So, what’s next for India?

We all have a vision for our future and many would even argue that our daily energy expenditure is channelled towards realizing that dream. Well…. for all who dare to dream and the few who persevere hard enough, the age old saying, ‘The world is your oyster’, may hold true.

We live in a world where it is easy to fall in love with ideas. A world filled with big dreams and creative innovations that are actually intoxicating. So much so that such a surplus of ideas and dreams could even be as dangerous as a drought, as the tendency to jump between ideas results in us spreading our energy horizontally rather than vertically.  After all, the inspiration to generate ideas comes easier than the inspiration to take action. But, the inspiration to act is what is needed to move humanity forward.

It is no big secret that productivity is critical to success, but productivity without prioritization, active steps and a roadmap to success is superfluous. This brings me to the essence of this article.

I have just returned from the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Taking nothing away from the stellar performances delivered by some of our athletes, it is still very questionable whether it was a successful Olympics for India. The problem is that after five years in this country – and 2 Olympic Games & 1 Commonwealth Games later – I find us still dealing with the very same issues and asking the same questions. This simply means that we have not bought into the concept that ‘sport can change the moral fibre of a nation’. The question is, why?

A case in point was the AITA selection drama prior to the Olympics, which played out messily in public for all the world to see. I have been at the confluence of the shambles that is Indian tennis administration for close to four years. While I refuse to take sides in this article, it is safe to say that that the media outcry by the parties involved showed them all in very poor light, served to highlight their incompetence, the lack of transparency and accountability in sports administration and management. Sadly, these are realities that persist year after year across federations and sports associations in this country.  It was only because of the sheer importance of the Olympics and the stature of the various athletes involved that it got its due coverage. Apart from the dirty linen that was washed in public, what is even more disappointing is that, as history has shown us, it is almost certain that absolutely nothing will be done to improve the situation so that India can be represented with dignity and pride in Rio 2016.

However, the aim of this piece isn’t to point fingers. It is simply to highlight certain points, raise certain concerns, ask the relevant questions and hopefully give structure to the thought process of how to improve sport in India.

Prior to my move to India, I had worked at the pinnacle of sport in South Africa. South Africa has always been a sporting nation but a nation that built its players on an ethos of pride, hunger, determination and a will to overcome adversity. We were never exceptionally talented, just extremely hard workers. In 2008, after our men’s relay swimming team failed to medal in Beijing despite an improvement on their gold medal time in Athens, even we as a nation had to question our approach, think about embracing technology and incorporate a structure that would give us the best opportunity of rising to the top again. The fact that the 2012 South Africa swimming team won two gold medals bears testament to their hard work and the importance of a structured athletic plan.

So, how do we move forward?

There is a word that is critically important to the process of growth and development. That word is “de-brief”. Sadly, it is something that rarely happens.  Medals, trophies, and championships are not things that happen by chance. They happen only when processes are in place that can nurture and support the growth and development of a nations player’s – from grass-root level through to high performance.

A de-brief is something that starts with the competitors on-site immediately post competition. Many may argue that emotions are high, but if your management team members are worth their salt, they will conduct this process with dignity and decorum.

This process is all about gathering information. It is a very simple process the aim of which is to ascertain the answers to three questions:

– Where are we now?
– Where do we want to be by Rio 2016?
– How do we plan to get there?

This de-brief process is vitally important. It allows the athletes to speak their minds and air their concerns, giving us an idea of where we are going wrong. For the athlete, the sense of knowing someone cares is very often the difference between winning and losing. And for the management, knowing what concerns to address only serves to ensure the country will have sustained growth and development in every avenue of sport.

During my trip to London, I visited the Global Coaches House, and was sad to learn that I was the only representative from the Indian contingent to have visited that facility. This setup is an initiative by the International Council for Coaching Excellence (ICCE) and the IOC that was aimed at creating a platform through which associations, federations, governments and coaches can interact and share expertise. They had workshops and seminars daily, with many keynote speakers who shared their knowledge and knowhow on how to best develop players, coaches and structures. Sadly, once again, as a nation we missed the opportunity to better educate ourselves.

As I mentioned earlier, I wish to take nothing away from our athletes – namely, Gagan Narang, Vijay Kumar, Saina Nehwal, Mary Kom, Yogeshwar Dutt, and Sushil Kumar – whose stellar performances brought honour to the country and gave us something to cheer about. They deserve all the praise in the world because, despite the lack of support and infra-structure, they rose above all adversity to put India on the sporting map.

What not many people might know is that some of these athletes, and many others who represented the country in London 2012, are products of the fruits of labour of foundations such as the Mittal Champions Trust, Olympic Gold Quest, GoSports Foundation and many more. While they are doing an excellent job, it is simply a quick fix – because they have neither the funds nor the infrastructure to address our nation’s sporting problems at grass root levels, or even more importantly – the fundamental human right that every child deserves the opportunity to play.

What do I mean when I say we need structure?

The sporting industry is a trillion dollar industry. Isn’t that not only the answer to economic development in developing countries, but also the answer to eradicating poverty and unifying a nation? I have always maintained that a ‘child in sports’ learns core values such as teamwork, leadership, creativity, pride, overcoming adversity, perseverance and many more. These are the values that will mould our children into ethically and morally sound individuals who can move our nation forward. I guess, somewhere along the line, we must have forgotten that our future is in their hands.

‘Structure’ –  I have been saying this word for a while now and it is time I elaborate. For far too long people have all been saying we need to address our lack of infra-structure to produce athletes who are credible enough to hold their own on an international podium. The truth is that our problems go way beyond that. I am going to give you some thoughts on what a structure entails – the so called ‘verticals’ that are needed to produce athletes, provide opportunity and identify talent.

Treat this as a check box, please!

1. Long Term Athlete Development Program: This is an athletic model that identifies appropriate training goals at each stage of an athlete’s physical development. It is broken up as follows:

·      Stage 1: FUN-damentals  – between 5-9 years. The focus here is on gross motor skill development and the ABC’s of sport – Agility, Balance, Co-ordination & Speed.

·      Stage 2: Learning to Train – between 9-12 years. The focus here is on teaching the fundamental sport skills + introducing the concepts of warm up, cool downs, proper hydration, appropriate clothing, etc.

·      Stage 3: Training to Train – between 12-16 years. The focus here is on physical conditioning and fundamental sports skills. It is at this stage that we introduce the child to weight training, sports vision training, and more sport specific conditioning. From now on, we also begin to incorporate routines into their practice schedules.

·      Stage 4: Training to Compete – between 16-18 years. The focus here is on optimizing performance and training. We start to incorporate technology and science into the skills training and begin to periodize their competition calendars.

·      Stage 5: Training to Win – 18+. The focus here is purely performance driven. At this stage, we try to take the athlete to the pinnacle of their sport using all available science and technology. We provide access to experienced coaches and trainers who can help them develop into complete professional athletes using a separate model that incorporates the mental,  physical, technical + game strategy, and personal development.

·      Stage 6: Retirement. This stage may seem superfluous, but think about this. We have just invested over 15 years in an athlete who now has a reservoir of knowledge and experience. Shouldn’t we incorporate them into our coaching and administration structures so that they can help bring up the next generation?

The above is a very simple outline of a structure for athlete development that should exist for every code of sport in the country. If we ignore stages 1-4, everything that happens at stage 5 is by dint of pure chance or luck.

2. High Performance Program: This program is a follow on from stage 5 – Training to Win. It is a platform that exists to provide our elite athletes with all the resources necessary to deliver podium performances. We should have a state of the art training facility that houses not only the best athletes, but the best coaches, trainers, doctors, physios, etc., also. It is here that a player’s technique is scrutinized and enhanced, or his/her injuries are appropriately dealt with, giving him/her the best chance to return to the top of the sport. Some of the aspects that are covered in this high performance program are as follows:

·       Physical Conditioning

·       Mental Training

·       Sports Vision

·       Sports Biomechanics

·       Game Strategy & Game Awareness

·       Injury Prevention

·       Video Analysis

·       Sports Education

·       Handling Media

·       Grooming & Etiquette

·       Mentoring Program

If we think about it, even our cricketers who get injured have no access to a state of the art facility or practitioners who can ensure they return to sport. It is no wonder our fast bowlers, barring a few, last only a tour or two before they have broken down. And even those who returned have come back having sacrificed pace. I can’t believe that such a cricket mad nation has allowed this to happen.

3. Coach Education Program: This program ensures the continuous development of our coaches. Most of our athletes have international coaches or, even worse, train abroad. This may be acceptable on an elite level, but if we do not have a structure in place that addresses the educational needs of our coaches, how can we nurture talent at grass root level? Honestly speaking, knowing this, can you blame parents for pushing their children towards academics? After all, we have no development structure, no coaches, no support system, no infra-structure and no education program to ensure that the people who are responsible to nurture talent are up to scratch.

The coach education program should be a prerogative of the government or sports ministry that is enforced by every sports association or federation in the country. It is about getting the ‘buy in’ of all the coaches who are looking after our children.

4. Train the Trainer Program: This program is designed to empower your organization and disseminate knowledge down the line. The ‘train the trainer’ program identifies people along a chain whose sole responsibility it is to ensure your protocols, policies, training manuals, guidelines, safety mechanisms, and continual education are passed on from elite to grass root level.

How it works is a follows:

– Policies, procedures, guidelines and manuals are put in place
– People are appointed at National Level who are trained in every sphere
– They train similar personnel who are appointed at regional level
– The regional trainers train similar individuals who train people at district level
– The district level trainers train grass root coaches through seminars and workshops

The importance of a ‘train the trainer’ program cannot be emphasized enough. With India being so vast and with so many cultural diversities, how else can we get knowledge to the people who can make a difference?

5. Disabled Sports Program: Since I am an activist for human rights and equality, I believe strongly in a program that ‘Enables the Disabled”. Every code of sport should have a structure that can nurture and develop the skills of those physically or mentally disabled in any way or form. It is extremely sad that most of our disabled athletes are severely discriminated against, so much so that many of them can’t even afford to find funding to train to represent their country at a Paralympic Games.

Starting a program that enables the disabled in every code of sport is not the work of a foundation or cause, it is the responsibility of every single one of us. It is an emergency. Otherwise, we have all contributed to the mass discrimination that currently exists.

Just to put things in perspective, the above five verticals are integral components to the development of a sport in a country. It is the only way we can ensure that we will produce a consistent flow of athletes who can represent India on a global stage.

To those who can’t see where we have gone wrong – the above verticals should exist in the structure of every sports association or federation in the country – every single one!! How many, including cricket, have such a structure in place?

Steve Waugh once told me, “the strength of a team lies in the strength of its reserve”. My question to you is: How strong is our reserve?

Actions speak louder than words:

In a creative world, the greatest leaders are generally ‘optimistic about the future, but pessimistic about the tasks.’ They are generally ‘excited about the potential of new ideas, but deeply concerned about managing those ideas as projects’. Because they know that every idea is associated with a project, and every project revolves around ideas you want to put into action.

Everything you want to do is a project!

And every project needs a plan – An Action Plan.

What is our Action Plan going forward?

Till now, this piece was focused on giving you a framework for developing sport in the country. But these are only ideas, and for ideas to be converted into projects, we need action.

No action steps means no action, which means no results.

The following are my thoughts on the way forward. So called “Action Steps” that will see us moving in the right direction.

1.  It may be late, but better late than never. The Sports Ministry must appoint a person to de-brief our athletes. Ask the following questions:

– What was your preparation like for London 2012?
– Where did you fall short and why?
– What can we do to ensure we don’t make the same mistakes in Rio 2016?
– What are your future plans?

2. The Sports Ministry must ask for a de-brief report from every federation/association that sent athletes to London 2012.

3. The Sports Ministry must appoint a person to assess the development framework for every code of sport that receives funding. What are their current coaching/development plans? Are they being administered accordingly?

4. The Sports Ministry must hold an Indaba (Workshop) which is compulsory for every federation/association in India. The aim of this workshop is to develop a coaching framework and long term athlete development plan. It is easier to get people to “buy in” to something if they are a part of creating it.

5. The Sports Ministry must appoint an “Action Committee” that will perform the needful analysis on the data collected. This data will help us ascertain the situation of sport in our country. It will also put measurable criteria in place, which will hold federations and associations more accountable.

6. The Sports Ministry must put together a ‘Committee of Experts’ who can best advise us on the way forward. They will be responsible for overseeing the entire process of developing a framework for every federation & association. I stress the importance of these people being ‘experts’, as they hold the key to our nation’s sporting future.

I think we are all in agreement that the state of sports in our country needs to change. For far too long we have sat back and watched as our country’s athletes suffer, as they are ‘hung out to dry’; these are the very people who have, year after year, made us proud to be Indian.

This is a fight for equality and change – and it is a fight you cannot afford to sit out of.

In 2012, the year for which the try the company most recent information is available, the national center for education statistics found that there were just under 66,000 u.