports Schools are given only rupees 25,000.00 for the entire year for transport and food to take part in meets. You have to travel to three or four national meets per year. It is important that the athletes we train take part in these meets and they are provided proper transportation, food and lodgings. I have seen sports officials of Sumana Balika (Sports School) preparing meals for their athletes when they go for national meets to save funds. That is pathetic.”
Central Province also increased the allowance paid to sports instructors to encourage them and provide a substantial scholarship money for athletes, when the sports instructors under the Ministry of Education receive a meager amount of rupees 1,000.00 monthly as an allowance.”
The Central Province education authorities promoted Fernando to the Assistant Director of Education – Sports and Physical Education post of the Wattegama Zonal in 2003 and was also responsible for monitoring sports progress of the zone which became one of the best zones of the country. Here are his views on the monitoring process of Sports Schools.
“There should be a proper monitoring system for Sports Schools. Some of the Sports Schools in the country became defunct because there was no proper monitoring system. There should also be qualified individuals to do that. Qualified officials who can advise the coaches of the Sports School and who could make recommendations on their coaching programmes. At present I don’t think that the Ministry of Education has enough qualified individuals to do that part.”
Many scholar athletes passing out from Ratnayake Central have gone on to become physical education teachers. How did Ratnayake Central looked after the education of scholar athletes.
“We provided free tuition to athletes after school when it was necessary. And there was continuous monitoring of the progress they made in education. We hardly had disappointments when results of exams came. Many have become Physical Education teachers. Currently there are over 400 physical education teaches who had their education at Ratnayake Central. They are serving at different schools. There are also good number of athletes who have gone on to become bank managers, Assistant Directors of Education to managers of leading private firms. For those who persevere a career in athletics there should be a system to look after them after they leave Sports Schools. The future prospects who are identified at Sports Schools should be looked after. The Sports Ministry should take the responsibility of these athletes after they leave schools.”
Often there are administration deadlocks between sports officials and principals leading to sports being given secondary status at schools. Fernando said that there were no such impasses at Walala but insisted that sports instructors should have some authority at Sports Schools. “In my opinion the head or the sports instructor of a Sports School should have some authority for him to run a successful programme.”
Fernando had a long stint (30 years) at Walala with the school and the old students association continuing to insist on acquiring his service. He continued as the head coach of Ratnayake Central while also functioning as the Assistant Director of Education – Sports at Wattegama Zone. This is his opinion on transfers.
“Teacher service requires teachers to be transferred according to vacancies that exist. There should be some leniency with regard to sports instructors. You cant change heads and expect good results in sports. There should be continuity for a training programme to be successful.”
He also insisted on the need to recognise the achievements of coaches and the need to provide suitable jobs for those passing out from would be Sports Universities as there is lack of suitable jobs even for those passing out from Universities with Sports Science and Physical Education Degrees at present.
While he has received praise for the yeoman service he has rendered to the field of sports, some national coaches have directed criticism at him citing that his trainees who had excelled at school level had not replicated those performances at senior national level.
“A coach can only help an athlete improve 30% of his performance level. Good performances are a combination of natural ability and proper coaching. A wast majority of athletes Ratnayake Central recruited were average athletes. Ratnayake Central is not situated in a town. Parents will opt for schools in Kandy when there is a choice between Ratnayake Central and a famous school in Kandy. Most athletes when they first came to the Sports School, were just winners at inter house meets, Divisional or Zonal meets. Inoka (many time marathon champion and first South Asian Games marathon medalist for SL) was just an inter house meet winner. She competed at national level for 20 years. I can give many examples. If there were special talents they had been trained accordingly to reach international level. For example Dilshi Kumarasinghe is a special talent and I am working on to help her reach top level. Indunil Herath (current national 800 metres record holder) was a long jump winner at Handaganawa when he was recruited. All athletes who came to Ratnayake Central underwent talent identification tests and later introduced to suitable disciplines which they had not even witnessed before. Herath had to leave the school for reasons beyond my control. Hadnt he successful? Raju (Geethani Rajasekara- first Sri Lankan marathoner at Olympics, trained by Sajith Jayalal after she left for Colombo) went to Colombo after marriage. Numbers will answer the critics. If those critics can tell of a single school which had produced more athletes to Senior National Athletics teams than Ratnayake Central then there should be some truth in their criticism. Ratnayake Central is the school that has produced the highest number of athletes to National Teams.”
Department of Sports Development conducts workshop for netball coaches
The Department of Sports Development commenced a workshop to upgrade the knowledge of netball coaches at the Torrington Sports facility on Wednesday. The second in a series of such workshops the three-day programme attracted some 40 coaches from various parts of the country.
The coaches attached to the Department of Sports Development, Provincial Councils and the Netball Federation of Sri Lanka were participating in the workshop which was inclusive of both theory and practical sessions.
“For several years there had been no workshops like this to upgrade and share knowledge. We found this an ideal time to conduct such a workshop as the Covid 19 pandemic has halted most of the training programmes around the country,” said Department of Sports Development official .Jayantha Siyamudali who conducted a session on modern warming up methods in the morning yesterday.
National Track and Field coach Y.K. Kularatne conducted a lecture on training principles which was followed by a session on netball techniques and skills development conducted by Chandrani Pathiraja.
Director of Sports of the Moratuwa University, C. Rathnamudali was scheduled to speak on training planning today.
The Department of Sports Development conducted a similar workshop on conditioning for coaches of all sports recently.
The workshop which concludes today was coordinated by project officer Thamara Liyanage.
The attendees included prominent coaches who are working with the junior national teams and former national coaches. Asian Junior Cup team coach Kumari Gamage, coaches in the current development pool namely Prasadi Nalika and Lakmini Samarasingheand former national coach Deepthi Alwis took part in the programme with fellow coaches from elsewhere. (RF)
Rohit set to open with de Kock in IPL 2020
Rohit Sharma, the Mumbai Indians skipper, confirmed that he’ll open the batting during IPL 2020. In an online press conference, which both the captain and coach Mahela Jayawardene attended, Rohit said although the team is keeping “all options open” when it comes to their batting, he will start the 13th edition of the tournament as an opener.
“I opened for the entire tournament last year and will continue to do that. As a team, we keep all options open. I’m happy to do what the team wants. I enjoy batting at the top of the order and I’ve been doing it for a while. But even when I play for India, the message to the management is to not close any door and keep all the options open, so I’ll do the same here,” Rohit said on Thursday (September 17), two days before the IPL opening game against Chennai Super Kings.
With Quinton de Kock set to partner Rohit at the top of the order, Chris Lynn will have to wait on the sidelines. Lynn, who was roped in for his base price of INR. two crore, didn’t really get going on the slow pitches during the recently concluded Caribbean Premier League. He aggregated 138 runs playing for St Kitts & Nevis Patriots, scoring his runs at an average of 17.25 with a highest of 34.
“Lynn is a great addition to the squad, but the combination of Rohit and Quinton did a phenomenal job for us last season. They complement each other well, they’re consistent and both of them are experienced. They’re good leaders as well, so why would you want to fix something that isn’t broken? We will continue to go with that,” said Jayawardene.
“Lynn as an option gives us flexibility in the squad and that’s what we’ve always done. We try and add more value to the team, give more options so that we can be unpredictable when it comes to tournaments and big matches. Quinton and Rohit as a combination have been brilliant.”
Mumbai Indians, meanwhile, will miss the services of Lasith Malinga who pulled out of the tournament due to personal reasons. While mentioning that Malinga’s shoes are big to fill, Rohit said MI will try to make up for his absence with the likes of Nathan Coulter-Nile and James Pattinson.
“For anyone, it’s hard to fill his boots. What he has done for MI and Sri Lanka is remarkable. He has been a match-winner for MI, whenever we were in trouble, Malinga bailed us out. His experience will be missed and what he did for MI is unbelievable. Nathan Coulter-Nile, James Pattinson and Dhawal Kulkarni are some of the names who can be his replacement. What he did for MI cannot be compared and he cannot be replaced,” Rohit said.
Rohit also spoke about the challenges of playing the tournament in a bio-bubble and praised the team management for keeping the team mentally fresh. “It’s going to be a different IPL. We were mentally prepared for it. Even before we came here, we discussed with boys about the bio-bubble guidelines. We are following all the protocols set by BCCI. Mentally it’s tough. Credit to Mumbai Indians management to have worked it well for us. Mentally we are fresh and not drained in our hotels with the facilities. Hats off to the team management for doing a fantastic job.”
About playing in the UAE, Rohit said: “The challenge for us would be to adapt to these conditions. Not a lot of cricketers from our group have played here. People who have been here need to share their experience with the players who have not played so far. Mentally, it’s about going there and understanding the pitch is doing. We have played some practice matches here and we know what to expect there. Reading the pitches will be very important.”
Dimuth on pains of not playing sport
by Rex Clementine
Sri Lanka skipper Dimuth Karunaratne has spoken of the mental struggles of not playing international sport for more than six months now. Dimuth was drawing up plans with Head Coach Mickey Arthur for the two match Test series against England when the tourists were forced to return home less than a week to go for the opening Test match with the pandemic creating havoc in the UK. Since then, five series have been postponed while Bangladesh’s visit to the island is one the fence and Sri Lanka might not tour South Africa later this year.
“These are tough times for all of us. We are from morning to night focused on the game all the time. You can stay away from cricket for a month or so but not more than that. This has been tough. I feel as if that I have lost a large portion of my career,” the 32-year-old told The Island.
“Fortunately we have started training and that’s some relief. We are still wondering when we will play a series. Mentally it’s been really tough. Most cricketers are professionals and you can imagine what happens when you do not engage in your profession. I am not talking about money. SLC has taken good care of us as we are contracted. But it’s stressful that you don’t compete at the highest level. Some players are wondering whether we will play any cricket at all this year and there are some of them who want to give up the game and focus on something else.”
“As a country, we have done really well to combat the pandemic. But some of the other cricket playing nations are not so fortunate and you never know when we will tour again.”
“These are best years of my career. I have matured and I feel I am reaching my peak. Then this happened. As a team, we were shaping up well after the World Cup. Personally, I was getting into a groove in ODIs and now I have to start all over again. We have not played for so long and I have forgotten some of the laws dealing with one-day cricket.”
“I am hopeful that whatever the series that has been postponed will be played. SLC is doing well to reschedule them. We have to be patient as we have to follow health guidelines in a bid to resume cricket. Hopefully, will play soon.”
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