How coach Santiago Nieva and WhatsApp are changing the way Indian boxers train

Santiago Nieva was appointed the national coach earlier this year

By Poonam Mehra

Hamburg, Sep 2 (PTI): Small changes can trigger big transformations. This is the philosophy that India's Swedish boxing coach Santiago Nieva has applied in his training methods and has got the collective thumbs up of his wards within months of taking over.

Nieva, a three-star coach from the International Boxing Association's (AIBA) coaches commission, took over in April and went through his first big test, no less than the World Championships, this month.

India's medal count stayed at one but having three quarterfinalists was an improvement from the last edition where two had made the last-eight stage.

The performances were also significantly better and had a couple of close results and a bit of luck gone India's way, the statistics could have been better too.

"His positive attitude is brilliant, besides in his training methods, he allows boxers the space to sometimes think for themselves," said this edition's lone medallist for India Gaurav Bidhuri, who won a bantamweight (56kg) bronze.

The others in the team feel Nieva's eye for detail and a scientific approach to training is helping them improve on some unchecked mistakes in their techniques.

"The video analyst not just records our opponents' bouts but also cuts short videos of our mistakes. These videos are sent to us over WhatsApp and the boxer can see for himself where he is going wrong. Having them on WhatsApp also makes it more convenient for us to revisit the videos," said former Commonwealth Games gold-medallist Manoj Kumar.

"Instead of watching it once in a class, we have it on our phones as a constant reminder. He is innovative when it comes to explaining things."

Nieva said all this is being done to add a personal touch to training.

"The idea behind this is to ensure that the boxer never forgets what he is doing wrong. Now I can explain things in a classroom full of 40 boys but that's not going to have the desired impact. This way, it stays with him and is more personalized," explained Nieva.

"For instance, I realized that one of my boys was making it a habit to unwittingly move to the corners, which was giving opponents easy shots. We cut a video of that and explained to him how this tendency was hurting him and it became a lot more easier for him to grasp. He could better understand his mistake," said the Argentine-origin Swede.

Nieva was with the Swedish men's team until last year and quit the position after the Rio Olympics. The 42-year-old is a former bantam and featherweight boxer and was inducted into the AIBA coaches commission in 2015. He has also served as a manager of the Argentine boxing team and even competed for the country at the 1997 World Cup.

"Santiago is patient and even if you are up against a tough guy in any international tournament, he is good at motivating you before a fight. He doesn't allow you to feel bogged down," said Vikas Krishan, a former world bronze- medallist and Asian Games gold-medallist.

Not just competition, Nieva has also been keeping a close tab on the mistakes committed by his wards during sparring -- from the time "wasted" on clinching to punch speed, the monitoring has become more thorough.

"He does have an eye for detail and a good understanding of the boxers' needs. His experience at the international level is there for everyone to see. The small changes that he has made have been very helpful," said Shiva Thapa, a bronze- medallist from the 2015 World Championship who was forced out from the ongoing edition due to food poisoning.

Nieva, on his part, said all he has tried to do is bring in a bit of order into the training methods.

"With a big camp like ours, certain aspects of training will always be general. But yeah, in certain others areas, a slightly more personalized approach works better," he said.

As for the generally positive feedback he has been getting from his wards, Nieva smiled before saying, "It's good if they are telling this about me. Probably means, I am doing something right. But yeah, there is still some way before I change the luck factor and get better results

Edited by Staff Editor
Fetching more content...
App download animated image Get the free App now