Boxing coach Narender Rana wants players to stay off social media during competitions
Narender Rana revealed that he took away bronze-winner Akash Kumar's phone to keep him focussed ahead of the semifinals
India's newly-appointed men's boxing head coach Narender Rana would like his wards to take a step back inside the ring, improve their self-belief and preferably stay off social media during competitions as he spelled out his vision on how to take the sport forward after an insipid Olympic campaign.
The 49-year-old, who returned to the country on Monday after his maiden outing as head coach during the world championships in Belgrade, revealed that he took away bronze-winner Akash Kumar's (54kg) phone to keep him focussed ahead of the semifinals.
Akash was India's lone medal winner at the event. "I took his phone away after the quarterfinals because he was bombarded with calls and messages. Itni distraction mein rest kahan se hota, recovery kab hoti? I had to do it," Rana told PTI in an interview.
"Both his parents are no more and his uncle called me after being unable to reach him. I told him what I had done and even offered to let the boy talk to him. But his uncle said 'aapne kuch soch ke hi kiya hoga, bas usko hamari shubhkamnaayen de dena'," he recalled.
The 21-year-old Akash had lost his mother in September just before the national championships, where he went on to clinch a gold unaware of the tragedy at home. Rana was by his side even at that time and had kept the news from him at the request of his family so that the youngster could finish the task at hand.
"See, social media should not interfere with you recovery time. If you are sleeping with a phone next to you, you will be distracted by it. And in a physical sport like boxing, good sleep is absolutely essential for recovery. How is that possible when you are just staring at your phone?" he said. "I believe social media should be avoided during intense training and competitions. It is distracting," he added.
India's failure to fetch a single medal in men's boxing in Tokyo Games raised many questions on the boxers' mental preparedness for a stage as big as the Olympics. The underwhelming campaign led to the removal of C A Kuttappa as chief coach. Rana acknowledged that boxers are lacking in self-belief to an extent and it is sometimes triggered by intense spotlight.
"A lot of times pressure leads to negative performance and this is what happened to someone like Amit Panghal. He was world no.1, everybody was talking about him, and ultimately it had a negative impact on him," he said.
"I spoke to him after he came back from Tokyo and he told me 'sir, bohot pressure tha, nahi le paya'. As a coach, it would be my job to insulate the boxer in such circumstances and ensure that their belief in themselves remains intact, basically eliminate fear of failure. I told him and others also, don't brood over a loss, learn from it and that's what my approach would be...boxers trust us, not a psychologist who will come from outside. We know their lives, their routines like the back of our hands and I believe we (the coaches) can be the support system that will keep them in a good head space."
As for strategies inside the ring, Rana would like his wards to focus on counter-attacks because boxing is "no longer about power-punching or hit and run".
"You have to show that you know your craft. During world championships, I saw so many bouts where power-punchers and aggressive punchers lost comprehensively to counter-attackers. Just throwing your arm around doesn't get you scores. Your feet should move in rhythm, turn on the style. Maarte jaane se bout nahi jeetoge, thoda perform karna padega, out-manoeuvre your opponents in counter-attacks," he said.
Another area of focus for Rana would be fitness and for that, he would like trials before every major competition so that only the best make the final squad.
"Rankings can be there to figure out your top four or five in the camp but that alone shouldn't be criteria for selection. I would like trials because then you also get a fair idea about who is physically in a better shape. Past performances are good to look at but that alone should not guarantee selection. The idea is to keep things so competitive that everyone works hard and does not take their place for granted," he explained.