Meet Shweta Chandaliya Avadh- the national fencer who turned to become a coach to produce future champions in a comparatively newer sport; keeping pace with India’s notion of emerging as a ‘Sporting Nation’.
From where it all started….
Shweta Avadh: Initially I played Handball, Throwball, Kho Kho but I was not very keen to play team games. I wanted to produce my own results in which all the wins would be mine and so the losses. Thus, I thought of switching to an individual sport and I came across Fencing.
The initial days were hard….
Shweta Avadh: I thought it would be easy but actually, it was not. First and foremost, there was a lack of awareness. The sport was unique but definitely tough. Moreover, I started playing with right-handed equipment, though being left-handed. I didn’t know about the availability of left-handed equipment. So initially I didn’t fair well in the competitions. But gradually as I got acquainted with the deeper aspects of the sport, I started grabbing it properly. And then after two years, I found the proper equipment for Fencing.
Medals kept coming….
Shweta Avadh: Yes, as I switched to left hand, I started to perform better. I got selected for state and national-level competitions. I won the school national gold medal, I got bronze in team event in senior nationals and in 2005 I won silver in senior national.
Selection in India team…
Shweta Avadh: In 2005, I got selected for India team to play the World Fencing Championships in Germany. At that time, a 6-month India camp was arranged for the selected players. That training session was immensely helpful for me. I got the first-hand experience of playing an international tournament, how to train and practice and be at my best before a tournament.
Indebted to coaches…
Shweta Avadh: In the India camp I met Giorgio Gurnini Sir from Italy and Martin Sir from Hungary. They both gave us lessons that were predominantly based on an international approach to the game. There were also national coaches like Ibomcha Sir from Manipur, Mohit Sir from Punjab and Krishna Sir from Kerala who guided us throughout the period in the camp. Then we went for Germany. Yes, I didn’t get a medal but playing in World Championship was a fabulous experience.
Life had some other plans…
Shweta Avadh: In 2007, I had to shift from my hometown Nasik to Pune for my job in IT sector. What happened in Pune was, I got overloaded by my professional life. Moreover, it was a new city and I found no one to play with me. There were no coaches also. So, I concentrated on my job, got married, had two children and eventually found myself being parted away from Fencing.
Dreams kept coming back…
Shweta Avadh: I was happy doing other things- working, raising a family but simultaneously feeling a void somewhere deep down. I could not remember a day that had gone without thinking of Fencing. There was not a single night when I did not dream of Fencing.
Support from the family….
Shweta Avadh: My husband understood my feelings and situation. He was the one who told me to leave my job and go back to Fencing. But I was afraid to leave a settled job; I was scared to take the plunge. But my husband reassured me promising that he would take care of other things.
Shweta Avadh: I was about to resign but my manager advised me to go for a sabbatical. In the meantime, COVID started and I got a good amount of time to prepare for myself. I knew I could not return as a player; 12 years passed in between. So, it was best to return to Fencing as a coach. This idea also came because I did not want the young fencers to come across the same problem that I had once faced- of not getting coaches or players to practice. I spoke to Gurnini Sir in Italy. He was extremely generous to provide me all the materials for coach’s training. Then I completed the NIS certified course. And finally I found myself ready to open my own academy.
En Garde Fencing Academy….
Shweta Avadh: I am thankful to the Sports Commissioner of Maharashtra who agreed to provide me space in Pune’s Balewadi Stadium to start my Academy. The first Summer Camp of my Academy started on 30th March 2021 with 12 students. But I had to shut it down on 7th April because of COVID’s second wave. It was definitely a jolt. I resumed in September but with only 2 students. But where there is will, there is way. There are 60 students now in just over 10 months. I mostly focus on children aged between 8-12 years. Apart from them, I have a set of players from Pune who approached me to become their full-time coach. Now they train in my Academy and I understand that they are now hoping to do better and bigger in Fencing.
The training procedure…
Shweta Avadh: Though I believe in ‘Catch them Young’, still I have students of varied age group. Some come to me to play the sport seriously, some come to pursue it as a hobby and there are some parents who come to let their children vent out their young energy here. I have some students who have autism as well. So, first and foremost, I want them to have fun. I give them coordination lessons, footwork lessons, target practicing, but all through different games. Like, instead of giving a manual board and asking them to practice target, I have introduced an electronic board that gives out certain lights from different points and they have to target that. That makes target practicing really interesting. So after all these, if their interest persists, then only I gradually shift to serious training.
Taking things forward…
The students of my Academy have started representing Pune in Senior and Junior State competitions. Recently we played in an U-12 tournament held in Aurangabad where my students got 5 medals in Foil and Epee. In my Academy, I am going to have more coaches who are expert in Epee and Sabre. I am a Foil expert, so its better to have coaches in other categories too.
The overall progress…
Initially, the Patiala centre of SAI was the only place where Fencing was practiced. But there are multiple SAI centres like one in Gujarat, another in Aurangabad where players can undertake training. The Sports Ministry is taking initiative to send coaches abroad to undergo the concept of ‘Train the Trainers’. There are more domestic tournaments now where players are getting better opportunity to perform. The Fencing Association is also planning to start several ranking tournaments. Many private clubs have started their own training programmes just like I did. So, all these are a boost for our sport. And obviously there is Bhavani Devi. No doubt she has become the face of Fencing in India. She has successfully defended her Commonwealth Fencing Championship this year too. These things are luring the sponsors to invest in this sport. Thus, the future is bright and we are hoping to achieve more laurels in the next 5-6 years.