Ticket to a life with sports stars

Devika Kar

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” or to be politically correct, “…makes Jaya a dull girl.” I tend to agree with this adage when I see the growing obesity among urban children today.

However, I was a mother at the other end of the spectrum: a mother whose child played every conceivable sport but bordered on the malnourished, reed thin, frenetically dribbling a football or spending hours swimming laps, or when indoors, engaging in a battle of wits across the chessboard.

An avid football, hockey and cricket fan, Aakash would be glued at his father’s side, absorbed in Man. U and Chelsea battling it out in the Premier League while most children were mesmerized by the battles of Dragon Ball Z or Spider-Man.

Another factor that fuelled his obsession with sports, especially football, was the virtual field on the handheld device or the Game Boy. I believe it helped him learn a few smart moves that drove him to actually get out and try his luck on the real turf.

Parents try to fulfill their dreams through children, some obviously, as if it’s preordained by destiny itself, others, furtively, like me, by keeping up the act of being liberal and proclaiming ‘let him choose what he wants’ while feeding him a healthy dose of Animal Planet and Discovery from the time he was on a high chair!

Alas, although he was hooked to Steve Irwin and Bear Gryss shows, recognized most bird calls and poked around the strangest of insects, he was equally mad about football, and one fine morning declared, “I want to be like Drogba.” Drogba? Who? I couldn’t for the life of me think of any wildlife biologist or TV presenter with that name! Once I figured that he was a Chelsea club star player and a footballer from the Ivory Coast, I saw my dreams of him becoming a vet or naturalist, firmly kicked out of the window.

And so began the journey with football. Not being a tiger mom, I didn’t immediately rush to enroll him for any special coaching and he too was happy playing in the school team during the day and with friends in the evening. It was only when his school coach suggested that he go for football training that we began enquiring.

Three times a week, after school, we would carry the football gear, cancel the carpool home and take a taxi to the football stadium and I would sit around in the heat while my eight-year-old followed his passion. Unfortunately though that passion needs to be accompanied by a determination and discipline to succeed; something which, I confess, both the child and parent lacked. So, when after a year of training, he started losing interest as his focus was the game and not the drills and exercises which are mandatory to becoming a player of any reckoning, I was glad to go back to my writing training manuals while he took the car pool home instead of the frenetic rushing to coaching camp in the afternoon blaze.

As a young boy, Aakash was also obsessed with cars and motorsport, another bonding exercise with the father in front of the TV screen. There was a time when he wanted to design cars, a dream that was short-lived when he realized that the choice was between putting in more hours of math and physics and less time on the football field. The transition from wanting to be this creative car designer to becoming a sports journalist was smooth and almost natural, and it was while he was in middle school that the school principal gently admonished me for trying to steer him in a direction different from his own instinctive and chosen career path. She counselled us, the parents, along with our son, on how today’s world has diverse opportunities, and how even if one didn’t have the makings of a Saina or Sachin, one could aspire to be a Jose Mourinho or Harsha Bhogle as long as one was willing to last it out and see the bigger picture, being happy with oneself and one’s career choice.

It was indeed a special school which gave as much importance to academics as it did to the holistic development of the child, which meant granting them leave to participate in sports, drama, elocution and quiz programs. Thank you, Akshar (the school), for letting each child realize their potential.

Having received this pep talk in school, when choosing subjects for junior college or what is popularly known as plus 2 here, he fought against our parental choice of science which we argued would open more doors for him in the future, opting to study humanities with physical education as a subsidiary subject, as he believed that it was the aggregate in the ISC which mattered and being an average student in the science stream just wasn’t worth it. And it was a wise decision; if he had opted for science, he would have been struggling and juggling several tuition classes to keep his neck above water as it were, and would not have got the opportunity to participate in the inter-school sports, drama and photography competitions. This exposure to a spirit of camaraderie with his teammates, daily rehearsals and strategizing, visiting far flung places for photo-shoots by local train helped to build leadership skills, make Aakash a team player and opened his eyes to the socio-political milieu, a ‘coming of age’ which may not have happened in the fishbowl existence of school-tuition-home.

Needless to say, in college too, football remained his first love, though I dare say, a few girls did come a close second! He played for inter-college matches and represented the college at state level athletic meets and graduated with sociology, film studies and journalism.

While in the first semester, he interned with Kolkata’s foremost sports management company and was visiting schools to make presentations on a school level football league. For his undergraduate degree dissertation in sociology he chose to ask, “Is the predominance of cricket killing the sporting culture of the country?” While in the final graduation year, he began writing for a sports blog, maybe not as often as I would have liked or is necessary to make one’s mark, but enough to make his parents realize that though he may not be the sought after doctor, engineer or lawyer, he had found his calling.

Our son however was not as convinced as we were and chose to take a year off from academics and intern in various other fields which he thought might be useful for fully understanding and charting his future.

After a few months of internship with an advertising agency, he chose to work with an online tea boutique where he learned the relevance of social media marketing and client services. It was however in the six months spent with Just for Kicks, an NGO which teaches life skills to school students through football that the resolve to pursue a career in sports management was cemented, as he realized the untapped potential that the young children of our country possess. He began applying to the few Indian universities that offer the subject as a Masters programme and is currently based at Bangalore, pursuing an MBA degree in sports management which should be his ticket to a life developing sports stars and events, and being part of the arrival of India as a sporting nation.

The author is an environment educator and a founder member of Bichitra Pathshala. She may be reached at [email protected].

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