Online masterclasses a boon for boxing coaches

Updated on May 27, 2020 08:09 AM IST

VIRTUAL PUNCH: Grassroots coaches are taking advantage of online sessions by national experts to learn new skills

India’s Swedish boxing expert Santiago Nieva’s (left) online classes are a hit with local coaches who pass on the knowledge to their trainees at the grassroots.(BFI)
India’s Swedish boxing expert Santiago Nieva’s (left) online classes are a hit with local coaches who pass on the knowledge to their trainees at the grassroots.(BFI)
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByAvishek Roy & Navneet Singh

Santiago Nieva adjusts the screen on his laptop and steps back. Indian boxing’s high performance director, a diminutive Swedish man who has transformed India’s Olympic boxers since he joined the team in 2017, is standing inside the boxing hall at the National Institute of Sports in Patiala, with two other coaches. They are all in masks. What’s about to begin is a masterclass from one of amateur boxing’s most highly regarded technical expert.

Coaches, around 300 of them, have logged in with anticipation from far and wide—among them, there’s Ghulam Mustafa from Ladakh, Tapan Basu from Howrah, and T Seconder Singh from Imphal, hooked to their laptops. With training at a halt for over two months, and many coaches stranded at Sports Authority Centres, online sessions have been the new normal under the lockdown, and with its widespread reach, these sessions have reaped unexpected benefits at the grassroots level.

On the screen, Nieva goes through his topic for the day—how to teach a boxer to fight from close range—using a series of slides. Then he slips on his boxing gloves and faces another coach. Nieva explains how his opponent is good at countering him with punches from medium- and long-distance.

“So, get inside”—he says, and weaves under his opponent’s incoming jab, “using fast feet, upper-body movement and an effective jab.”

This is what made Nieva’s most famous ward, Amit Panghal, the world’s top flyweight boxer.

Nieva gets into his range, and demonstrates combinations.

“Don’t go blindly for the head, mix it up with head and body punches,” he says. “Start up…” he throws a high punch, “and finish down. Or start down and finish up. Find the angles, maintain good balance and control in close range.” Nieva skips away, moving out of range.

“Don’t stay in the line of fire for too long,” he says. “The longer you stay, more the risk of receiving punches.” The other coach in the hall translates the lesson in Hindi.

Is this the beginning of a an unprecedented dissemination of knowledge for boxing in India?

So far, 25 sessions have been conducted, and they have all featured top names—apart from Nieva, there’s women’s team head coach Rafaelle Bergamasco, teaching from his room at the Indira Gandhi Stadium in New Delhi; Dan Jefferson, head strength and conditioning coach at Inspire Institute of Sports (IIS) in Bellary and his colleague Kevin Caillaud, head of exercise physiology and nutrition; and world boxing body’s (AIBA) coaching instructor Adam Kuisor. Between them, they have covered everything from fight drills and tactics to exercise routines and injury management.

Sixty-six year old Tapan Basu has not missed any of the 25 odd sessions. A retired banker from Howrah who was a national level boxer in the 70s, Basu runs a small academy in Shibpur, Howrah with around 60 trainees. He has not undergone any formal coaching.

“The game is changing so rapidly that if you are not tuned to it closely for two months, you will wake up to new things. These sessions have been very helpful,” says Basu.

“When I was working in the bank I never got the time and opportunity to do a full time coaching course. Now I am retired and fully active in coaching. I have more time to learn and pass it on to my trainees. There was so much to learn, especially in sports science.

Nieva feels that the online sessions were a great example of using technology to reach out to those who want to learn, but don’t have access to such courses.

“It can never replace physical contact, but you have the advantage— instead of putting 30 people in one room, we can have hundreds watching a lecture,” he says.

The need to educate coaches at all levels has always been acutely felt in the boxing community.

“The Indian coaching (methods) grew during the times of point-scoring system, but we are beyond that now,” Nieva says. “Body punches, close-range boxing and offensive boxing is not a standard in India. Here we have room for improvement.”

Seconder Singh, who runs his boxing academy at the corner of a playground in his village Nonga, near Imphal, did a one year diploma course in boxing at NIS in 2015. “The online classes are a good opportunity for coaches at the grassroots to refresh our knowledge,” says Singh. “The sessions on new rules and the latest technique were the best.”

38-year-old Singh is a typical example of a grassroots coach—working more from a love for the sport than a product of any structured system. His small academy has around 40 students, half of them women. Most trainees work out of an improvised outdoor ring. “I have a passion to groom youngsters to excel at the world and Olympic level,” Singh says. “I’m trying hard to achieve my goal. What I have learnt in the last fortnight will help me. I manage with meager means. I can’t give good facilities. My job is to share my knowledge.”

Ghulam Mustafa, 38, shares a similar love for boxing. He has been training at a makeshift SAI centre in Kargil, Ladakh since 2017. The trainees are shifted to Sangrur in Punjab from October to March during when it gets too cold. The online sessions, he says, will make him more innovative in planning new programmes for his boxers.

“How to train boxers without a ring was the best session for me. It changed my concept of training,” Mustafa says. “We have one proper ring, and it’s used by SAI residential trainees but for other local students, there are around 30 of them, they train without one.”

Nieva’s session on close-in fighting was structured with great attention to detail, and also featured him doing video analysis of match clips from Vasyl Lomachenko’s fights. The Ukrainian double-Olympic champion, who is now the lightweight champion of the world, is considered one of the finest technicians in the sport.

Boxing Federation of India executive director RK Sacheti says the programme has been so popular that they are now thinking of starting it at state associations. “We will continue to impart online education for our boxing coaches at every level,” said Sacheti.

Nieva says that it doesn’t even to have to be live. “We can prepare good study material and participants can log in, we can answer their questions, and get feedback,” he says.

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