When star sportspersons pick up the kudos after achieving ultimate excellence, they often talk about the importance of the role of a coach.
In India, the Dronacharya Award is given to coaches as recognition for their contribution to a particular sport or for their role in an athlete’s rise to the top.
It is also given to motivate coaches to dedicate themselves to raising the performance of their athletes to international standards.
It is handed out on National Sports Day – celebrated on August 29, the legendary Dhyan Chand’s birthday - every year, along with the Arjuna Award, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, and the Dhyan Chand Award, collectively called the National Sports Day awards.
The Dronacharya award is named after the mythical character Drona – who taught the art of warfare to the Kauravas and Pandavas – the protagonists of the Hindu epic Mahabharata.
It is officially called the Dronacharya Award for Outstanding Coaches in Sports and Games, for coaches who help athletes achieve excellence over a period of four years.
The awardees are decided by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (MYAS). The MYAS select from the coaches nominated by the National Sports Federations, the Indian Olympic Association, the Sports Authority of India (SAI), and state governments.
The awardees are given a bronze statue of ‘guru’ Drona, a certificate, and a cash prize of Rs 10 lakhs. The prize was earlier Rs 5 lakhs but doubled in 2020.
A maximum of five Dronacharya Awards, including two for lifetime contribution, are given in a year.
Who won the first Dronacharya Award?
The Dronacharya Award was first handed out in 1985, and the first Dronacharya Award winner was wrestling coach Bhalchandra Bhaskar Bhagwat.
Along with Bhagwat, renowned athletics coach OM Nambiar – known for his role in shaping PT Usha’s career – and boxing coach Om Prakash Bharadwaj were also among the first recipients that year.
The first woman to win the Dronacharya Award was athletics coach Renu Kohli in 2002.
In 2020, the Dronacharya Award was given to former hockey captain and coach Jude Felix, pistol shooting coach Jaspal Rana, para-badminton coach Gaurav Khanna, Wushu coach Kuldeep Handoo and Mallakhamb coach Yogesh Malviya.
Cuba’s Blas Iglesias Fernandez is the first foreign coach, and the only one so far, to receive the Dronacharya Award. He was given the award in 2012.
Fernandez is a former boxing coach who joined the Indian set-up in the early 1990s and mentored boxers like Olympic medallist Vijender Singh and Asian Games gold-medallist Dingko Singh among others.
Notable Dronacharya Award winners
The current chief national coach of the Indian badminton team, former All England champion Pullela Gopichand is widely credited with revolutionising the sport in India over the last decade.
Pullela Gopichand’s stint as coach has yielded two Olympic medals and established India as one of the foremost challengers in world badminton. He founded his now-famed badminton academy in 2008.
Gopichand was honoured with the Dronacharya Award in 2009. It was his second national sports award after winning the Arjuna Award in 1999.
Mahavir Singh Phogat
Known better as the father of India’s most famous wrestling siblings Geeta Phogat and Babita Phogat, Mahavir Singh Phogat won the Dronacharya Award in 2016.
A former wrestler himself, Mahavir Singh Phogat turned to coaching in Haryana in the nineties.
He played a pivotal role in shaping the careers of his daughters Geeta, Babita, Ritu Phogat – who has since switched to Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) - and Sangeeta Phogat.
Mahavir Singh Phogat also coached his brother’s children Vinesh Phogat, an Asian Games and Commonwealth Games gold-medallist, and Priyanka Phogat.
An Olympic gold-medallist with the Indian men’s hockey team at Moscow 1980, MK Kaushik – Maharaj Krishan Kaushik – has served as coach of the men’s and women’s Indian hockey teams.
As a coach, MK Kaushik led the Indian men’s hockey team to the gold medal at the 1998 Asian Games and the women’s team to gold at the 2002 Commonwealth Games and bronze at the 2006 Asian Games.
MK Kaushik received the Dronacharya Award in 2002.
Former Indian football player and captain of the national team, Syed Nayeemuddin received the only Dronacharya Award given for football. He was honoured in 1990.
Post his retirement as a player, he turned to coaching and started working with Kolkata club Mohammedan SC. The team peaked in 1983 as they defeated giants Mohun Bagan for the Federation Cup title and became national champions.
During his tenure as coach, he steered India to three international titles and won 35 tournaments as club coach.
Dronacharya (Lifetime) Award
Since 2011, the Government of India also confers the Dronacharya (Lifetime) Award to coaches who have helped sportspersons achieve excellence over a period of 20 years or more.
The Dronacharya (Lifetime) Awardees receive a cash prize of Rs 15 lakhs (increased from Rs. 5 lakhs in 2020) in addition to the bronze statue of Drona and a certificate.
The first recipient(s) of the Dronacharya (Lifetime) Award were athletics coach Kuntal Roy and hockey coach Rajinder Singh in 2011.
In 2020, eight coaches – Dharmendra Tiwary (archery), the late Purushottam Rai (athletics), Shiv Singh (boxing), Romesh Pathania (hockey), Krishan Kumar Hooda (kabaddi), Vijay Bhalchandra Munishwar (powerlifting), Naresh Kumar (tennis) and Om Prakash Dahiya (wrestling) – won the Dronacharya (Lifetime) Award.