Plugging the gaps for Indian Athletics
In this article, Lt. Col Daljit Singh from the Army Sports Institute, Pune, and an alumnus of the 2nd edition of the High Performance Leadership Program shares his insights about the state of Athletics in India. He speaks about his learnings and highlights the gaps in the system and ways to address them.
In India, the sport of athletics was introduced during the British Raj and after independence, a separate body the Athletic Federation of India was formed in 1946. Since then Indian athletes have tried their best and won numerous medals at international events. Milkha Singh and PT Usha are the legends who have won medals in the Asian Games and other major international competitions. Until the recent performance of Neeraj Chopra, winning a historic gold medal in Javelin for India at the Tokyo Olympics, we were still awaiting a good performance in the world championship as well as the Olympic Games.
If we see the present scenario, especially after the 2018 Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games, then it is clear that the Indian athletes are doing well. Subedar Neeraj Chopra’s Gold Medal and the contingent of 17 athletes at the Tokyo Olympics, especially in Long Jump, Throws and Sprint events have proved it. Subedar Neeraj Chopra’s Gold medal will definitely give a big boost to all the Athletics fraternities in the country. He is just 23 years old and this winning haul is purely a result of his dedication, hard work and focused training.
Now the days are not far when Indian athletes will win more laurels in the world as well as in the Olympic games. All the youth and juniors are fully charged up along with their coaches and supporting staff and I am sure they will prove their mettle in the days to come.
With the above context, I would like to share my views on the improvement of our performance in the future. I have been associated with Army Sports Institute, Pune since Feb 2020 and have been handling the athletics department and monitoring their practice closely. I am also fortunate to have attended the High Performance Leadership Program by ELMS in collaboration with the Abhinav Bindra foundation, and it enhanced my understanding of manifolds about high-performance in sports.
Army Sports Institute is imparting training to U-14, U-16, U-18, U-20 and Elite Athletes. These sportsmen are supported by the Army Coaches, Foreign Coaches, Sports Science faculty members i.e Nutritionist, Biomechanics, Physios, Physical Conditioners, Masseur, Strength and Conditioning Trainer, Sports Psychologist, Sports Analyst and Sports Medicine doctors.
These young athletes are doing well and gradually they are improving to the next age group. Army Sports Institute is the main feeder agency of athletes to the national camp. A total of 07 athletes out of 17 from the Indian Athletics contingent participated in the Tokyo Olympics.
After going through the High Performance Leadership Programme my work experience in ASI and understanding of Indian Athletics have changed considerably. I have come to know about the major gaps in our sports ecosystem and believe that if we address them in a professional manner then we will see a marked difference in performance. Some of these gaps are as follows: -
Burn out in early age:- Overtraining in Sub Junior, Junior and Youth age-group levels have spoiled the youth talent . The coaches, athletes and parents want instant results and due to this, the athletes get unwarranted injuries, even over training creating a bone deformity and improper muscle growth.
Coaches up-gradation programme:- Indian coaches' up-gradation programme needs more deliberation. This would create a fruitful system at the grassroots level and the nurturing of sub-Junior, Junior & raw talent will be remarkably effective.
Prediction of talent: - Indian coaches are unable to focus on the hidden talent and our athletes choose different/wrong events which are actually not meant for them. Therefore an understanding of the coaches, parents and other stakeholders regarding the correct prediction needs improvement.
Improper Sports Integrated plan:- In Indian Athletics, there is a lack of an integrated plan for athletes, for example, Financial support, Training support and Services Support to our Athletes needs to collaborate in one loop and should work in the same direction.
Injury Prevention & Precaution:- Our athletes are hiding their injuries and coaches do not understand the body language or deformity in the physiology of their athletes. In the end, the minor injury leads to the severe one and finally, the athletes have to compromise their sports careers.
Quarterly evaluation of the Athletes & Coaches:- The training that is imparted by the coaches to the athletes has to be evaluated along with their progression after every 03 months. In case some changes are required then they should be professionally incorporated into the training curriculum.
Nutrition support:- Nutrition plays a pivotal role in an athlete’s life, so a well-defined nutrition plan must be implemented for Sprinters, Jumpers, Throwers and Middle / Long distance runners separately.
Requirement of Sports Psychologist support:- Sports Psychologists can play a very important role and their services have to be accepted as an essential part of the sports ecosystem. Athletes and supporting staff must take the sports psychologists’ advice and work as a cohesive team
Parents / Relatives / Teachers Acceptance level :- Parents / Relatives / Teachers' acceptance level in Athletics needs major improvement. They are not aware of its importance and secondly, they are not boosting their Kids/ relatives / Students to go all out for their choice of sports/games. Imposing any games/events on the kids will spoil their talent completely.
After knowing the above gaps there are a few important steps that can be taken that can overshadow these gaps & help our athletes to do well in future. The details justification is as under:-
No pressure of competition and performance in the Sub Junior category:- Our Sub Junior, Junior and youth athletes should be absolutely free from the burden of competition, or coercion to participate or win medals. It should be a healthy competition where they can participate with a free mind and without any pressure of securing a position.
Regular coaches up-gradation programme:- Coaches must enhance their qualifications by doing regular short/long courses through SAI schemes, respective Federations or International sports bodies.
A cohesive ecosystem:- All stakeholders of the Sports ecosystems should work in tandem and have regular interactions amongst them with the sharing of all the valuable inputs.
Support of Sports Medicine:- All the SAI hostels, Sports Nurseries, Sports Colleges/ Universities and academies should have adequate sports medicine support.
Talent Identification at the grassroots level:- Right talent identification should be done at the grassroots level. Specific events dominating in districts/states should be contacted and scout the right talent. For example for Sprint & Jumps events in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka, throwers in Punjab, Haryana, Western UP and Middle / Longdistance hilly areas of Uttarakhand, Himachal and Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu, talent should be identified everywhere in a uniform manner.
Nutrition:- Adequate nutrition support should be provided to all the athletes at their respective training centres.
Training Evaluation:- Strict training evaluation of athletes, coaches, and support staff to be implemented religiously on the ground.
After understanding the gaps and how to overcome the same, I would also like to highlight the best practices for our Army athletes in Army sports Institute:
LTAD:- Army Sports Institute follows the long term Athlete development programme for each Elite Athlete. Their Competition Planning, Training curriculum, Foreign training exposure, Injury prevention / Rehab, etc are planned in detail by all the stakeholders.
Sports Psychology Support:- A dedicated Sports Psychology support is provided to all elite athletes. Their personal and professional well-being is addressed by the Sports Psychologist.
Rich Nutritious food:- Good, nutritious food and supplements are provided to all our athletes.
Weight Management System / Fat Monitoring:- Army Sports Institute has a Bod Pod machine that measures the fat value as well as the exact weight management system of the athletes.
Sports Science test:- All the athletes undergo an event-specific Sports Science test every 3 months. It helps to monitor their growth and rate of progress.
Sleep Management system:- Army Sports Institute coaches monitor their athletes’ sleep and maintain it in the diary. It helps to boost their recovery system and improve their work-load efficiency.
Bedtime pulse and morning time pulse system:- Army Sports Institute follows the pulse monitoring system that helps the coaches to maintain their training load-bearing capability as well as avoid the overloading of workout.
Future of Indian Athletes
After analysing the gaps, their remedies and ASI’s good practices for the athletes I am sure Indian Athletics will rise to the optimum level and they will win more medals in Athletics. Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028 Olympics will set a new medal haul for the Indian Athletics, especially in Throws, Middle distance and Jump events.
I feel very fortunate to have attended the High Performance Leadership Programme by ELMS in collaboration with the Abhinav Bindra foundation. This programme has improved my understanding of high performance in sports, and it has provided a lot of knowledge through which I can improve the sports environment at the Army Sports Institute. All the modules which were conducted through this programme have covered and explained the high performance system of sports. I have gained a holistic approach and realised that every stakeholder is important and their contribution will fetch very positive results in the days to come.
Last but not least I would like to mention here that Indian Athletics will show a remarkable change with the united effort and support of our sports ecosystem. I am confident that in the future Indian Athletes will bring more laurels in the coming Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, World Championship and Olympics.