Vinay Gupta is currently balancing the demands of his medical degree with representing England and his university team in Kabaddi.
The 22-year-old from Birmingham competed in this year’s Nationals and IC Cup, with the World Cup in April 2019 now in his sights.
Recently, he won his first IC Kabaddi Cup with the University of Birmingham team. So, how did it all begin for him, and what are his plans for the future?
How did you get into kabaddi?
It was through an organisation called Shaka , in which i still attend, that got me into kabaddi. Initially, I was quite scared to play as a young boy, but I then got involved near the end of sixth form at school.
As a student, do you find it hard to balance being an athlete with your studies?
Obviously, it’s difficult, but you just have to be quite efficient with time management, especially as I’m studying medicine at university – there’s a lot of work to get through.
But training is usually on weekends or later in the evening on weekdays. Sometimes, we have to travel to London at weekends for England practice sessions, so it is a big commitment. However, we enjoy playing the game, so we don’t really mind.
Overall, I wouldn’t say it’s difficult to balance; in fact it makes you more efficient because you get more done as you have more commitments.
How important is it to have a good bond with the team-mates?
A lot of the game is based on tactics and teamwork. You could be the best player in the world, but if you don’t have a good bond with the six players around you, then you won’t be very efficient as a player.
A lot of the game is related to tackling as a group and communicating with your team. Having a good bond, like we do in the current university and England squads, makes it more fun and you feel on a better wavelength with your fellow players.
Teamwork is especially important in defence, so everyone can support the tackle and anticipate as a unit. When raiding and attacking, it is more individual.
What is the training like for kabaddi?
The training is split between individual and team training. Individual stuff is practising footwork in the garden for example or improving your technique for certain movements.
A lot of kabaddi is technique-based rather then strength, but there is a strength component to the sport, hence why I try and go to the gym four times a week.
As a team, a lot of it is based on us practising on the mat together. Getting tactics right, being in situations where you are on the same wavelength as team-mates and being cohesive as a unit.
There are many drills as well to improve muscle-memory tackles, for example diving on the leg or dashing someone out. We also individually practice going for bonuses, basic movements and improving quickness of feet.
What is the funding and sponsorship situation like in the sport?
We have our own association, the England Kabaddi Association. Currently, though, we are trying to become part of Sport England which means we need 700-800 signatures from people around the country to become affiliated, which would improve our funding.
At the moment, a lot of facilities are provided by the universities. This year, our university sponsors bought us international playing mats. Funding and sponsorship at the moment isn’t great but hopefully the Sport England affiliation will help.
Whats the most memorable moment in your kabaddi career so far?
The most memorable moments have been representing England, which I’ve done in two tournaments. Firstly, Malaysia in June 2018 where we played teams including Taiwan, Malaysia and some Indian state teams.
I also represented England in May 2017 in Denmark where we played Italy, Poland and Denmark. Aside from that, I’ve been playing university kabaddi for five years and this year was the first in which we’ve won trophies, so that’s another highlight.
As an athlete, what’s your ultimate goal?
My goal is to continue representing England. My short-term aim is to win many more trophies with the University of Birmingham, and there’s a national competition coming up in February.
Then I’d love to represent England at the World Cup in Malaysia (April 2-15), which will be biggest competition in history of game.
After missing out on the 2016 World Cup due to injuries I would love to play in April and give it my all.
How have your family supported you in your career?
When I was going to give up because of injuries, they told me not to quit. Also, since my older brother plays as well, he’s someone to look up to who has inspired me to try harder, reach the England set-up and get better. Family has been very important.
Are you pleased with your results and the progress you’ve made?
When I first started playing at university, I wasn’t the best player, but I was committed to becoming a good player. I studied the game a lot through watching the PKL (Pro Kabaddi League) in India, and then trying to put that into practice at university level. Over the years, it’s seen me rise into the England team, so I think the hard work has paid off.
Is your aim to become a professional kabaddi player?
That will always be a long-term aim of mine. However, being a medical student, logistically taking three or four months off to play in the league in India isn’t really that feasible.
So that’s why I’m aiming more at the level of staying in the England team and being a major part of England Kabaddi, so I can continue on the path of being a good player.
Obviously, playing professional kabaddi is an amazing thing to achieve, but it would also require a lot of hard work and a lot more effort to get to the standard of the guys who play it.