Coach Bergamasco - Man behind Indian women’s boxing’s Chak De moment
“Mujhe states ke naam na sunai dete hai aur na dikhai dete hai, sirf ek mulk ka naam sunai deta hai... India.” Remember this iconic dialogue from Shah Rukh Khan’s Chak De India? This was the first time his character – The coach of Indian Women’s Hockey team – tries to instill a sense of nationalism among the players by forcing them to rise above their respective states. It took almost 12 years and a different sport for India to find its real-life Kabir Khan. Raffaele Bergamasco, the Performance Director of Indian women’s boxing, has very little idea about Bollywood movies but astonishingly, his coaching methodology bears great resemblance to the movie’s script.
Promoted as the Performance Director of the senior women’s team after being the centre point of India’s best ever medal haul at Youth Boxing Championships in late 2017, the first thing Raffaele focused on was teamwork. He came in with a fresh mindset that boxing was not merely an individual sport and the girls needed to fight as a unit in order to improve their game.
“Yes, boxing is an individual sport but there also, it is important to fight like a team. Only then your game will get better,” said Raffaele in an exclusive chat with Hindustan Times after the Indian girls returned with six medals in the Asian Boxing Championships 2019 – their best ever campaign.
Teaching teamwork to a bunch of individuals, who never treated boxing as a team sport, was by no means an easy task. But Raffaele had a clear plan. He was well aware of the fact that majority of Indian boxers hail from Haryana, Manipur, Uttarakhand or Punjab and they always like to be with players from their state.
“When I joined the team, there was a zone Haryana, a zone Manipur, a zone Punjab... I didn’t like that. I wanted them to fight for India; this was after all a national camp. I forced them to train together, hang out together, eat together as a team,” said Raffaele.
The Italian coach may not have had a clue but the boxers in the camp were well aware of what was happening. “It was exactly like Chak De! In the beginning, we used to wonder if this was for real... He used to say, you’re in the national camp, you’re not in a Haryana camp or Delhi camp... You should never create groups within the team. If someone is alone, then you join them and behave like a team. He wanted us to be a team.” Said Nikhat Zareen, who bagged a bronze in the 51 kg category in her maiden appearance in the Asian Boxing Championships.
But unlike the movie, Raffaele faced no resistance from the girls. In fact, they blended into his idea of a team very quickly. “They were very co-operative, a great bunch of girls,” added Raffaele.
Raffaele’s next job was to change the mindset and derive a winning strategy. “The Indian girls always had a very strong heart. But they didn’t have the mindset to win big tournaments. They needed a strategy before tough matches. They needed to work on their counter-attacks, moves, footwork and be mentally strong,” Raffaele said.
Raffaele also brought in a change in the training methods of Indian women boxers. Instead of making the boxers sweat throughout the day, he focused on small intense training sessions to replicate the action-packed 9 minutes in the ring.
“There are three rounds of three minutes each in boxing, so you have to give your all in that small period of time. Raffaele told the girls to put the intensity of three-hour training in 1 hour. It helped us a lot,” said India women’s boxing head coach and former Commonwealth Games gold medallist Mohammed Ali Qamar.
The training not only brought results inside the ring but it also started to give India a name in international boxing. “Earlier foreign coaches used to treat Indian women boxers as pushovers but now they think twice when they know they’re opponent is from India, they know we are very strong,” Raffaele said.
India’s next big tournament is the World Boxing Championships, where they will have a chance to secure quotas for Tokyo Olympics 2020 and Raffaele sounded confident about repeating the good performance. “Now we have a very big chance of qualifying for Olympics and in fact we can get a gold medal in Olympics too,” Raffaele signed off.