When Gopala Ramaya picked up kabaddi in school, he needed a coach. He turned to the internet and found his first coach – You Tube videos.
That was in 2008 and last year he was good enough to play a crucial part of the Malaysian national side that finished fourth at the World Cup Kabaddi held in Melaka.
“My interest in kabaddi started I school when I was 13. We started a kabaddi club in the school to prepare a team for the inter-school championships. All of us were new to the game and we had no coach to guide us,” said Gopal, as he is more commonly referred to.
It was then that Gopal discovered the trove of kabaddi videos on You Tube.
“I picked up the skills and techniques from the You Tube videos and shared it with my teammates,” said Gopal, who went on to captain the school side.
However, it was not an overnight success for the 24-year-old, who joined the Kuala Lumpur state training squad after finishing his secondary school studies.
“We struggled to make any headway in the inter-school competitions. It was only in 2013 that we finally tasted success,” he added.
The SM Taman Desa 2 captured the Gombak district inter-school kabaddi championships for the first time in 2013. Gopal led the team to win the state level competitions later the same year.
“It was a turning point in kabaddi for me. Not only did my team won the title, I was also picked as the Best Raider of the tournament,” said the die-hard Cristiano Ronaldo fan.
Gopal had also represented his school in football, with the side entering the semi-finals of the district level competitions in 2011 and 2012 and him winning the top-scorer award.
“Actually I am also so obsessed with football, it is a passion. I admire Ronaldo for his determination and hardwork. He is my biggest inspiration too. Football and kabaddi may be completely two different games, but the effort you need to put in is the same,” added Gopal.
Despite the success, Gopal found himself being sidelined by selectors when it came it came to senior level competitions including the National Games (SUKMA).
“After school, I faced the reality. It was a struggle and all the rejections hurt, despite knowing that I was good enough,” said Gopal.
It was at this low point of his playing career that Gopal found someone, who believed in his talents.
“The fear of rejection did not stop me from continuing to push hard. The turning point came when I met my current coach,” said Gopal.
Former Asian Games captain and national coach R. Balamurugan took him under his wings and things started to get better for the talented youngster.
“I was given a chance by the Malaysia Kabaddi Federation (MKF) and I was determined to showcase my talents to the full,” said Gopal, who made his debut in the senior ranks representing Kuala Lumpur.
He made his first appearance at the 2013 International Inter City Kabaddi Championships (IICKC) and was adjudged as the Best Raider in the tournament two years later. The Kuala Lumpur side also finished runners-up to Delhi at the 2015 championships.
Despite his growing stature in the game, Gopal also found it difficult to convince his family to support his passion for the game.
“They always wanted me to pay more attention to my studies instead of sports. It was only after 2015 that my mom started appreciating my struggles to excel in something I care a lot about,” said Gopal.
The 24-year-old said that his best friend R. Rooban, who was a pillar in his pursuit of sports. “He taught me a lot and always showered me with positive thoughts,” he added.
Gopal, who was the only Malaysian to play at the Indo International Premier Kabaddi League in India last season, added that he hates losing.
“Every defeat is my main motivation to pay more attention on my next game. I just follow (Cristiano) Ronaldo’s training mentality,” added Gopal.
He made his senior international debut for Malaysia at the International Kabaddi Challenge in Johor Baru two years ago, helping the side to the bronze medal.
“It is every player’s dream to represent his country. It is the same with me. I had always kept in my mind that I must polish my skills so that I can represent my country one day,” who was a member of the Malaysian side that finished fourth at the Melaka World Cup Kabaddi last year.
Not bad for someone, who only picked up the game from You Tube videos.
“There is no greater feeling than representing the country,” said Gopal, who also played in Taiwan in a friendly triangular with Taiwan and Hong Kong national sides in early 2019. The triangular was part of the preparation of the national side for World Cup.
He said that being part of the Malaysian side for the World Cup and helping the Gombak district win the state level competitions were key milestones in his kabaddi career.
“But to be honest, every single moment in kabaddi are the best memories ever for me, immaterial whether it was victories or losses,” he added.
Gopal pointed out that while kabaddi was not a popular sport in Malaysia, the MKF has been playing a huge part in the growth of the game in Malaysia.
“They are always working hard and looking out for the players and motivating us to excel. The national coach (Balamurugan) is also a big inspiration to the players in my country,” said Gopal.
He believes that a bright future awaits for kabaddi in Malaysia. “Every player just need to – believe in yourself, keep on work hard and train hard,” said Gopal.