Venkateswara Rao: Taking the national highway to state success

Venkateswara Rao
Venkateswara Rao receiving the Dronacharya Award from former President Pratibha Patil

National and state medallist, Dronacharya awardee and former national coach who has been part of quite a few international successes. Quite a glittering resume, isn’t it? But Venkateswara Rao has not been resting on these laurels, instead is looking to train upcoming generations to punch their way to glory. The former boxer, who hails from Visakhapatnam, has been a coach for the better part of three decades, and it is safe to say he has made quite a reputation for himself. Having trained boxers for almost ten years at the Port Stadium in his hometown, Venkateswara has been responsible for a big rise in the performances and profile of boxing in Andhra Pradesh. National medallists at both junior and senior levels have been produced under his tutelage, but he is not done yet!

“The summer residential camps for boys and girls in both U-14 and U-16 categories took place from April 25 to May 14, and we are very satisfied with how it went. We were able to shortlist a few children who will be taking part in the sub-junior and junior state-level competitions, and we want to ensure their performances continue improving. We had our best performance at the recent Khelo India School Games, with around a dozen children winning medals, and this should be used as a stepping stone to better days,” Venkateswara tells us.

Rao being feted by Andhra Pradesh CM Chandrababu Naidu

Ask how he got into boxing, and the 56-year-old says it was due to a combination of his brother and an interest in combat sports. “My elder brother Uma Maheshwar Rao was also a boxer and is now a Sports Authority of Andhra Pradesh (SAAP) coach and former District Sports Officer (DSO). He was the one who introduced me to boxing as I had a passion for combat sports. Though boxing was still just way to keep in touch with my passion, I won gold at my first event in Vizianagaram. I started boxing at 14 but got good results in the sub-junior level ensured it became a profession and lifelong habit for me,” he reveals.

However, not everything went well, and his boxing career had to be cut short because of injury. “I had to stop boxing after breaking a bone in my nose during a junior state open meet, after which the doctor advised me not to continue. My boxing career lasted from 1974 to 1985, and the highlight has to be the national silver I won,” Venkateswara recalls.

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However, this was just the beginning for him, as he then got into coaching, and it has been quite the journey since. The well-traveled former boxer agrees that his coaching career has been much more successful than his time inside the ring. And it all started at National Institute of Sports (NIS). “I did my coaching specialization at NIS, and after that traveled to Budapest to do my master’s degree. The Indian boxing federation then chose and sent me to do a Level 1 & 2 international standard course, sponsored by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and conducted by the International Boxing Association (AIBA). That’s when I also decided to become a technical official and judge. So now, I am a Level 3 coach, the highest for our breed across the world, and only these coaches are allowed to travel to the World Championship. Apart from that, I can also be a judge or official at such events. However, as per rules, I cannot mix these profiles, and can only do one of the three at one event,” said the coach who has been to four senior world championships and two junior ones.

Speaking of World Championships, Venkateswara was part of the senior national team for ten years (2000-2010) and trained the likes of five-time world champion MC Mary Kom and 2006 world champion L Sarita Devi. It is no secret that North India has produced more medal-winning athletes in this discipline than the South, and the coach believes what differentiates the two is motivation. “It makes a big difference when considering the intangibles that come along with being a sportsperson. In the north, once you are a national medallist, you are given jobs and even property, which increases motivation to perform well. That was not the case in south till recently, but with support pouring in more and more, it is a matter of time before we catch up with our northern counterparts,” he notes.

Venkateswara Rao has led a renaissance of sorts for Andhra Pradesh boxing

He also feels that Indians are on par with rest of the world, but as is so often documented, it is a matter of mentality. “While the basics are the same for all boxers across the world, what matters are the individual qualities and mental strength. Our boxers are as good technically as anyone else in the world, but physically we sometimes lack. More importantly, we need to become mentally stronger, so that we are able to gut it out when it matters the most. Often, that feeling of inferiority makes our boxers put unwanted pressure on themselves, even if they are better than the opponent. If this aspect is worked on, then we can certainly beat the best on a consistent basis. We already have world champions, and in essence, the level at the worlds and Olympics is the same, so just that extra mental preparation should help India become Olympic podium regulars.”

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Venkateswara Rao with the senior Indian women boxers

The coach, who has produced more than a dozen internationals from Vizag, has a lot of ideas on how to get boxing up to speed across Andhra Pradesh. “Firstly, we need to have long-term planning, both in terms of talent and coaching. Every district should have a grassroot center, with all proper facilities, and this should be done for all sports.”

“We also need better and more experienced coaches, those who want to work for the betterment of sports and athletes, and not be there for their own gains. We need to establish a particular standard of coaches, who can improve sportspersons in multiple ways. We have the potential, but there is no proper guidance given, so improvement is needed in infrastructure, coaching, and implementation of schemes so that we can make a difference and produce boxers who can make the nation proud,” he said.

A fountain of knowledge and experience, the next year promises to be interesting for Venkateswara. There have definitely been improvements in the state’s boxers under him, and we wait with bated breath for one of them to break into national reckoning.

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Edited by Amar Anand
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