Netting winners at Khel Gaon in Rajasthan
For four decades, a volleyball coach has trained hundreds of players in Hanumangarh district in Rajasthan, who have won medals both nationally and internationally. Coach Basant Singh Mann’s ancestral village Silwala Khurd is known as Khel Gaon.
Amarpal Singh Verma 7 Jun 2023 6:18 AM GMT
Irrespective of rain, cold or blistering heat, 69-year-old Basant Singh Mann turns up at the playfield at five in the morning. He is always there half an hour before his wards troop in.
“We might have once in a while straggled in late, but I have never seen Coach Mann be late for practice,” Ajit Singh Sekhon, a volleyball player trained by Mann, told Gaon Connection.
Ajit Singh Sekhon is just one of hundreds of volleyball players from Hanumangarh district who have trained under Coach Mann. “I began training under him when I was in class six. I am now in my second year of Bachelors. I have played umpteen number of times for Rajasthan, seven times at a national level and was selected for the national team thrice,” Sekhon who is also from Silwala Khurd, told Gaon Connection.
Mann’s coaching has led to a tribe of volleyball players emerging from rural pockets of Hanumangarh district in Rajasthan. The coach has been training players for four decades and so far 1,300 of his trainees have been national medalists. Many of them have played in international tournaments, seven of whom have won several medals. The coach said he had lost count of how many state level players he had trained.
It comes as no surprise that Silwala Khurd, the ancestral village of Mann in Hanumangarh district, has come to be known as Khel Gaon, thanks to the coach, as it has produced talented volleyball players who have played in the state, national and international arenas.
Training village girls
Though he retired in 2014, Basant Singh Mann continues to coach children from the school and from nearby villages at the school grounds in Silwala Khurd. Every morning, he can be seen in the playing field training aspiring players. It is the same in the evenings.
“Coach Mann has brought such honour and pride to the village. It is his hard work that has brought us here,” Subhash Suthar, an auto spare parts dealer and the father of international volleyball player Kavita Suthar, told Gaon Connection.
“He is responsible for encouraging our young daughters to step out into the playing field,” he added.
Subhash Suthar’s son Sunil and daughter Kavita are both volleyball players of considerable skill. His nieces are also being coached by Basant Singh Mann, he said.
“I started training under Coach Mann when I was in class six. I passed class 12 now and I have participated in so many tournaments up till now,” Kavita Suthar who lives in Silwala Khurd told Gaon Connection. Kavita has won 10 medals at the state level, and was captain of the under-18 volleyball team that played in Thailand at the Asian Championships last year.
Kavita said it was not possible to have achieved what she did without the constant support and intensive training by her coach.
“It is solely because of him that girls in our village are being encouraged to play and so many of them have done so well,” Kavita added.
In 2022, at the 21st Asian Championships held at Bahrain, Ajit Singh Sekhon from Silwala Khurd was part of the under 20 team that returned with the silver medal in volleyball.
The coach’s journey
Coach Mann joined Gramotthan Vidyapeeth College of education in Sangaria in Hanumangarh district in 1980, as a physical instructor and was posted there till 2011. There he trained people in volleyball, kho-kho, kabaddi and athletics.
In the 21 years he was at the institution, 13 players he coached went on to play internationally. More than thousand have played at the national level.
It was in 2011 that some of the staff from the Gramotthan Vidyapeeth were moved to government schools, and Mann was posted to the government senior secondary school at his ancestral village, Silwala Khurd.
“I immediately set about making three volleyball courts and began training students in volleyball,” said the coach, who continues to coach volleyball players even post his retirement. Since 2011, he has trained 155 players who are national level players today, he said.
“They have all done the village proud. And, 125 of them are girls. Three of the girls I coached, Kavita Suthar, Sukhveer Kaur and Alpana, played at the international level,” Man said with pride.
“It is a matter of such pride to us that thanks to him Hanumangarh district is becoming known as a place for emerging volleyball players,” Shamsher Singh, district sports officer for Hanumangarh, told Gaon Connection. Every other coach should take inspiration from him, he added.
Basant Singh Mann is currently secretary of the Volleyball Association in Hanumangarh district. He is senior vice president of the Rajasthan Volleyball Association, and member of the Indian Volleyball Association.
“It is a matter of celebration for me whenever my students win glory in sports. For me, coaching is not a profession, it is my duty and my passion,” Mann said. “I see sports as an avenue for success, a better life and a successful future for my students,” he concluded.