The former Mumbai U-19 all-rounder has taken some quick strides in the field of strength and conditioning. Having graduated in sports and exercise science from New Zealand, this 29-year old has already carved a niche for herself in the field typically dominated by men.
We are talking about Tanuja Lele. Female Cricket got in touch with this young and talented strength and conditioning coach, who recently completed a stint with the Indian women’s team for the ODI series against South Africa and before that was a part of Trailblazers’ camp for the Women’s Challenger Trophy (also referred to as women’s IPL) in Sharjah.
Tell us about your journey to becoming a strength and conditioning coach.
Right from a very early age I always wanted to do something in sports. I started playing cricket from my school days and slowly advanced from the school level to playing for the state. I represented Mumbai U-19 as an all-rounder and was also the captain of Mumbai University for a year when we went on to play at the All India University level. While playing, I ensured that my education was not put on the back burner. I completed my B.Sc from D.G.Ruparel College and after that I went to New Zealand to study sports and exercise science. I specialized in strength and conditioning. I was very clear in my head that I did not want a desk job. I always wanted to be on the field and I believed that the degree from New Zealand would help me realize my dream.
How was it studying abroad?
It was an amazing experience. I was delighted that I got admission to one of the best colleges in the world for sports and exercise science. While studying I also got a chance to play alongside some of the New Zealand national team players. I was enjoying the best of both worlds. Being amongst them, I realized the importance that these players give to fitness, strength, and conditioning.
It was great to see the kind of awareness that those girls have. Seeking inspiration from them, I decided to work towards the same in India. Since I always wanted to do something for Indian athletes, I came back after completing my graduation and started working as a physical trainer and strength and conditioning coach.
Take us through your work assignments in India.
I worked round the clock in my initial days when I came back from New Zealand. I was associated with Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital for a couple of years. That stint gave me good exposure. I had a diversified pool of patients coming to me. From marathon runners to Bollywood celebrities to senior citizens, I got a chance to understand different kinds of patients. The wealth of experience that I gained at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital is certainly unparalleled. Apart from this, I have been working as a strength and conditioning coach at ‘The Gymnast’ in Prabodhankar Thackeray Sports Complex, Vile Parle, Mumbai. There typically I am exposed to young and budding athletes.
You have also worked with the Cricket Association of Pondicherry. When did that happen?
Out of the blue, I got a call from the Cricket Association of Pondicherry. It was in 2018 when I was asked to come to Pondicherry and work with the associations’ U19 and U23 women’s teams. It has been a unique kind of experience, courtesy of the difference in culture, language, and many other things. Pondicherry is an upcoming side and it is always a pleasure to work with a young team.
Last year you were a part of the Trailblazers’ camp for the Women’s Challenger Trophy that was played in Sharjah. Tell us about that.
Just like Pondicherry, women’s IPL came as a pleasant surprise to me. Just a couple of days after getting the intimation, I was required to be available to complete the quarantine protocols. I was off to Sharjah in a jiffy. I was a part of the Trailblazers’ camp led by Smriti Mandhana. It was an amazing experience.
Getting to work with some of the big names in women’s cricket like Jhulan Goswami, Punam Raut, Smriti Mandhana and others was something that I always wanted. The fact that it would happen so soon was beyond my imagination. T20 is a high-intensity format. Working with girls, knowing that each is different, was a challenging task, but I was determined to take that up.
Just recently, you completed your duties as the second trainer for India’s women’s ODI series against South Africa. How was that experience?
The last few months have been like a dream come true. First, the women’s IPL and then the India-South Africa series. I feel grateful for the opportunities that I have received since they are helping me to learn a lot on the job. When you are representing India, it is given that you have to ace different roles that you are given. Working with the Indian players is not only one of the best things to happen but at the same time, it comes with a lot of challenges and hard work. You have to realize that some of these players have been around for quite some time. You have to respect their work ethics and routines and then chalk out plans for their strength and conditioning. Taking the players into confidence is of paramount importance.
I feel that the Indian women’s cricket team is seeking inspiration from the Men in Blue as far as their diet, workout, and fitness standards are concerned. Just like the men’s team, the women’s team has also embraced fitness culture.
The girls are extremely serious be it with their diet or workouts. Veterans like Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami play a vital role in creating fitness awareness among team members.
Having got the opportunity to work at the highest level, what are your future plans now?
Sports science and strength and conditioning are fields that are constantly evolving. You have to keep yourself always updated. In view of this, every year I make it a point to take up at least two courses that will help me enhance my knowledge and stay up-to-date. Also, at present, I am pursuing my masters. The plan for the future is to strive hard and be of service to Indian athletes to the best of my abilities.