CHENNAI : The sound of whistles being blown, football being shuffled and kicked around by a group of blue jersey-clad 15-year-olds in the wee hours of Sunday are what we witness as we enter MK Sports in Nandanam. The boys, part of Great Goals Football Academy’s U-15 team recently won the Boca League Cup 2018, held in Bengaluru.
But, the boys aren’t cooling their legs off after the win. They are currently training for the Youth I-League. “The players travelled to Bengaluru every alternate Sunday, over 10 weeks, to participate in the matches. Since they are mostly class 10 students, we didn’t want them to miss out on classes...so, we used to take the night train to Bengaluru, play the match on Sunday morning, and reach Chennai by Monday morning. It was a lot of logistics and planning, but we were focused on giving the boys a very competitive match experience as they prepare for the Youth I-League,” says Priya Gopalen, co-founder, Great Goals.
In addition to Great Goals, the by-invitation-only Boca League Cup featured three teams from Bengaluru, one team from Hyderabad and one from Anantapur Sports Academy. “The two-week break that the team got in between every match was put to good use. Errors were corrected and their strengths were reinforced. Travelling like this for five Sundays has taught the players what it takes to play at this level, but more importantly it built a sense of trust and camaraderie,” she says.
Concurring, Sandhya Rajan, co-founder, explains that the tournament was a good avenue for team mates to bond. “They were travelling out of their comfort zones. For many players, it was their first time to another state. They all come from different socio-economic backgrounds and the tournament was a good leveller. They’ve all learned to respect each other and work together as a team,” she says.
Dhruv Ganapathy and Keshav Ganesh, two U-15 players, speak to CE amid their practice session, on the turf. Talking about what made the win special, Keshav says, “This was the first time we were travelling to a different state for a tournament. It was a good experience for all of us. But, bonding with the team during the course made the win all the more special. We were also excited about the train and bus journeys.”
Dhruv adds, “We even played with U-20 players, and it has given us ample experience and exposure for upcoming leagues. We are currently training for the I-League.”
Hemanth, the U-15 team’s coach beams with pride and says, “I took charge of them for three months and started building the team. Since they are very young, the first step was to make them understand the importance of the tournament. Then, it was to build a team, and to hone their skills. That was the structure of our training session. The I-League match is what all of us are looking forward to. The training will be more intensive,” he says.
Are more young players taking up the sport as a full-time career? He adds, “The interest has definitely increased. Parents are coming forward to enroll their children in the sport as it shapes their personality. But, to have it or to not have it as a career is something they decide over the years.”