Famously dubbed the ‘Cuba of India’, the Bhiwani Boxing Centre, set up by Dhronacharya award-winning coach Jagdish Singh has gone on to receive widespread applause around the world. It is down to the sheer number of boxers that Singh has managed to churn out over the years.
The Olympic bronze medal from his most famous protege, Vijender Singh, catapulted him to nationwide fame. Akhil Kumar was another big name that came out of his stable. These days, he is seen backing his group of young girls, which includes three youth world champions in Nitu, Sakshi and Jyoti [who later teamed up with him].
In the ongoing India Open in Guwahati, Pooja has also made a mark following her stunning win over the experienced Pooja Rani. Jagdish Singh opened up about his time as a coach and certain factors that have been plaguing Indian boxing over the years.
Where do think your biggest success has been as a coach?
I try to strike a father-daughter relationship with all the boxers. To be there for the good and the bad times, even if it means standing by them during a personal crisis. We spend a large chunk of our time with the boxers. You see, it’s very difficult to deal with a loss. I have seen many boxers throwing the towel after a defeat.
I don’t give up on them and try to get the message across to them – to show them the right targets and with that, encourage them to dream big. It is different when you try your best and they decide to move away from the sport. Sometimes, you can get your message across even with a gaze. That comes with a lot of understanding. I have invested in a lot of them and have received that love back. They love me as much as their fathers.
There are plenty of Indian boxers who shine in youth levels but don’t make the grade as a senior. Why do you think that is the case?
I think, technically, they can match up to anyone in the world. Mentally, I feel there is a bit of a gap between us and some of the leading nations in the sport. My girls, for instance, Sakshi and Nitu have a lot of potential. The support at the top is the key and that’s what I can hope for. Sometimes, the federation gives up on a player after a defeat.
There isn’t much of a difference between a youth (player) and a senior. Youngsters tend to have plenty of fire in their belly while the seniors have experience. On a given day, the fire can trump experience.
They (youngsters) are technically sound and they just need that backing. That transition phase is tricky for every youngster. It’s vital to keep them motivated.
How is it different when a foreign coach steps in? Does that alter your player’s style and how easy is it to adapt to that?
You train your girls a certain way and then a foreign coach comes in and changes their style. The results, though, have not been great.
I feel there are so many unnecessary tweaks when it comes to technique. I feel it’s not good for a player. I feel there’s so much confusion in the minds of the boxers.
Sometimes there’s a communication gap. Players who are used to playing counter-attack are forced to go forward and attack. That won’t work. Sometimes the boxers are unable to implement instructions passed on by the coaches. Such things should be kept in mind by the coaches before handing instructions.
I feel the coaches should be in their corner and understand their game better.
Memories from Vijender Singh’s historic bronze in 2008, which many see as a key moment in Indian boxing?
I’ll tell you a story from 2003. During the Afro-Asian Games in Hyderabad, I was seated in a press lobby. I had five boxers representing India from a team of 10. Uzbek or Kazakh. Vijender had taken permission from Sandhu Sir [Gurbax Singh Sandhu, national coach] to allow me to be ringside. During that time, there was an open scoring system. I remember instructing Vijender to go for it in the dying moments of the bout as he was trailing. Not many knew him then but that set the tone for greater success in the future.
The rules of the game are still confusing to the layman. Your thoughts on changes that have come into scoring in recent times?
The international federation tinker with the system far too much. One can’t figure out what’s going on (rules). You can’t protest. Why do you think sports like football and cricket are popular? It’s because fans understand the sport. In boxing’s case, it’s difficult to figure out who won or lost. I have been coaching for 34 years. If someone asks me who won or lost after a bout, I won’t be able to answer. It’s so confusing.
Every sport evolves to have more clarity with the way they function. The same doesn’t happen in boxing and AIBA is answerable for this.
If you raise your voice, you will be penalised. Until 2011, there used to running score. Now as a coach, I can’t figure out whether my boxer is winning or losing. If there’s clarity, a coach can device a strategy or else he/she is simply there as a waterboy. We can’t give them much technical input.
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