Grassroot sports development in India
In this article, Mr. Nixon Joseph, CEO at Children’s LoveCastles Trust (CLT India), and an alumnus of the 1st edition of the High Performance Leadership Program shares his views on the various steps that need to be taken to encourage sports at the grassroots level. Nixon elaborates on various initiatives that can be implemented to encourage the sporting talent in India.
After every Olympic Games or international sports event regarding the performance of Indian athletes, a lot of discussion takes place focussing on both positive and negative features. The negatives mostly zero around the fact that India does not have proper grassroots sports development. This is true as we as a country do not bring forth a robust pipeline of youngsters with the potential to take on the world stage.
Grassroot sports are very much important to any developing sporting nation. When there is a strong and effective grassroots sports ecosystem, it would create immense value and develop a continuous pipeline of high-performing sportspersons for the future.
For India to have a steady pipeline of high potential high performing sportsmen, we should give more emphasis to developing a strong system of identifying and training athletes at the grassroots. Schools mostly encourage students to focus on academics instead of sports, though this trend is changing slowly.
Grassroots sport and recreation can play a huge role in the lives of millions of people across India. From school sports and local clubs through to community schemes, grassroots sports and recreation can provide a diverse mix of job opportunities for people of all backgrounds and abilities. It can also provide opportunities for a career at the elite level.
Grassroots sport and recreation matter for many reasons. Most importantly it helps people to lead healthier lives, develop new skills for employment, and engage with their local communities. It delivers a wide range of benefits, from improved physical and mental wellbeing to broader social benefits in terms of reduced crime and better social integration.
The case for championing grassroots sport and recreation is compelling as physical inactivity is one of the major causes of disease and disability in any country. Grassroots sport and recreation can help to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour by acting as a diversion, supporting behaviour change, breaking down barriers and teaching new skills. A continuous and steady pool of sportsmen would also be another major offshoot.
In this context, it is essential to encourage an environment in which grassroots sport and recreation are seen as a key part of the solution to wider health and social problems. Sport and recreation provide proven, cost-effective and inclusive activities so it is crucial that the sector has the right support to help it to meet these challenges.
Hurdles in grassroots sports development:
Lack of awareness that sports are imperative for a healthy life, both physical and mental.
Concern that taking to sports may ruin studies and future career.
Lack of sports infrastructure in tier 2 or 3 cities and villages.
Dearth of mentors and coaches.
Absence of local level competitions.
Lack of awareness about the role of sports in delivering wider social benefits.
Sports are often considered as winning medals or competitions rather than focusing on the recreational aspects.
Insufficient funds from local governments for developing sports or sports infrastructure
Lack of collaboration among schools, local self-government, communities, local clubs, etc.
Participation in school and local events forms the beginning of a sports person's journey. It subsequently progresses to district and State levels and then represents India at the National and International levels. However, this journey is long and tough and hardly 2- 3% reach excellence at National and International levels. Therefore the awareness that sports are not only for medals or to bring out elite sportsmen but also to develop the physical fitness and health of the participants and also as a source of recreation should be instilled among all. Some incentivization for those who do well in sports but do not qualify to be in the top 2-3% should be in place to attract everyone to sports. The disciplinary and resilience aspects of sports should be popularised.
India can excel or have many Olympic medal hopefuls only if there is also a steady pipeline of players at every level. The need for a robust grassroots sports ecosystem is therefore very compelling.
KEY COMPONENTS OF THE GRASSROOTS SPORTS DEVELOPMENT PLAN
There has to be a National level strategy policy on grassroots sports development in consultation with States. A collaborative roadmap toward making India a sporting superpower needs to be chalked out.
A national campaign on creating awareness around sports participation and benefits has to be launched, similar to the Swachh Bharat Campaign. This should particularly target minors in the age group 8-15 years so that necessary social momentum can be built towards participation in sports and outdoor activities. The campaign has to be catchy, and impactful and has to sell a dream.
The campaign should focus on the aspirations of the youngsters, life skills and iconic status possible through sports. It should be so captivating as to encourage the youth to pursue sports as a career. The sales pitch should be centred on the opportunity to wear the tricolour and represent India at International levels. This sort of intense campaign should continue for a minimum period of 3 – 5 years.
Adequate reward and recognition for those who show exceptional performance to be ensured. Necessary opportunities and platforms to be created for them to perform or demonstrate their skills by organising various events at various levels, particularly at the local or district level. A blueprint on how those who show outstanding skills can have a sustainable career should be finalised and publicised. Those who progress from the beginner level to high performing level should be supported by high-standard coaching, state-of-the-art training, modern equipment, and scholarship.
Involvement of local community influencers, prominent personalities, corporates, participants’ families, the local sports community, and the local governance machinery is necessary for the success of grassroots sports development. Sports that are intrinsic and popular to each region are to be identified and encouraged.
Investment by Corporates: A large number of sporting events should be organised at the state level, district level, municipal level, village level, etc. which will bring local viewership. Corporates can play an important role at the grassroots level by investing in and promoting such events. With a new market opening up, corporates, sports equipment manufacturers, media owners, technology enablers and performance service providers will be more than willing to invest time and money in growing this market.
Use of technology: Bring the latest state-of-the-art equipment/technology to the local levels. Technology will help improve performance through the usage of data and analytics. Technology has taken sports to the next level, thus it is important to imbibe it right from the grassroots level.
Database of talented children/youths to be maintained. It is extremely important for the coaches and managers to keep data of every student and update the same at regular intervals. For example, player participation results from competition at different levels, athlete development programs, profile and progress reports, coaches and support staff, athlete injury records, etc have to be integrated into one common database across sports across age groups and across states.
Measure & Monitor Impact: If grassroots sports development is integral to the development of India as a sporting nation, then we must “measure what matters”. Therefore we have to set success and progress indicators and monitor them. Measuring outcomes and impact should be entrusted to an independent outside agency.
An adequate number of 'sports events' should be organised in tier 2 /3 cities and rural areas to attract, engage and sustain young people in sport and physical activity. They can provide the opportunities and links to Khelo India centres which ordinarily may seem too daunting and inaccessible to young people who are unfamiliar with their structures and setup. Such sports events will also provide opportunities for young people to showcase their skills and talents and also increase awareness about the various opportunities associated with sports.
Youngsters should have access to the most basic resources needed to practise sports.
Allotting of annual sports budget by the local self-government agencies such as the Panchayat, Municipalities etc.
Coaches play an important role to develop skills, especially among the children and the youth as it is the age where the foundation is built. Availability of qualified coaches equipped with new technology or sports software tools to be ensured.
Sports participation at the grassroots is all about fun and enjoyment. The environment, infrastructure and facilities should be age-appropriate and child friendly. The important aspects are the quality of the playing ground; lighting / floodlighting & Equipment - The playground needs not only to be safe but also to inspire the player to better standards of performance.
Encouraging Youngsters to Participate in Sports: Students are getting too prone to video games and prefer to stay at home rather than sweating it out on the ground. Sports Clubs, Schools, Community leaders etc. should encourage students to participate in sports.
Programs, events, league-type tournaments, incentives etc. to be chalked out to encourage youths to take interest in sports. When athletes of the same level train at a centre and the facilities are made exclusively available to them, they will train better and results will show.
Participation in one sports activity should be made compulsory for every school student and they should be given marks for participation. The syllabus or curriculum of schools/colleges should be modified accordingly.
It has to be ensured that sports become a viable career option for youngsters. Only when sports can offer a sustained means of livelihood to athletes, even after they stop playing competitive sports, will parents be motivated to allow their children to take up sports as a serious career option. And that is the only way to tap the best talent, who may otherwise decide to take up other career options. The awareness that sports also can be a lucrative career should be spread intensively. Apart from elite sportsmen, the opportunities to be coaches, administrators, umpires etc. need to be popularised.
A structured future plan for children showing talents in sports should be chalked out including scholarships, free training, coaching etc.
Early identification of talent. Talents in India are identified at the age of 11-14. Whereas in other countries talents are identified as early as when the kids are 5-6 years old. This difference in the identification of talent makes a huge difference at the international level, as it gives a competitive edge to such sportspersons.
CSR funds should be directed to developing sports at the grassroots level instead of only sponsoring events at the national or international level.
Setting up local infrastructure: The Sports Ministry’s initiative to set up Khelo India State Centre of Excellence (KISCE) in all states and UTs and 1000 Khelo India Centres (KIC) at the district level to enable local talent to be identified and trained in 14 identified Olympic sports and traditional sports is a significant step in developing grassroots sports. Both the KISCEs and KICs will strengthen the grassroot level sports ecosystem in India in a big way.
India has got talent, it just needs to be explored, identified, and nurtured.
Unless India makes a structured effort to broad-base sports and increase participation at the grassroots level, we will continue to lag behind, not just on social development and youth inclusion parameters but also deliver limited success at world sports events.
While the sports ministry has to lead the charge, other stakeholders i.e. corporates, entrepreneurs, national federations, state-level associations, equipment manufacturers, media and service providers, municipalities, panchayats, schools, colleges etc. have to come together to develop and promote the cause of sport. While initiatives such as ‘Khelo India’ are imperative, it’s only once the mindsets broaden that we will truly experience the emergence of India as a multi-sporting nation.