Shiv Singh: An accidental coach who went on to become a boxing guru

Being persuaded to wear the boxing gloves during his college days, the veteran boxing coach charted an unknown territory with conviction and passion.
By Naveen Peter

For Dronacharya Award winner Shiv Singh, a career in boxing has been more about luck than design.

Maine har ek avasar, ek chunautee ki tarah dekha hai (I have seen every opportunity as a challenge),” Singh said in a chat with the Olympic Channel.

“Be it taking up boxing because a senior in college thought I would be good at it, or enrolling for a diploma at National Institute of Sports, Patiala, I have enjoyed every moment because it challenged me. Life threw something completely different every time.”

It’s this attitude that he’s passed on to his wards over the years that has seen the likes of Gaurav Bhiduri, Simranjit Kaur, Akhil Kumar, Simranjit Kaur and Vijender Singh excel on the international stage.

Shattered hockey dreams

Shiv Singh was a talented hockey player at the Gurunanak Dev University in Amritsar when a road accident brought an abrupt end to his hockey dreams. Having injured the ligament in his knee, he was caught in a confused state of affairs.

Boxing coach Shiv Singh was conferred the Dronacharya Award (Lifetime). Photo: Press Information Bureau

“Back then we didn’t have medical facilities like we do today,” he recalls. “I consulted a doctor near my place, but he was reluctant to operate.

“He feared it would stagnate the knee. So, he asked me to consult a masseur. The masseur did something with the knee and I could walk again. But I was a bit scared to exert it too much.”

While returning to the hockey pitch seemed like a distant dream for Shiv Singh, the athlete in him refused to mellow down.

“The knee was a problem but I would be regular to the gym,” he says. “That’s where I met Ross - a student from Fiji. While he would go through his routine, I would try and imitate him whenever I got an opportunity.

“My footwork was terrible, but the punches had some real power in them. And Ross noticed it.”

Noticing the youngster giving it his all on the punching bag, the senior boxer would approach Shiv Singh asking him to join him in training.

“He needed a sparring partner, and I needed an avenue that could keep me busy. So, I think it worked well for both of us,” he explains.

In the following years, Shiv Singh would also learn about the sport from Ross. The two would also become one of the talked about boxers at the Inter-University levels, with the Indian winning two silver medals in the 1970s.

Shiv Singh has overseen the Indian senior teams at big-ticket events like the World Championships and the Commonwealth Games. Photo: BFI

This period also saw Shiv Singh grooming his juniors in the college team, something that he believes helped him later in his career.

“Back then, colleges would barely have dedicated boxing coaches. You would have a physical education director and that’s about it. So, it usually came down to the senior to take up the role of a coach as well,” Shiv Singh remembered.

“I used to prepare the college team. It was largely passing on the knowledge that I had gained from seeing and training with my seniors.”

Coaching, by chance

For Shiv Singh, a man who sought a career in an investigation agency like the CBI, never thought boxing would give him a path to glory. The Chandigarh man never dreamt of being ringside at international events.

But as fate would have it, the 3-Star Amateur International Boxing Association coaching license put him on a path he never foresaw.

“I remember, once being called for an interview (for the Intelligence Bureau) in Hazaribagh,” he narrates.

“But having got the letter just a day before the scheduled interview, there was no way I could have made it all the way to a place in Jharkhand (around 1,500kms away) in time.

“Though a few people I knew extended their help, I didn’t see a way where I would get home (in Chandigarh), collect my certificates and other necessary documents and then reach Hazaribagh in time.

“It was then that a friend of mine, who had recently moved to Patiala, told me about the NIS and that coaching courses there.”

Though a bit reluctant, Shiv Singh went ahead with the admission process at National Institute of Sports and got admitted to the boxing diploma course.

Learnings from Germany

Having passed out with the 1980-81 batch, Shiv Singh spent some quality time with the regiment teams in the Indian Army in the coming years.

Singh believes that the period helped him implement things he had leant and work on his craft as a coach before heading to Germany for an advanced diploma programme in 1995.

While many would have expected Shiv Singh to stay back and build a career in Europe, the Indian tactician chose to return.

Shiv Singh trained Indian boxing stars like Akhil Kumar and Vijender Singh since their days in the Indian junior set-up.

“They (in Germany) offered me a job and an opportunity to go on and complete a PhD but I always wanted to come home and help the guys here.”

Back home a year later, Shiv Singh took over the Indian junior set-up as he believed in ‘addressing the concern at its roots’.

“I think it's really important that we have our best coaches at the junior and the sub-junior levels. If the guys perfect the art at that level, then it’s just about fine-tuning them as they graduate,” he says.

With Akhil Kumar, Mohammed Ali Qamar, AL Lakra, Dinesh Kumar and Vijender Singh still in the junior set-up at the time, Shiv Singh had the opportunity to mould the young talents to become the best boxers the country has seen.

“This power only lies with the coach,” he says.

“Any coach who spots a talent has to treat them differently. Only then can you see them evolve. But you also need to be careful that the others in the group don’t notice this or else that can be demotivating.”

Having spent over three decades moulding Indian boxers at various levels, the Dronacharya Award sits just right with Shiv Singh, a man for whom it was all about making the most of whatever chance was offered his way.