Somdev fans were downright disappointed with his crash out of the men’s singles this week. However win or lose, no one can deny that this athlete has a whole lot of ‘heart’. And it turns out, that it’s more than what his racquet alone can quantify.
The tennis player who is back on his feet after a shoulder injury has been spending his spare time mentoring underprivileged kids at a few schools in Chennai. “It’s part of a project called ‘Life is a Ball’ that I’m involved with,” Somdev says. Only, the initiative sports a different ball game than tennis — football.
The project started by friend Vikram Menon over a year ago, currently runs activities with three schools – the Bethel Boys Home (Anna Nagar), Medavakkam Government School and Eureka School (Kanchipuram). The idea is to locate play grounds that belong to low income government schools or orphanages and give the kids a taste of sport they haven’t had before. Says Vikram, founder of Phenomenon Sport, a company that helps promote sport in India, “We plan two sessions a week with each school and this is handled by a professional coach.”
To make the game more accessible to the kids, the children are provided with sports equipment such as shoes and clothes free of cost. “But it’s not about training them to be professional athletes,” he clarifies, “Really, the focus is on having the kids get more out of life through sports”. And just for kicks, one Sunday a month is dedicated to a friendly battle where the little ones (aged four to 11 years) get into competitive to kick home some prizes.
Though Somdev’s presence in the initiative depends on his travel dates to Chennai, the ace tennis player is constantly in the loop of activities planned for the project. And despite a difficult loss against ATP ranked number six, Tomas Berdych on Thursday, the player did not miss his meeting about future plans for this ‘upliftment project through sports’ on Friday morning. “I come in and help when I can,” he says, “It’s really for the kids”. Chatting with Somdev who carries a trace of an American accent, one has to wonder – how exactly does he communicate with the kids? “I can manage a bit of broken Tamil,” he smiles.