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The Making of Lakshya Sen – From a Skinny Boy’s Zidd to Win Everything to Charting an Unprecedented Path to Greatness

By: Sanjay Sharma

Last Updated: May 23, 2022, 14:24 IST

Laksya Sen

Laksya Sen

Lakshya Sen has astounded and stunned the world of badminton with his swift and meteoric rise and is spoken about in hushed, but revered tones all over. He already has a real foundation on which he can claim to be the best player India has ever produced.

We have been inundated by stories on Lakshya Sen, the 20-year badminton sensation from the cold, breezy Almora a small hill station in the scenic state of Uttarakhand.

The last ten months have been memorable for Lakshya. He has defeated every top 10 players in the world including a world champion, All-England champion, the current world number 1 Viktor Axelsen, and former No1 Kento Momota. You name the player and he had been crushed under the balletic feet of this sizzling shuttler. The bronze medal winner of the world championship, winner of the India Open, runner-up at the German and All England Opens and now the winner of the Thomas cup - this former world no 1 in the junior category, is conquering everything at a breakneck pace; and he is still only 20 years old.


He has astounded and stunned the world of badminton with his swift and meteoric rise and is spoken about in hushed, but revered tones all over. He already has a real foundation on which he can claim to be the best player India has ever produced. Still down to earth and humble and soft-spoken, he had an interesting and amazing childhood, where the strong foundation was laid in Almora by his grandfather and father, Dhirendra K Sen, popularly known as DK. The genesis of this great journey that has now brought the Thomas cup to India was started at Almora. Badminton has been in the blood of the proud Sen Family for almost 80 years.

Today Lakshya is s huge name, likely to walk to the realms of legends. But it was in Almora that the foundation was laid for this unusual shuttling king when he walked to the only, and that too an outdoor court, holding the finger - as a mere 5-year-old - of his grandfather or ‘Dadaji’ as he calls him – the grand old man of badminton in Almora, Chandra Lal Sen.

Dadaji’s love and liking for badminton are unique. Actually, he used to like all sports, and played Cricket, Hockey, and Volleyball depending on the season and availability of players and equipment. He just wanted to be fit and strong.

He had joined the civil service at 30 years of age and his first duty was in Bahraich near the border with Nepal. There he saw badminton being played and instantly liked what he saw. He lived with his family at Rasiysra Gaon at Someshwar. He started playing at Bahraich and learnt the craft well on his own. He became good enough to play in civil service tournaments and also represented Uttar Pradesh in veterans.

He liked badminton so much that he sought and got transferred back to Almora.

He brought badminton to the city. But it was not easy for Chandra Lal ji to get started as no one knew about the game. Hockey and football were the staple diet, and with a smattering of Athletics, Basketball and Volleyball. So he got an outdoor court made and slowly started. He brought the net, the rackets, shuttles, and most interestingly, bulbs to bring light to the proceedings in the nighttime. Slowly, people started to join him out of curiosity.

It took a while with lots of hard work and running around but he was able to fight local politics and finally got land and sanction from local authorities to make a badminton hall. But this hall came much later and even his son, DK, who became a NIS coach had to struggle to coach in a hall in Almora.

So Dadaji brought some sort of badminton to the city and badminton activity started in earnest with he started teaching how to play the sport. DK also joined n but it was decided that he would get an official coaching certificate from the then National Institute of sports NIS based in Patiala.

So with badminton having a semblance of coaching both Chirag, elder brother of Lakshya, and Lakshya himself got interested, and after school started learning the rudiments of the game with Dadaji. Both learnt fast and Dadaji helped them till both got enrolled in the Prakash Padukone academy in Bangalore.

Dadaji however could not see the extraordinary stature that Lakshya rose up to. He expired in 2013 at a ripe old age of 83. But he had put the spark in Lakshya which when ignited, catapulted the young boy to dizzying heights. The boy has now become front-page news. The main achievement of Chandra Lal Sen was that despite many ups and downs like not having an indoor court or financial help, he kept badminton alive in Almora.

DK passed the NIS diploma and officially became a certified coach with a good knowledge of the game and how to train youngsters in it. He did the diploma in 1985-86 and his first job was at the Bhopal University. There was not much coaching work at the university and DK felt he had to move ahead and sought a transfer he was asked to go to Meerut and then to Lucknow where he met and impressed the late Syed Modi and Ameeta Modi. He was there for some time but finally got back to Almora in 1991.

After lot of hunting around for a hall, DK and his father finally zeroed in on the big hall at Sanghatak Degree College.

They had to do some work on the flooring and lighting to make it playable. They had a problem as the hall was also used for BA classes and they had to install some 150 chairs for the class. And they had to keep the chairs away after the class was over.

But eventually, the court was good enough to start some serious coaching. By this time Lakshya was already 7 years old.

DK is a revolutionary in the field of coaching. He left out the typical and the universally accepted old system of teaching how to do service, make contact with the shuttle and then moves on to how one should lift the shuttle and other strokes.

He started by first throwing the shuttle to Lakshya so that he could have a good strike on the shuttle and feel nice about it. As if he had achieved something. DK played on the psychology of young Lakshya.

At the same time, he started doing multifeed drills on the tiny tot. Multifeed essentially means that the coach stands in the centre of the other court and keeps on hitting shuttles in different parts of the player’s court making the player move from one corner to another. These drills are an essential part of learning the sport. But this is done when the player has learnt how to play the strokes. DK made Lakshya go through these drills from day one.

His reasoning is simple.

“First you have to reach behind a shuttle then only you can play the intended stroke. If the shuttle is behind you what stroke can you play?”

DK would hit the shuttle just outside the reach of tiny Lakshya so that he could stretch and get the shuttle back. He also made him run a lot, building up stamina. “It is important to make the youngsters run a lot, all sorts of sprinting is necessary as you need speed on the court," says DK. He reasoned that you can learn strokes as you keep on growing.

DK also did another astonishing thing. He made both brothers to do lots of defence practice - picking up the shuttles all around with senior boys thumping the bird down with vehemence. This was basically to remove the fear of smashes from the boys. There was criticism of his type of coaching, “but I persisted and trained them as per my thinking."

Lakshya has abundant energy and was always game to do whatever DK asked him to do. And then some more.

DK is also surprised at the sharp memory Lakshya has demonstrated time and again.

“When he was in nursery class and Chirag was in higher standard, there used to be a prayer in the morning for senior kids. Lakshaya told his teacher he too wanted to say the prayer with big boys. The teacher said the seniors can learn by heart as it is easy for them, they are bigger than you. But he forced the teacher to listen to him and he recited almost 80 % of the prayer."

Then DK brought another anecdote. “There was this play we were doing and a senior boy was playing a judge. Lakshya also wanted to act but there was no role for him. On the last rehearsal day boy playing judge kept on forgetting dialogues. Suddenly, Lakshya said he remembers all the dialogue and repeated them verbatim. He also knew how to enact the wordings. The drama was a hit," recalls DK, who on Christmas break when coaching was not held different activities to keep the students engaged.

Lakshya is very competitive by nature. Whatever he does he has to be the best. He has to win everywhere, every time. Once a boy and girl were asked to prepare a dance routine. He came to know and he also wanted to dance. Denied the chance, our man got a costume made with help of his Dadi (grandmother) and danced to the tune of Main Hu Don, with wild abundance.


“Losing is not an option with him. He would play while crying. Big tears in his eyes, while playing against older boys who led on scores. He just did not want to lose. If he did he would sulk," adds Lakya’s mother, Nirmala.

Nirmala teaches at the Beersheba Senior Secondary School in Almora where the boys are enrolled and says that both Chirag and Lakshya are good at studies. Even now with all his hectic travelling and schedules, Lakshya is enrolled with Uttarakhand Open University and is trying to finish his graduation.

Sharing more anecdotes, DK reminisces that training would start 4-30 am and to reach there, the father and sons would jog the 2 km distance, and sprint the last 200 metres or so. “I would challenge him at the end and he would accelerate. I kept a couple of steps behind him. When we finished I would plead with him, not to tell Dadi that I had lost the race, which of course I knew he will. Lakshya is real Ziddi (stubborn) and he will do anything to finish the job at hand.”

There are three things that remain in his mind about Lakshya’s single-mindedness to be the best that brings out the keenness and competitiveness of the young fellow.

“One day we were at the cricket nets where there were those bars in a line for exercise, you know you do pull-ups on these bars and then swing from one bar to the other. Lakshya wanted to go first and managed only two. Another boy did four bars defeating all the five boys present. As a prize, I gave him Rs 20. Seeing this, Lakshya said he wanted to try again but wanted Rs 30 if he did more than that boy. He stunned everyone by doing seven. It was just his Zidd,” remembers DK.

That only shows how mentally strong Lakshya can be. Sharing one more anecdote, DK digs out a gem from the past. “One day I got a long rope and hung it over a branch of a tree, 15 feet up, and told the five boys with me that there was a Rs 40 prize to whoever could climb up and then spiral down. I told them you can practice for two days and then the competition will be held. You will not believe what happened. Lakshya requested he will go last as he wanted to watch the senior boys how they climbed. The best from seniors was 1.5 - that is, the boy climbed one and second time about half the rope. But Lakshya, only 8 years old did 3.75."

And then was this the Almora junior tournament under 13. At that time there was no official under 11.

Pitted against senior boys, the then 9-year-old Lakshya was in his element. “This was the time I really felt that we really have a top-class player in Lakshya and if handled properly he will do something great in the game. He defeated two players and then had to play a boy named Golu. We had no umpires and boys who lost in early matches were asked to be umpires. So one boy who had been hammered in the tournament by Lakashya was the umpire. This boy started making wrong line judgments against my son. He realised what was going on and started playing much inside the sidelines and also started to attack his body . So in a sense, he defeated both Golu and the umpire"

The first tournament he won outside Almora was the all India invitation under-10 tournament in Guntur.

Thereafter, the life of Lakshya is well chronicled and everyone knows how he came to Bangalore along with his father and grandfather. At the Prakash Padukone Academy, he mesmerized and charmed both Prakash and Vimal Kumar.

Lakshya was a really disciplined child says his mother. “He was not a naughty boy as such but played light pranks now and then. He was really a disciplined lad. No tantrums no getting angry and throwing things. I have a small garden which i work on and he joined me most of the time. He is very systematic while packing bags to travel. He used to play cricket and he insisted to bat first and once he got out he would insist on playing two more balls before leaving the wicket. He used to abhor losing at anything…It was win, win and win all the time"

So how was his childhood? “He hardly had a childhood. From age 5 it has been badminton all the time. From 4.30 in the morning even when it is bitterly cold he was out training with his father,” adds her mother.

The family lived by the clock and Lakshya never complained.

Last word to Vimal Kumar who had been the main coach of Lakshya from day one. What was his first reaction when he saw the junior Sen?

“Well he was a tiny fellow, bones only and hardly any flesh and he was playing doubles with boy named Joshi. When he came out I asked him what was next and he said I want to defeat the boys we lost to. Then I saw him playing singles and I really was impressed. He could play long rallies of 8-10 shots without making mistakes. Prakash was so impressed that he agreed to take this boy into the academy immediately.”

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    first published:May 23, 2022, 11:24 IST
    last updated:May 23, 2022, 14:24 IST