It is often said that Indian athletes do not win because of the system, but, despite the system. If that is the case, one can imagine the job of athlete management is no less than a herculean task. My experience of working with some top athletes in the country is not exception to this aphorism.
For someone like me, who considers it the most fulfilling job to become the part of the struggle and contribute to the success of those who alone have the privilege to raise the national flag on their shoulders when national anthem is played in front of the world, it’s naturally an exciting experience. However, the other side of this job is to deal with a callous system wherein complexities of procedure are as much a norm as efficiency an exception. It’s a system which revolves around the bureaucratic inertia, administrative apathy and insensitivity of sports federations.
Nevertheless, in the continuous pursuit of finding the true purpose of life, my soul is in my element with unflinching determination that far outweighs the ordeals posed by the system. Managing an athlete and that too, a world class, requires the highest level of perseverance. You have to accept both good and bad encounters with equanimity. You must have the quality of striking a captivating balance between the athlete’s comfort and obligation to various institutional stakeholders.
Here are some of the crucial aspects of athlete management –
The first and foremost thing which makes an athlete uncomfortable is communication. Whether it is correspondence through letters or emails, sportspersons find it tedious to write or reply to any formal communication. Their technological advancement is confined to social media. Currently, I have the email ids and passwords of four of the top international athletes in the country. Making the matter worse is the fact that in most of the cases I have realized that even top international Indian athletes do not have the knowledge of working or basic English. Moreover, filling the whereabout details on ADAMS (essential for Doping test purpose) is another inconvenience that athletes face. Many a times, I have filled up such details on behalf of athletes. In a recent case, an international athlete was served with a notice of whereabouts failure from AIU ( Athlete Integrity Unit) of WADA. Thus, the implications of this simple-looking process could turn out to be serious.
Sponsorship and Legal Management
Getting sponsorship for athletes is one of the most vital requirement in athlete management. For an average international athlete, it’s still a distant dream to become a brand ambassador of a multi-national company. Given the fact that sports has become expensive and support from government or federations is not sufficient for the most of athletes, you will have to push the envelope to generate funds usually from CSR to fulfill the training requirement of athletes.
If such efforts bear fruits, athletes being unaware of technical know-how of agreements and contracts, it becomes the responsibility of manager to take care of such things. In some cases, I have actually negotiated the terms of contract in order to make it more favorable for the athletes. If your athlete happens to face doping charges, you need to stand by him like a rock and manage his legal affairs.
Logistics and Event Management
To fulfill the day-to-day requirement of an athlete may not be the job of the manager but in my case it was as important as other things in view of the fact that I was closely involved with top athletes in the run up to the most important event of their lives – Olympics. So, I had to ensure that athlete doesn’t indulge in anything that proves harmful. For, during the preparation of a competition, athlete’s life does not move beyond the distance between his resident to the training place.
I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I say that it is the most onerous part of athlete management. Especially in India, where athletes lack the understanding of nuances of world-class training, techniques and diet; athlete manager has to build a proper team that includes coach, physical and conditioning trainer, dietician, psychological expert and others. Given the fact that there is no institution in India providing world-class sports science expertise, it becomes an arduous task for managers to ensure availability of these things.
Apart from these, you would be doing one of the most grueling work in India if you are dealing with babus and officials of ministry and federations. I have the first hand experience of running from pillar to post for months to get training of my athlete sanctioned and to get funds released for the same. There were times I felt totally frustrated to the extent of crying alone and letting these things not bother athlete. I witnessed all the ills associated with this oppressive system and came to know exactly why India doesn’t win medals aplenty in Olympics.
Contrary to general perception, the body of an athlete is more sensitive than that of the common people. So in order to stave off any potential disease or injury, the athlete manager needs to keep himself on his toes in assisting the athlete because a simple disease can put the athlete behind few weeks on his training schedule. Moreover, a simple injury, if not taken care of properly, may result in complete rest from several months to years and to the extent of ending the career of the athlete.
India ranks 3rd in doping. Dietary planning becomes extremely important in such a scenario. In view of the fact that there is no institutional mechanism in the country whereby an athlete can secure a dope-free, beneficial food supplements, the manager needs to be fastidious. He needs to coordinate with all the stakeholders and give an impeccable consultation and sometimes procurement of supplements to the athlete. A bit of carelessness may lead to an untimely death of his/her career.
Public Relation and Media Management
In a country obsessed with cricket, it’s a challenging task to find space in newspapers. Let’s not even get to the TV coverage for that matter. I remember visiting the offices of various media houses and requesting them to give small coverage for my athletes when they won medals. PR and media management is directly related to brand building exercise of athlete which in turn helps add value to him/her. It was one of the main reasons why I managed to get a handsome amount for my athlete through crowdfunding. Moreover, PR exercise is crucial for damage-control in cases where negative news spreads. In this regard, social media presence is also of significant value which makes way for the athlete to get the celebrity status.
If you are residing with an athlete, you need to ensure that not even a single thing should bother him/her. You just don’t have to take care of every aspect of sports life but a lot of times you need to stand behind him/her like a pillar to support emotionally as well. Athletes lead a very disciplined life and slightest of things have the potential to make them angry. Sometimes, you will have to tolerate the illogical whims of the athletes. S/he can take the toughest test of your patience. The fall and rise of an athlete are bound to occur. You need to motivate them consistently if their daily training schedule does not go as per the planning. This responsibility turns many folds if there’s a lackluster performance in competitions.
They say, sports does not build character, it reveals it. I’d say, they reveal the character of the athlete manager as well. Athlete management is not one of the easiest things to do in this world. It takes a lot of patience, perseverance, empathy and understanding. You must be a well grounded person and not let little things bother you. You need to be responsible for your actions and keep up to date on different sporting events. The role of an athlete manager is like an umbrella. You need to protect your athlete from the rains of worldly obstacles to minimize his struggle towards his journey to success.