Volleyball’s loss is Kabaddi’s gain — Yuva Kabaddi Series unearths new raiding star
Hampi Heroes raider Gagan Gowda impresses one and all with his imperious performances in the Yuva Kabaddi Series Summer Edition.
Standing at 6 feet 3 inches on the mat, Gagan Raju Gowda is an imposing figure, ready to pounce on defenders at a moment’s notice. But off the mat, the Hampi Heroes raider is a shy, introverted youngster just trying to make a mark in the sport that he loves the most — Kabaddi.
“I started playing in eighth standard. Back then I used to play both kabaddi and volleyball. But our school team lost a major volleyball tournament, and because kabaddi was becoming popular at that time due to the Pro Kabaddi League, I decided to focus on it. The volleyball coaches in school urged me to keep playing because they felt I had the height to take it up professionally, but I had made up my mind," Gagan explains how he was introduced to the sport.
At the Summer 2023 Edition of Yuva Kabaddi Series in Mysore, the 20-year-old finished with 261 points, the second-highest in the whole edition. He also registered as many as 16 ‘Super 10s’, finishing with 10 or more raid points in a single game.
His height has been a defining factor in his success so far, something that he acknowledges openly, “In volleyball most of the players are very tall, but that is not the case with kabaddi. My height helps me quite a lot when it comes to ‘hand touch’ and ‘bonus’ points.”
That notwithstanding, his determination to outdo himself every time he steps on the mat is probably his biggest strength. That is how Gagan managed an impressive 16 ‘Super Raids’ in this edition, more than any other raider across the nine teams. For the uninitiated, a super raid is a raid attempt where the raider scores three or more points, and is considered to be one of the most difficult skills to pull off in kabaddi.
For someone who idolises the legendary Ajay Thakur, Gagan is definitely on track to follow in his footsteps and become a sensational raider himself.
Currently pursuing his graduation at SDM College in Ujire, Mangalore, the youngster has been training under the guidance of Krishnanand Rao, who has been coaching the college team for the last 4-5 years.
“My coach keeps telling me to focus on the ‘hand touch’ because of my height advantage. I work on that everyday, keeping a third man to practise the move on, almost 50-60 times a day, which is around three hours of training," Gagan says, throwing some light on the strict routine that one has to follow to reach the very top.
However, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing for him. “Because of my height, my weight used to become an issue for me to qualify for the various age-categories. I missed out on two junior nationals because of the same reason. If I tried reducing my weight, it would make me more injury-prone," the disappointment is obvious in his voice.
For any budding kabaddi player, playing the nationals holds a lot of significance because it gives them the motivation to do even better. It was the same for him and he is now trying to prove himself in the senior nationals.
Self-admittedly, playing in the Yuva Kabaddi Series has made him a lot more focused. “When I first told my parents about my desire to play kabaddi, they were afraid that I would get a lot of injuries. Now, they get very proud and happy when they see me playing in the Yuva Kabaddi Series on television and even scold me if I make any mistakes during matches," Gagan says with a smile on his face.
What seemingly also works for him is his grasp of his position and intelligence. Still only 20, Gagan has a mature head on his shoulders and is someone who thinks about his craft all the time.
“For any raider, it’s imperative to keep a close eye on the defender’s movements, what their position is, if they are looking to move in towards you — you get a lot of information once you cross the line just from their body language, you just have to be observant enough," he observes.
While the Hampi Heroes were eliminated in the Challenger round in this edition, their star raider is showing no signs of stopping anytime soon. And that can only bode well for the sport in India, because young talents like Gagan Gowda are the future of kabaddi!