FORMER national badminton players, the husband-and-wife team of K. Yogendran and K. Sugita are making waves in Trivandrum, Kerala, with the setting up of the Yogendran International Badminton Academy (YIBA) last November.
The academy’s main objective is to develop badminton in Kerala, and India in general, with the support of the Kerala Badminton Association.
So, how did this pursuit come about?
Simply put, it was Yogendran’s passion for grassroots development that saw him spread his wings.
Back when he was a player, he used to coach part-time to earn some extra income as well as to improve his own game.
And that was when he developed the passion to train and produce an Olympic champion.
So, after a chequered career with the national team, he turned to coaching at the New Vision Badminton Academy (NVBA), which he formed with another ex-international Yeoh Kay Bin and childhood friend Manojkumar.
Now in its 10th year, theirs is one of the best badminton training centres in the country and players from all over the globe come to train at the centre in Petaling Jaya.
And in the last decade, NVBA have played a major role in training Olympians from minor badminton nations — like Jacob Maliekal of Africa, Yara Azad of Iraq and Lino Munoz of Mexico. Some of the players he trained had even qualified for the prestigious World Championships, including the likes of Jacob and Julien Paul from Mauritius.
Then, in 2016, Yogendran decided to move to India to tap into a larger pool of talented players.
For this, he partnered with former player and coach Alex Tharakan and badminton enthusiast and entrepreneur Sreekumar Gopinath to start YIBA.
After two years in Chennai, he moved to Trivandrum on the invite of Kerala Badminton Association to form a partnership with KSFL Sports Hub.
The Sports Hub is the centre for sports excellence as well grassroots and talent development in India.
Its grassroots-level programmes are scientifically designed to help train and mould aspiring children into a wholesome and successful sportsmen and sportswomen.
Currently, the training programmes offered are for cricket, swimming, football, basketball and badminton.
And YIBA is the first of its kind international academy focused on high-performance badminton coaching.
“The reason we chose Trivandrum was because of its state-of-the-art facilities,” said Yogendran when met at his centre in Trivandrum recently.
Nestled in the 34-acre world-class campus of Greenfield International stadium in Karyavattom (Trivandrum, Kerala), among the facilities offered include 16 well-lit courts, a gymnasium, Olympic-sized swimming pool, squash courts, basketball courts as well hostel accommodation, food, nutritional guide and physiotherapy.
The badminton academy is driven by a dedicated team of local and international coaches handpicked and trained by Yogendran, who had featured in the All England and World Championships and was once ranked as high as World No 32.
Having players and coaches from across the globe, it is one of only a few elite centres in India where players from all over the world come to train.
From the time they began, they have hosted the Mauritius national team as well as players from Uganda, Malaysia, the United States and India to train for various international tournaments.
Yogendran said some of the notable names to have trained at the academy included Chou Tien Chen (Taiwan), Hu Yun (Hong Kong) and Deng Xuan (China).
Other internationals currently and intermittently training at YIBA include Goh Giap Chin, Sim Wee Peng, Lim Xuan and Letshanaa Karupathevan (Malaysia); Julien Paul (Mauritius); Aisha Nakiyemba (Uganda) and the Mauritius national men and women’s teams.
Julien has qualified for the ongoing World Championships in Basel, Switzerland, and is in contention for a spot in the Olympics next year.
“YIBA’s main objective is to create badminton champions and be among the best training institutes in the world,” said Yogendran.
“To achieve this, we will work hard towards training our players, equipping them to compete in the top tournaments like the Olympics and World Championships.
“Our immediate goal is to prepare our elite international players for competitions and to win tournaments so that they can qualify for next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
“We believe in collective responsibility, so all the coaches and players work hand-in-hand to achieve our goals,” added Yogendran, who has also been the chief coach of the Mauritius national badminton team since 2017.
Asked why he decided to move to India, he explained: “The opportunity and support given by the state government to YIBA was the main reason.
“Access to state-of-the-art facilities and the opportunity to challenge myself to become a better coach and to be able to produce world-class players from a country with a population of over one billion.”
At YIBA, Yogendran is also ably assisted by his wife Sugita, who had played in the All England, Swiss and French Opens as well as in the 2006 Uber Cup in Jakarta, Indonesia, and Alex, who has vast coaching experience.
The others in the YIBA coaching set-up are all locals — Kamaldeep Singh (senior coach), Raja M, Vishnu VG, Varghese KC, Marisamy G and Agilan A.
Although YIBA is going great guns, Yogendran is still looking at ways to improve its standard.
Thus, its alliance with an academy in China headed by legendary coach Li Mao and Kay Bin.
“We have made some improvements to the sports hub since we came into the partnership eight months ago. We have installed a new lighting system. We also started installing rubberised courts,” said Yogendran.
“We have also hosted the All Kerala Sub Junior (Under-11, 13 and 15) (400-500 participants); the All India Junior Under-19 Ranking Tournament (1000 participants); and the Trivandrum District Badminton Tournament (June 7-10) this year.”
Yogendran said there are now 192 trainees at YIBA — 101 beginners and 91 intermediate and advance level.
“Our boys are in the top 10 in the state and have started winning titles since joining us. We are pleasantly surprised and excited to see what the future holds for them,” he said.
Yogendran and Sugita, both 37, and their two children — four year-old Mischa Anne and three year-old Roen Dhavin — together with Yogendran’s parents have all relocated to Trivandrum since last year.
Yogendran and Sugita can stand with their heads held high now that they have done Malaysia proud internationally with a well-established and managed Academy.
Asked if he plans to play a bigger role in Malaysia, besides the NVBA that is being run by his other coaches, Yogendran revealed that he was invited by the Sports Ministry to attend a townhall session for clubs in March to discuss various issues affecting the country’s badminton fortunes.
Among the attendees were the Sports Minister (Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman), his deputy (Steven Sim), Datuk Seri Norza Zakaria (BAM president), Datuk Wira Lim Teong Kiat (BAM deputy president) and Datuk Ng Chin Chai (BAM general secretary).
“I was asked to join a task force and attend a meeting at the end of July, but I could not because of my overseas engagement,” said Yogendran.