A little over 20 years ago, physical education was a class filled with routine exercises that many kids tried to get an excuse note to sit out. Schools want students to succeed in interschool, state-level, and even national level games without giving them the required training during physical education class, instead expecting them to pay for and take training outside of school hours. Over time, schools began to add kho-kho, throwball, kabbadi, dodgeball, volleyball, karate, skating, etc. Suddenly, physical education became the class in which you were too happy to participate.

Today, two decades hence, physical education is going through another revolution, where companies and organisations built specifically for proper sports education and training, have entered our school gates and taken over our sports grounds to train students the right way at the grassroots level. With coaches from across India and even abroad, access to proper infrastructure and to the right people, and even the right kind of financial help, an ecosystem is coming to life to provide and encourage sports education in schools.

A classroom need not be an indoor one. - Anonymous

Private companies and NGOs are stepping up to the plate by taking up the mantle of providing sports infrastructure, education, and training for children and in effect providing a different outlook to various aspects of sports. This has helped not only to develop talent but has also created avenues for schools to invest time, effort, and money in the same. If sports develop at the grassroots, the country moves forward in a big way. And India has the talent and the demographics to make this possible.

“The primary issue with the state of sport in our country (and in turn, physical education), is limited exposure and access to appropriate infrastructure, quality training, and role models that an aspiring sportsperson ought to have access to,” says Sharan Parikh, Director, South United Football Club, one of India’s first privately-owned football clubs, dedicated to creating a sustainable sporting ecosystem, and developing and nurturing young talent both on and off the field. “Such challenges prevent a player from fulfilling a potential, which would have otherwise enabled them to have a more sustainable career. Hence, creating infrastructure and education systems for the country are integral to what we do at South United FC.”

Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world. - Nelson Mandela

In its current form and perception, coaches and teachers may not have the conditions to truly educate children of its importance, but a well thought out structure for sport can work miracles for the overall development of students in a school. So how exactly does introducing sports like football, badminton, basketball, etc. as part of the curriculum change the way the education system, kids, and parents, treat sports? Well, when you introduce sports in an organised manner, as a serious subject, it has a far-reaching impact on the students and their parents. “Sport time is thus no longer treated as exercise time but as a subject,” points out Vivek Sethia, Founder & CEO, India on Track (IOT), a company committed to identifying and nurturing talent in every corner of India through grassroots and specialised training programmes, Centres of Excellence, and talent scouting camps. Beyond making sport a compulsory subject; encouraging participation and communicating the benefits to parents at an institutional level is vital in changing the mind-set of Indian parents, where they view sports on par with academics. “Organised sport focuses on the holistic development of students teaching them discipline, teamwork, and perseverance in the face of setbacks and shapes them into responsible adults and citizens”, Vivek adds.

Sports do not build character. They reveal it. - Heywood Broun

Someone once pointed out that talent will get you in the door, but character will keep you in the room. India is a land of talent where one sees many budding sport stars in the narrow lanes of small towns and even big cities. And these sports programmes, in a way, are a kick start to ensure that all of this ability has an outlet and a platform.

“If every narrow lane, small town, and big town play football, basketball, or any other sport and every citizen has access to infrastructure and equipment, India will have arrived in the game,” says Usha Sundar, Founding Partner of the NGO - Hi5 Youth Foundation, which is dedicated to making a difference in the lives of underprivileged young boys and girls through team sports. “My husband and I personally work with the BMC and tribal children in developing basketball at the grassroots. We have upgraded courts, built new ones with our own personal money, provide free training, a full sports kit, nutritious snacks, and life skills to 1200 children aged 10 and above.”

Many stakeholders within the industry speak of the concept of Grassroots Sport. This idea of a strong grassroots is reliant heavily on the participation of the masses, mostly children. “Through various sports programmes, more children get to explore their talents and take advantage of the facilities that exist,” explains Sharan. “Through our sports schools, children are initiated into sport from the age of 3, all the way through the pathways of recreational and professional training, as well as career opportunities, through our football club.”

India On Track runs in many cities across India, not all of them metros or Tier 1 cities. “We set up with a clear idea of bringing best-in-class sports training to the students of this country and to create a platform for talented children. We have a detailed development structure where we identify talent, train them at our centres, and if they show promise, we work actively with them to help find the best possible opportunities,” shares Vivek.

Somehow, we’ve come to believe that greatness is only for the chosen few, for the superstars. The truth is, greatness is for us all. This is not about lowering expectations; it’s about raising them for every last one of us. - Nike

There has been a proliferation of sports leagues in India in the recent decade. The IPL, HIL, ISL, PKL, SFL, etc. have encouraged the love of sport, fuelled the imagination, and developed a connect between a sport, its heroes, and its fans. The introduction of these leagues has sparked a discussion on professional sport on a wide scale, kindling passions in prospective sportspersons to play professionally. The question everyone’s asking is, does the buck stop in front of our television screens and group discussions, or is it affecting sports education at the grassroots level in schools?

“A wide spectrum of society has realised that leagues have tons of money and players and therefore, pursuing a sport is not a bad thing after all,” reiterates Usha. “However, we need a fair market system, not a free market one. Our country is not short on aspiration, but there has to be a proper direction.” Sharan agrees when he says, “It has certainly attracted more investment into sport, especially through sponsorship revenues and broadcasting rights. The challenge will now be to maintain a sustainable front on which to build on the leagues’ successes.” “The success story of these leagues and the players involved creates a positive outlook for children and, most importantly, their parents,” reflects Vivek.

Physical education – the only subject that makes your heart race. - Anonymous

Our education system always had physical education as a compulsory subject, yet in practice it has yet to get serious. In order to train to the best of his/her potential, every aspiring sportsperson needs an inspirational atmosphere, which can be achieved with pragmatic coaching, adequate infrastructure, and a relevant curriculum to follow. In India, these amenities are not freely available, restricted only to those who can afford it.

Usha lists a few crucial challenges and what is the need of the hour. “In order to ensure a viable platform, we first need to create a livelihood and therefore full-time jobs for our coaches, not just let sport be something they do as a passion. We also need to create a pipeline of children every year at the grassroots level that can play a particular sport. How can we expect sportspersons and teams to compete at the international level, if only select students are going to be trained and if cricket is going to get all the limelight? Thirdly, all federations, committees, and sports-related organisations have to be completely transparent. Fourthly, our government also needs to finance enterprises that create a wealthy sporting heritage thus ensuring that not just the privileged few, but the talented many have constant access to facilities that facilitate the pursuing of a sports dream.”

When educating young minds, we must not forget to train their bodies. – Anonymous

Fancy gadgets see children looking at electronic screens more than taking on the challenges that the outdoor mud, grass, clay, and tar grounds and courts provide. With private companies entering the physical education playing field, students and schools from all strata of life stand a better chance at pursuing a career in sports or taking home with them some very vital life skills. It’s a win-win situation for all. If there’s a lesson for everyone, it is this - sports has to be year-round and curriculum based – with a structure, systems, and accountability, where all involved take responsibility and ownership.

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