BENGALURU: Kids as young as three fighting for every ball, and putting in hard tackles in India might have surprised you in the past. But not anymore as city kids are also getting a taste of competitive football from a very young age through ‘Baby League’. Launched last year, it is the South American and European model that the All India Football Federation (AIFF) has adopted to revamp and boost grassroots football development.
The player development initiative was perceived well in happening football pockets in India. However, with the existing academies in the football hotbeds of the country already flourishing, the plan was to reach different parts of the country. With AIFF opening doors to private organisations to conduct leagues (with approval from the apex body and the respective state associations), this initiative has gone down well with young football enthusiasts.
While the Baby League started in Mizoram and has since been organised in Chennai, Kochi, Meghalaya, Kashmir, the initiative reached Bengaluru in July. With more and more private football academies grooming kids, there was no challenge organising it. In fact, academies which barely play in competitive tournaments welcomed a federation-approved league. Named, ‘The Community League’ in Bengaluru, it was spread over 18 weeks, with around 30 teams from eight prominent football academies in the city taking part in U-8, U-10 and U-12 age categories. It made a real impact with Boca Juniors Football School (BJFS) winning the title in the inaugural edition.
“Our initial apprehension was whether parents and kids would be in attendance throughout the 18-20 weeks. But to everyone’s surprise, they were there every single match day,” says Sunanda Das, president of FCS. “Also, in a league format or in a match, you get to see kids apply what they learn in training. That helps both the coaches and kids.”
But why is it so important to play competitive football from such a young age? BJFS U-8 coach Xavier Vijay Kumar feels it creates a winning spirit among the kids, which makes them better footballers in future. “South American and European countries are successful in football because they take player development very seriously. Only learning how to play football doesn’t do any good for a budding footballer. They need to compete against each other. The more you compete, the better you become. And with that comes a winning mentality which helps you to do better every time. You have to instil that in the kids from a young age,” says Kumar.
With the initial success, FCS is planning to have a broader league with more academies and more teams taking part next year for a longer duration. “The plan is to have teams from different zones in the city to play in an initial league phase and then the winners take part in a final phase. Gradually, we will try to spread it to schools and also to different parts of Karnataka,” says Das, who is also the director of BJFS.