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Dealt with career-ending injury, Ravi Punia rediscovers love for football as coach

Published at :February 8, 2024 at 7:30 AM
Modified at :February 8, 2024 at 5:20 PM
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Rutvij Joshi

Now with Hops FC as an assistant, Ravi Punia was part of RUFC side that won I-League qualifiers in 2021.

How deep would you dive for your football passion? Picture this: you’ve dedicated your life to the sport, overcoming challenges and scaling the heights, only to be struck down by a paralyzing ACL injury that shatters your dreams on the field. Do you throw in the towel, seeking alternative career paths at the age of 27? Or do you muster the resilience to reinvent yourself, embracing a new role as a coach?

Enter Ravi Punia, a live example of the unwavering love for football. Once a vital player in the triumphant Rajasthan United FC side that clinched the I-League Qualifiers in 2021, Ravi’s journey took an unexpected turn when fate dealt him a career-ending blow. Undeterred, he found solace and purpose as a coach. Ravi started his career as an assistant coach in the I-League and is now with HOPS FC in IWL as an assistant coach. 

Ravi’s story mirrors a familiar narrative in the football world – players forced to pivot to coaching due to unforeseen injuries. Khel Now had the privilege of delving into Ravi’s experiences, decoding a story filled with strength, love for the game, and an unwavering pursuit of football’s beauty.

Journey from player to coach

Rajasthan United FC
Ravi was part of the RUFC team that won the I-League Qualifiers in 2021 (Courtesy: I-League)

Ravi Punia opened up about his football journey, shedding light on the numerous injuries he faced. He shared, “Actually, I have endured so many injuries that it feels like there’s no end. My body seems to be losing control, and now I require surgery on my knee. I’ve had an ACL injury on both my knees.”

Reflecting on his earlier life, Ravi mentioned, “I had a job with the ESIC Ministry of Labour and Employment in Ahmedabad, focusing on sports. It was during this time that I played for Rajasthan United in the Rajasthan League and later went on to participate in the I-League Qualifiers.”

Staying in football

Ravi Punia hails from Haryana, a region not widely recognized for football. Despite this, he chose to dedicate his life to the beautiful game. Sharing insights into his family’s sports background, he revealed, “My uncle is a volleyball player. Even my brother and brother-in-law, who is an ex-Indian volleyball player, work with me in the same office. They are posted in Jaipur. My entire family is deeply involved in volleyball and wrestling.”

Reflecting on his own journey into football, Ravi recounted, “When I was in 6th or 7th standard, my father, who was in the army, had me enrolled in the army public school. That’s where my exposure to various sports began. Although my family excelled in volleyball and wrestling, I developed a special love for football. I don’t know why, but I just love playing football. I was selected for the district team of Hisar and went on to represent Haryana.”

Working with Pushpender Kundu

Ravi Punia
Ravi started his coaching career at RUFC under Pushpender Kundu (Courtesy: Rajasthan United)

As previously mentioned, Ravi kickstarted his coaching journey at Rajasthan United FC under the guidance of Pushpender Kundu. Recounting his experience with Kundu, Ravi shared, “Pushpendra Kundu is my senior at the office, and we play together in the All India ESIC. Despite being posted in different cities, we maintain a strong connection.

“He is in Delhi, and I am in Ahmedabad. We share a good bond, and I’ve learned a great deal from him. We discuss a lot about the game, and he guides me on correcting mistakes and placing players in the right positions.”

Elaborating on their interactions, Ravi added, “We have personal conversations where he explains things to me. Even during our free time, we call each other, meet up, and share thoughts on how our team should perform. I’ve gained a wealth of knowledge from him, and our ongoing communication has been invaluable in my learning process.”

HOPS FC an NGO turned professional club

HOPS FC, operating under the umbrella of the Dharam Foundation, has a unique origin story. Initially established as an NGO, the foundation aimed to empower children in Haryana’s underserved areas by providing them with opportunities to play football. Ravi shed light on this initiative, stating, “Organizations like Alakpura Football Club from Bhiwani, Mangali Football Club from Hisar, where players from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, where families face challenges like farming or other issues, find hope through Dharam Foundation.”

He continued, “The Dharam Foundation not only provides these kids with hope but also offers them education in various fields, be it playing sports, cricket, engineering – they cover it all. Primarily focusing on athletes, especially in football, they encourage these kids to explore professional football.  HOPS FC, have registered in Delhi Football, marking a significant step towards promoting football talent from underprivileged backgrounds.”

How is coaching style different to youth players, senior men’s and women’s football?

Dadra & Nagar Haveli Win junior U17 women's National football championship 2022-23
Ravi Punia won the 2022-23 Junior U-17 Women’s National Football Championship with Dadra & Nagar Haveli

Ravi Punia has showcased versatility in his coaching career, having worked with youth sides, men’s senior football, and women’s football. When asked about the adjustments he makes as a coach for women’s teams compared to men’s or youth teams, Ravi explained, “We focus extensively on their techniques, diet, and rest requirements. We guide the young players, emphasizing the importance of understanding when to push and when to ease off.

“As we move to senior men’s football, especially after the development spurred by ISL and I-League in India, players need to be well-versed in various aspects—knowing when and how to train, preventing specific injuries, and understanding optimal training routines.”

Reflecting on the changes in football culture, Ravi highlighted insights gained from foreign coaches and players. “In my playing days, we lacked such knowledge, but now, with foreign influences, players are more aware. They understand the importance of gym sessions, specific diets, and the significance of protein intake for optimal performance. Senior men’s teams are knowledgeable; our role as coaches is to bring the team together.”

Shifting the focus to women’s football, Ravi acknowledged the positive developments in the sport within Indian football. He stressed, “Women’s football is flourishing with talent in India, and the players possess great skills. However, they may lack knowledge on the right training methods and proper nutrition. I personally engage with my female players, guiding them on training routines and dietary requirements. I emphasize the increasing physical demands of women’s football nowadays.”

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