Newly-appointed men's boxing coach Santiago Nieva feels Indian pugilists are at par with the world's best in mental toughness and should not be judged too harshly at this stage as “some things must take time for better results”.
The born-in-Argentina-but-raised-in Sweden coach joined the ongoing national camp in Patiala two weeks ago and has been familiarising himself with his new colleagues, wards and the base. He has replaced Cuba's Blas Iglesias Fernandes, who left in 2014.
Ask him about his first impressions and the changes he plans to bring in, Nieva says so far, he hasn't found anything that needs urgent overhauling.
“I am understanding the training culture in India, which I feel is not very different from elsewhere. It is traditional and Indian boxers at the senior level seem to have a very good base,” the 41-year-old, who is a member of the International Boxing Association's (AIBA) elite coaches' commission, told PTI in an interview.
“Their foundation is solid, most of them have excellent technique. All this is very important for development. In the camp, I haven't seen anything that has surprised me,” Nieva adds about the assignment he considers a challenge as well as a golden opportunity.
It has been a roller-coaster ride for the Indian boxers in the last four years due to administrative wrangling and the medal count abroad has seen a decline.
But with a new federation in place, they are finally getting regular international exposure even though the results have been mixed so far.
Nieva opines that it is easy to judge when an athlete is not doing well because empathy would require a deeper understanding of the dynamics of his sport.
“The challenge lies in improving and moving forward. Indian boys are tough and that is why they have got you medals at the World Championships, Asian Championships, made the Olympics in record numbers,” he points out.
“They have won medals everywhere. So, I don't think we should be too judgemental. I don't think mental toughness is even an issue with the Indian boys given their record. We should take it a bit easy on passing judgements,” he adds.
Nieva, who was Sweden's coach for a good eight years, says it is primarily the coach's job to instill a “winning culture” in the wards.
“You can bring in psychologists, nobody is stopping that but from my experience, I can say it's we the coaches, who should chip in here. What are we there for? It's up to us to make them believe,” he points out.
Nieva has come in, for the time being, till the September World Championships in Germany where India's performance will decide whether he stays longer or not.
“I am taking one thing at a time. I have a plan in mind for the next four years but let's see how it works out till the World Championships. I am confident of putting India on the path to win several medals,” he asserts.
The coach does not mind the short span of time given to him to prove his worth as he feels the set-up is in place to get things going.
“It is a big camp with 60 odd boys but thankfully there are as many number of coaches around to handle the load. Personally, I would have found it tough to individualise the training had they not been there,” he says.
“I have struck up a good rapport with my fellow coaches and we are talking about boxing almost 24×7. I have managed to understand quite a bit through these informal chats and the 1000 odd questions I have asked so far,” he laughs.
Speaking about himself and his journey, Nieva revealed his family moved out of Argentina when he was a five-year-old but he did compete for the country once in 1997. Eventually he chose Sweden to be his home.
“But between Zlatan (Ibrahamovic) and (Lionel) Messi, it will always be Messi for me, I am a football and Argentina fan. And from now on, I will be celebrating everytime India wins in boxing. I am kind of global now,” he signs off.