The ongoing South Korean Open is Hafiz's first tourney as a coach, but he has been travelling with Sindhu for the last six months.
Malaysian badminton player Hafiz Hashim, the newly-appointed coach of two-time Olympic medal winner P.V. Sindhu, is excited about working with her. Hafiz, who is the Head Coach at Suchitra Badminton Academy, and is currently accompanying Sindhu in the South Korean Badminton Open, says, "It’s a privilege to work with someone like Sindhu."
The ongoing South Korean Open is Hafiz’s first tourney as a coach, but he has been travelling with Sindhu for the last six months.
"I am relatively new to the job, so I am just taking one step at a time," he says adding, "I am keenly looking at her game." He has also observed her while she was training at the Suchitra Academy.
Hafiz has taken up the role of Sindhu’s coach at a time when the former world champion is looking to get her rhythm back.
"Yes, there’s definitely pressure, given the current scenario," he admits.
Hafiz acknowledges that it’s going to be a challenging task, considering that Sindhu is under pressure with Olympics around the corner. But the Malaysian great says he’s going to leave no stone unturned to motivate her. "I’ll give her advice and special training," he asserts.
Ask him what are the areas he wants to focus on, and he says, "I have found a few areas where she’s vulnerable and having some difficulties. Her smashes are great, but I want to work on areas like her on-court movement, agility, physical endurance and lateral movement of her legs."
He believes that if Sindhu performs well now, it will help boost her world rankings, apart from increasing her confidence level. "It is imperative that she carries the confidence in the lead-up to the Olympics next year. We are aiming to win one or two title championships so that she can enter the Olympics on a high note carrying the momentum," he shares.
With several tournaments lined up before next year’s Olympics, Hafiz says he has a specific strategy when it comes to playing tournaments. "I want her to pick and choose only important tournaments. For instance, out of eight tourneys, she needs to target four or five. For me it’s not about playing tournaments but how we manage them. Since we have more tourneys to play, we can focus on training for longer periods."
Sindhu, who returned to the game recently after an injury, hasn’t been able to win any titles since then despite her hard work. Hafiz asserts that smart work is equally important. "We have to smartly pick and choose tournaments we want to participate in. And the most important thing for that is constant training. After Sindhu had an injury break of six months, it is important that she finishes on top of the podium in two or three titles to improve her self-confidence," he stresses.
One of the biggest challenges, Hafiz says, is to get Sindhu’s self-confidence levels back.
"Remember, Sindhu is already an achiever and has everything in her. But she lacks the mental strength, so we need to increase her endurance training and make her strong physically and mentally," he comments. "Once she gets (self-confidence) she will go places. She can get that confidence by winning every match, and subsequently, championship titles."
He stresses that it is critical to keep confidence levels up for a high performer like Sindhu. "She needs to look at her goal (Olympics). We have already started talking to her about winning gold at the Olympics, and the means to achieve it," he says.
Hafiz’s biggest personal success was winning the All England Open Badminton Championships in 2003.
Ask him whether he feels competition has gotten that much better and younger, and he replies, "Definitely. Also, there are more tournaments being played than ever before, and there’s a lot of pressure on players to perform, so they need to smartly choose the ones they want to play," he reiterates.
Going forward what would be the key for Sindhu’s preparation, we ask? "It’s all about winning! Instilling a Championship mentality in her, where she believes that she’s already a champion, is key," he replies.
Sindhu knows how to handle pressure. And playing constantly is important for her. Hafiz says she is presently playing well but in patches, so he’s motivating her to become a complete package so that she can win tournaments.
"When you are playing at the highest level, it’s important to convert half chances into full ones. For that you need to have a lot of patience, that’s why we want to take one step at a time," he says adding that Sindhu must know how to manage her body under stress.
According to Hafiz, most top athletes (like Sindhu) know what’s going wrong, but they need a solution that suits them naturally. That’s where he comes in – he tells her what is right and wrong, and helps stabilise her mental make-up.