At the recently-concluded International Shooting Sport Federation World Cup in Delhi, India’s off-field issues were in stark highlight to the performances of the shooters on the range.
One of the most glaring problems was the developing rift between national coaches and personal coaches of individual shooters. It caused visible friction, sometimes even during the matches. With the event being hosted in Delhi, almost all personal coaches were able to be present at the range. It can be surmised that this tiff during practice and matches might have ended up affecting shooters in some way as well.
There were multiple incidents before and during the ISSF World Cup that pitted personal coaches of shooters against the national coaches. National junior rifle coach Deepali Deshpande said these were just teething problems while national junior and senior pistol coach Jaspal Rana and Pavel Smirnov were critical of the inference as well.
Before the event began in Delhi, Rana said he was left out of the preparation camp. As the junior coach, he was technically not part of the senior camp however, he had former junior shooters like Manu Bhaker training with him.
That situation was supposedly diffused when National Rifle Association of India president Raninder Singh explained that the juniors had not given the request to have him as per rules. However, Amit Sheoran, the coach who is behind 16-year-old Chaudhary’s meteoric rise said that his ward had emailed a request, which got no response from the body.
Then, Joydeep Karmakar took to Twitter to vent his anger over national rifle coach Oleg Mikhailov asking his academy’s Mehuli Ghosh to tell her coach to not be at the practice range.
During the 10m air pistol qualifications, there seemed a crucial break of protocol as Ominder Singh directed a range official to call his ward Abhishek Verma for some instruction. Singh was an unaccredited person and this interruption ticked off national pistol coach Pavel Smirnov, who was watching over the Indian shooters, costing Verma some time in the process.
The situation got so bad that by the end of the World Cup, both foreign coaches Mikhailov and Smirnov refused to talk to the media, after five days of furore over this debate.
Technically, a personal coach may be allowed during training and camps but usually is seated with the spectators and not standing around the field of play behind the shooters where only the national coach should be.
Munkhbayar Dorjsuren, who is Rahi Sarnobat’s personal coach, was seen taking notes from the stand during her sport pistol match. Ronak Pandit, who is both NRAI’s high performance director as well as Heena Sidhu’s coach, was seen taking notes in the stands and was seen speaking to her after the match.
Deshpande is in a unique position in this case as the national junior rifle coach as well as the coach of national champion Anjum Moudgil. And from this vantage point, she said that there was a very simple solution to this confusion – communication.
“Nothing can work without mutual understanding. I am Anjum’s coach but I have very good rapport with Manoj [Kumar], who is with the senior team. When I am not around, I tell him what he has to look out for. Oleg and me as well are always communicating our ideas for her. When you have a whole team supporting and heading in one direction, you have to work together,” she told Scroll.in.
The former shooter also went to great lengths to clarify why this situation has escalated.
“The Indian shooting arena is changing rapidly in the last five years. The coaching faculty, like the shooters, are also coming up. A lot of elite shooters have also started their own academies now. While it is a good thing, we are new to the whole situation so that so that is why the confusion. But slowly we are learning to handle it,” she explained.
One of the biggest complaints in the situation is that the Indian shooting unit is no longer training as one team.
“Even Indian cricketers come together as a team. But tell me which shooter comes here in the team bus? Everyone wants to come in their cars. I am talking about the team culture. The team’s not even wearing the same kit,” Rana told journalists.
Deshpande agreed that the team dynamic was important. “Though this is very individual sport, the team support makes a big difference. I know this from the time I was a shooter. When we came for this camp, I told Anjum that you will not travel in your own car but in the team bus.”
Lazlo Szucsak, the foreign coach who made Indian rifle shooting the success story it is today, observed something similar as well. “The national team should be together, train together I think. I don’t know how much it has changed but back then we had central training camps and everyone was training together.
“Presently, as I know, there are not many central camps anymore but in many places there are good coaches now because former successful shooters became excellent coaches,” he told Scroll.in.
However, it cannot be denied that while the presence of former shooters as coaches has paid rich dividends to Indian shooting, it has come with its own set of issues.
“The personal coach has to be the link between the shooter and the national coach, not break the shooter away from the team. When the shooter looks back, they should not be confused who to listen to. Why should someone interfere from the stands when there is already a coach there?” Deshpande questioned.
A few years back, this clash was played out between parents of shooters and junior coaches. It took some time before the parents finally trusted the program. But at the senior level, this debate between personal and national coach might take a few more chaotic turns.