Commonwealth Games: Ronak Pandit, the man behind Heena Sidhu's success in Gold Coast
India is a country that has been blessed with a number of top shooters in the current generation, that is evident in the number of medals which the nation has won at the recently concluded Commonwealth Games, in Gold Coast, Australia.
One of the biggest positives for Indian shooting in the last year or so is the sheer number of youngsters who have come to the fore. Teenagers like Manu Bhaker, Mehuli Ghosh and Anish Bhanwala have captivated the world with their dominating performances. However, one of the senior shooters also made her mark, to reaffirm her authority in the sport, during the Games.
Heena Sidhu has come out with a rich medal haul of a silver (Women's 10m Air Pistol) and a gold (Women's 25m Pistol). Yet, just months ahead of the multi-sport event, the 28-year-old was on the verge of dropping the 25m Pistol event from her list.
"In January, she wanted to give up this event (25m Pistol) because she felt that she wasn’t doing well enough. And it was also disturbing her training in air pistol. Athletes obviously have their insecurities as well," her coach and husband Ronak Pandit told Sportskeeda.
However, coaxed by Pandit, the ace shooter decided to go ahead with 25m Pistol, alongside 10m Air Pistol, an event where she has already won gold medals in the World Cup, the Commonwealth Games, and the Asian Championships.
"I told her, ‘Heena, trust me. Give me three more months. If you still don’t get the results, you can drop the event after the Commonwealth Games," said Pandit. "Now she realizes that this guy knows what he’s talking about. We trained under so much pressure that when she reached the actual competition, she thought that it was actually quite manageable.
The 'business mindset'
The 32-year-old Pandit, who himself had aced 25m Pistol (mixed event with Samaresh Jung) back in his day, winning gold at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games, believes that it is all about keeping a business mindset.
Since Heena had already proved herself in the 10m Air Pistol events, the expectations on her were high, even though 25m Pistol was something that she was yet to fully prove herself at.
"Heena may have been the Heena Sidhu of the 10m events, but that happened after 5-6 years of training," said Pandit. "If you start off a new category, you have to keep a business mindset and start off slowly.
"An athlete must always think like a beginner. If you lose that, that’s the day you should retire. I have to keep reminding Heena that aspect of the sport," he continued. "You may be a world champion or an Olympic champion, but you still need to improve. Otherwise, you might as well pack up."
The give-and-take relation
Although it has been around five years since both Heena and Ronak got married, the two have been working together for much longer than that.
Since then, both the player and the coach have come a long way. While Heena is currently one of the best shooters in the circuit at the moment, Pandit has gone on to become one of the top trainers in India. In fact, he was appointed as the Indian shooting contingent's high-performance manager for the Commonwealth Games.
"It’s been six years now, and I think we’ve both evolved as individuals and have grown a lot. As you grow, your outlook towards the sport changes as well," he said. "Back then Heena was not a beginner, but she was an upcoming shooter. Now she is one of the most established athletes in India."
Staying true to the philosophy of most top coaches from around the world, Pandit believes that being in the top echelons of a sport is more about one's attitude, rather than just about the results.
"Your personality, technique, what phase of life you are going through, these are all key factors. It's always a combination of different factors. We are both learning, and trying to get better at our respective roles," he said.
Drawing the boundaries
Having tied the knot in 2013, the duo have had their ups and downs over the course of the last five years. In fact, Sidhu became World No 1 on the ISSF rankings the very next year.
However, things were not going as smoothly for the two on a more personal front. The main reason for this was the fact that they were both performing the dual roles of player/wife and coach/husband.
"The first two years were quite difficult for us to deal with each other’s roles. We were constantly fighting, arguing. When Heena wanted a coach, I would be the husband more, and when she wanted a husband, I would be a coach more," explained Pandit.
However, they finally decided to draw the line between the two roles that they have, something that Pandit believes, has helped both of them calm down a lot.
"At one point I just said enough is enough. Either you get another coach and I start concentrating more on the academy, or we sit down and make proper rules for this," said Pandit.
"But the good thing is that neither of us took this in a negative manner. We were both solution-oriented and tried to come up with a way of getting through this. It did not happen overnight, but we manage to sort it out," he said.
Now the duo has formulated a clear routine during the day when they would be player-coach. But once the work for the day is done, they both recline back to their personal lives, where any mention of shooting is not allowed.
Such demarcation of mental disciplines has clearly helped both Sindhu and Pandit realise the intricacies of their respective roles, something that has brought the country more medals. As the two continue to learn and grow with their experiences each day, India may certainly expect more medals, as Heena Sidhu, egged on by Ronak Pandit, goes hunting for more laurels.