On National Sports Day, Express talks to accomplished sportspersons to find out what they think ails the system and the way forward
Parupalli Kashyap, Telangana
2014 CWG badminton gold medallist
On sports at the school level
I used to often miss classes, but school was supportive. I'm not sure of the inter-school level, but a lot of youngsters are keen on joining the academy. During my days, schools were doing their bit by granting the kids permission to skip classes and providing basic facilities.
On importance of school sports
If schools don’t provide that early platform, students will never get to know their talent. Making a career out of sport is tough in India but it's not entirely about that. Sports can instil a lot of values in youngsters. It teaches us to be competitive, disciplined and keeps us in good health.
On attitude of students
We're not short on talent. We tend to be faithful to gurus/teachers. Sometimes it goes to a level when it starts lacking professionalism. We become totally dependent on the guru. My point is we can be highly disciplined and totally committed towards any sport if we choose to. Why do you think kids look forward to lunch breaks? A lot of them run away to play.
On lack of encouragement
Once we are out of school, one has to make a big decision. One can be really talented but given that there is no one to back you in school, we might opt for a safer route. So that support at the crucial stage of life is missing. There should be some kind of mechanism where the talented ones are identified and given some opportunity.
On ways to boost school talent
We need good infrastructure accessible to all. Maybe we could have sports schools, which give equal importance to sports and studies. Yes, the primary objective of schools is to impart education. But we can think of a way if we really want the change. Countries like US or China are dead serious about sports.
Rajani Etimarpu, Andhra
2nd goalkeeper, women’s hockey team to Rio
On a poor vilage girl’s dream becoming a reality
Who would have expected a girl hailing from a poor family in Enamalavaripalli, a remote village in the Thalakona forest area in Chittoor district, to play for the Indian hockey team at the Rio Olympics? Had my physical education teacher Venkata Raja sir not been around, I would not have even thought about it.
On being enrolled into hockey after trying out for volleyball
It was in my sixth standard at Zilla Parishad High School in Yerravaripalem, when I met Venkata sir for the first time. Due to my height, I was taken into the volleyball team. But Sir, who was a hockey player, felt that I could perform better in hockey and enrolled me into his team. That was how it all began.
On coach convincing her parents & his constant support
Though the team was in place, we had no hockey ground or hockey sticks and other equipment. Yet again, Sir stepped in and convinced our parents to allow us to play hockey and then convinced a farmer to spare one acre of her land for our game. When I was in ninth standard, Sir moved to Tirupati and convinced my parents to allow me to pursue higher studies as well as the sport had become a huge part of my life. Ever since, I never looked back, as he took care of my studies and accommodation. He also provided strong support when I started playing badly or even when I struggled to make it to the national team. Come hail or storm, he backed me fully.
On the present situation & planning for the future
Even though I have moved on to a much bigger arena now and am staying at the hostel of Sports Academy of Andhra Pradesh, Sir always responds to my phone calls. He has been more than a parent and guru, constantly pushing me to achieve in life. I owe him everything.
Anju Bobby George, Kerala
2003 World C’ships long jump bronze medallist
On excessive focus on academics
As a general rule, sports should not remain an extra-curricular activity. But talented children should not be forced to sit through a 10 am to 4 pm schooling system. They should be allowed to concentrate on training. They should adopt a Montessori or open schooling system. Society should change the general perception that children interested in sports are unintelligent.
On need for good coaches
In India, youngsters come under the care of a good coach only after turning 18 or 19. By then, they would have learned wrong techniques, which also leads to injuries. By the time the technical flaws are ironed out, they would be past their prime. A perfect technique is an advantage I had.
On involvement of former stars & coach education system
We are yet to fully utilise the services of sportspersons with Olympic and Worlds experience. All of them need not become coaches. They can mentor the new generation. We depend on foreign coaches a lot. But most medallists have trained under Indians. And coaches/PETs should be given regular refresher courses.
On training plan for children
Children between the ages of 10 and 12 should be given general workouts for speed, quickness and flexibility. After two years of training, their best event will become evident. At around 14 years of age, they should begin specialisation.
On Kerala model of school sports/PETs guiding children
Other states can learn from Kerala, which conducts school meets very seriously. Whatever be the hurdles in front of us, Kerala manages to conduct meets. But the downside is the tremendous competition between schools which make children participate in maximum events to further the institution’s name.
Sathish Sivalingam, Tamil Nadu
2014 CWG weightlifting gold medallist
On state of sports in TN schools
Government schools encourage sports a lot more than private ones, who only give importance to badminton, tennis and swimming. But that should change, and since they have money, they can invest and promote other sports.
On whether schools can improve their contribution
Of course. Firstly, let’s talk about the infrastructure. The only world-class stadium for athletics and Olympic sports is the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai. No other arena has a proper synthetic ground. Even weightlifting has no venue or hall, with only two-three places fit for practice. This has to change, and every district has to have an athletic and indoor ground ready for use. Many schools can contribute here since they have scope for large spaces, synthetic tracks, indoor and outdoor halls can be built in and around schools. Most youngsters leave sports because they aren’t comfortable with the facilities and guidance. Proper coaching and coaches are a must.
On importance of schools in development of athletes
Successful athletes have had a good experience when in school. Only if they are allowed to flourish will the parents know their kids are capable of so much more. If you see the Rio Olympics, it had 42 disciplines, but we sent athletes in only 15 sports.
On his experience at school
I got so much support when I was in school, as it was run by the government. Whenever I had an event, they let me go and helped me catch up with studies later. No school or college in the country has facilities to help a child learn weightlifting. But if we can spot talent from around higher secondary level (9th grade and upwards), and nurture them well, they will be successful later on. Schools and parents should let the child take up whatever sport he/she wishes. That’s battle half won.
Sandeep Somesh, Karnataka
1998 Asian Games hockey gold medallist
On influence of good facilities in schools
It’s important to have facilities in place at a school level, but most don’t have them. If I hadn’t gone to St Joseph’s Boys’ High School, I would have never got to play the game.
On dedicated coaches
There has to be a specialist coach for each discipline in every school. Some of the newer schools have specialised coaches. I know of some schools who have tied up with private players and former sportspersons. That is the way forward.
On the situation in his school
We had dedicated coaches for swimming, cricket, hockey. So, we not only had PETs but also specialist coaches. That made a difference.
On schools in Karnataka
We are producing players at the top level in almost every sport, be it cricket, hockey or swimming. That is possible only if you start from the grassroots — the school. In comparison to other states, we are better off.
On kids getting distracted
This problem has to be collectively addressed by the parents, school and coach. Right from sitting in front of the TV to using a tablet and playing games on a laptop, it is a huge issue. The parents cannot leave the responsibility to the school and the school cannot just leave it to parents.
On getting more children involved in sports
The school should themselves inculcate some sort of an after-school activity. Make it compulsory that a child has to be part of some sport. For that, you need to see how to work out the logistics, like for example how the child is going to get back home. I would go a step further and say that the last period of every day — 45 minutes to one hour — has to be focussed on sport.
Dutee Chand, Odisha
2013 Asian C’ships 200m bronze medallist
On the lack of proper grounds
Only when the Olympics is close, do we start discussing about athletes, who till then are conveniently pushed to the periphery. Most schools don’t have playgrounds. The school I studied in didn’t have a ground or track. An Olympic champion isn’t created overnight. In rural parts of the country things are far worse.
On lack of trainers
Even in places that have facilities, there is a dearth in quality trainers. Most trainers at the school-level don’t have NIS certification. That means students are forced to train under inadequate coaches. Most institutes have a step-motherly approach to sports and appoint inexperienced/unqualified people as instructors.
On the need for allied facilities
Availability of tracks alone won’t serve the purpose. Other facilities like gymnasiums and injury management systems need to be put in place. Unfortunately, sport has never got into the collective consciousness of school authorities. In school, the only physical activity we did was when we assembled for marchpast.
On the diet of an athlete
For a normal person chawal (rice), sabzi (vegetables) and roti is enough. But sportspersons require more energy — food with more calorific value. Some are getting a paltry amount as daily allowance for food. That should increase. A scientific approach for diet should also be made.
On the disparity between rural and urban areas
All the synthetic tracks and academies are operating in select cities. This approach needs instant change. At least one synthetic track and qualified trainer should be available in each panchayat. Most of the talent is from rural areas, but facilities are coming up only in cities. Unless we address this issue we can’t enhance the standard in the country.