Mohan Ukkrapandian – Living his father’s dream in his love for Volley
It is one thing to love your parents and another to dedicate your entire life in making their dreams come true. Indian Volleyball captain Mohan Ukkrapandian’s love affair with Volleyball is actually a story of an obedient son living his father’s dream. Remembering his father, he says, “My father was extremely passionate about sports. First, he invested himself in making a Volleyball player out of my cousin but when that couldn’t materialize due to some reasons, he gave his all to make a Volleyball player out of me.”<br><br>Although he passed away in 2012, Mohan Ukkrapandian’s father lives on in his son’s love for Volleyball. “It was my father’s dream to see me represent India at the highest level in the sport and I am glad to have achieved that. But none of it would have been possible without his selfless support. Even when things got a little difficult at home financially, my father would never let it affect my game. He ensured that I had the best of facilities for training and that strengthened my resolve further to achieve his dream.”<br><br>The Tamil Nadu setter made his father proud when he first donned the Indian colors at the Second Asian Central Zone Volleyball Championships held in Pakistan in 2007. He adds with a tinge of pride, “What made the tournament even more special for us and for my Dad was the fact that we won it by defeating Pakistan in the final.” <br><br>But was Volleyball the primary interest of a young Ukkrapandian? Pat comes the reply, “Absolutely not. There was an emphasis on sports in general in the family. Even my younger sister used to take part in athletic events like Long Jump in school. I myself was deeply interested in cricket.” Then what changed? The 33-year old’s father makes a comeback to the story. “I took up volleyball when I was in 9th. But I started taking it more seriously after my father told me that I will have a brighter future in Volleyball than in cricket.” Cricket’s loss, as it turns out, proved to be Volleyball’s gain. <br><br>There were more changes to follow in his game once his Volleyball career began. The most reliable setter of the Indian team for more than a decade didn’t start out as a setter in his early days. He informs, “I began as a blocker when I started playing Volleyball but it was only after coming to college that I was asked by my coach S.Dakshinamoorthy to play as a setter. And since then I have enjoyed playing in this position.” GE Sridharan, who Mohan always addresses as 'Sir' and credits for transforming his game, made sure Ukkra never went back to being a blocker. In fact, Ukkra, as he is known among his teammates, calls the setter the brain of the team. “It’s a position of great responsibility. Just like the CPU is the brain of the computer, a setter is the brain of the Volleyball team. It can never stop thinking. And it always needs to remain alert as well as calm in tense situations.”<br><br>‘Calm in tense situations’ rings a bell and takes your mind to another sportsperson called MS Dhoni. That name holds a lot of relevance to this Volleyball giant. In fact, Ukkra’s official Twitter bio describes him as a ‘sports person and a die-hard fan of MS Dhoni’. Remind him of that and the Madurai born begins a long paean to the former Indian skipper. “He is such an amazing sports person. There is always so much to learn from him, whether it’s about his game or the way he conducts himself. What’s most amazing is his journey – from humble beginnings to become such a big sports star in a country like India and still remain so grounded is incredible.” There is no need to even ask which team is his favorite in the Indian Premier League. A cursory glance at his Twitter account would tell you Ukkra’s chest swelled with pride when Chennai Super Kings lifted the IPL title in their comeback year in 2018.<br><br>Talking about leagues, did the captain wish for Volleyball to go the league way when witnessing a boom in sporting leagues in the last 10 years? “Of course. We have wanted a league for a long time. In fact, in the last few years, every friend and relative of mine has asked me when is a Volleyball league coming up? It’s relieving to tell them now that it’s starting on 2nd February, 2019,” he says with a chuckle. Ukkrapandian rationalizes his desire for a Professional league by saying, “Wherever we had a Professional league emerge, the level of volleyball in that country went up as well. And it’s only natural since leagues ensure greater competition among players. All the players recognize the opportunity that lies ahead of them i.e of securing a place in the national side.” He again puts forward a cricketing reference to explain. “Back in the ’90s and early 2000s, the Indian cricket XI was almost static and predictable. However, post the emergence of IPL, there is so much talent coming up that one can’t predict who will be in the side or not. Even MS Dhoni got replaced recently. That’s something I foresee happening in Indian Volleyball after the Pro Volleyball League,” he emphasizes.<br><br>What also excites Ukkrapandian about the league is the opportunity to rub shoulders with some exciting foreigners. At Kochi Blue Spikers, one of the foreigners he will be playing with is Olympic Gold Medalist David Lee. Reminiscing his tryst with his soon to be teammate, Ukkrapandian says “I met David when we shot the promo for Pro Volleyball League earlier this year. Despite being someone who has two Olympic Medals to his name, he was extremely kind and eager to discuss the game with all of us present. I feel that’s where the league will go a long way in changing the state of Volleyball in the country. With foreign players coming in for the league, a lot of Indian youngsters will have a chance to exchange ideas and strategies with them and I am sure that will improve their game.”
RuPay Pro Volleyball League
An initiative of Baseline Ventures India Pvt. Ltd and Volleyball Federation of India, RuPay Pro Volleyball League aims to transform the sporting landscape of the country by elevating the world’s fifth most popular sport to the league of the most followed sports in the coming times. The first season of the league will see 6 teams playing a total of 18 matches in Chennai and Kochi, and will be broadcasted on Sony Six, Sony Ten 3 and online platform Sony Liv.
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