29 Jan Quad 2015. Treading a Path Less Taken: My Journey Towards Developing Sport and Youth in India.
By Soheil Tandon ’06
My lifelong passion and love for sport was first given a chance to express itself during my formative years at Woodstock, where I participated recreationally and competitively in most sports on offer. It gave me a sense of satisfaction and joy that not much else could. Later, I decided to turn my passion into my profession, and dedicate my professional life to the development of sport among youth at the grassroots in India. This same passion for sport is what motivates me today to help young people gain meaningful experiences from participating and competing in various sporting activities.
After graduating from Woodstock, I continued my association with sport, playing and coaching in a variety of international settings. My undergraduate degree was followed by a Masters in Sport Management from the world renowned Loughborough University in the UK. My newfound knowledge and experience at Loughborough, along with my firm belief that sport in India must be developed from the bottom upwards by targeting youth at the grassroots, is what inspired me to setup my own organization, Pro Sport Development (PSD).
Pro Sport Development uses sport as a means for the holistic development of youth, primarily working with underprivileged and marginalised sections in rural India. Since 2011, PSD has been working towards providing youth with sustainable opportunities to participate and compete in sport, enabling them to become confident and competent individuals.
PSD aims to promote a sporting culture among the youth, which is inclusive, sustainable and engaging. This is accomplished by implementing Physical Education (PE) and other sports programmes in schools and communities, training sports coaches and PE teachers, managing grassroots sports programmes, as well as facilitating sports infrastructure development.
Over the past four years, PSD has been working on several grassroots projects, in a variety of settings. Between 2012 and 2015, we implemented a sport development project called Khel Vikas, which targeted underprivileged tribal youth in schools and communities across rural Odisha. As part of the project, we implemented PE, after-school and community sports programmes in eight schools, covering 1,500 children, about half of whom were girls. Furthermore, PSD conceptualized and setup a residential Centre of Sporting Excellence to take forward the personal, professional and sporting development of talented tribal athletes. As part of our sustainability efforts, PSD trained 80 coaches and PE teachers in local rural communities and successfully implemented various fundraising campaigns.
The past year has seen PSD focus on providing structured and well-researched PE programmes. Currently these programmes are being implemented in schools and other institutions in Hyderabad, Odisha and Delhi, covering over 2,000 children and 30 PE teachers. PSD assists these institutions by developing age-appropriate PE curricula, training existing teachers to effectively implement the programme and periodically evaluating its progress. PSD has also partnered with world-renowned social enterprise Rural Development Trust (RDT) in Anantapur, in rural Andhra Pradesh. Within this partnership, PSD has been supporting RDT’s sport development project, which has been running for the past 15 years supporting underprivileged youth of the region. PSD’s role is to manage strategy development and programme documentation, and provide a web and digital media presence in order to raise the visibility of their programmes among external stakeholders. Moreover, PSD is undertaking a needs assessment for RDT’s sports coaches and PE teachers, working within various sport development programmes. More recently, PSD has begun working with 200 youths from slums in Bhubaneshwar, to implement a community sports programme which supports their social, emotional and physical development.
When I started PSD, our main aim was to develop the sporting abilities of youth. Having trained and sent 20 tribal boys and girls to participate in national weightlifting competitions, and won 14 medals as a result, we have already made substantial progress towards this goal. However, this process has taught me that our achievements lie far beyond our success in competitions. Through my experiences of living and working in remote and rural regions, and interacting with impoverished youth, I have come to realize the true power of sport.
The programmes we undertake not only develop the physical and sporting ability of youth, but also support their social and emotional development. The most satisfying aspects of implementing these programmes have been to nurture the self-confidence and self-belief of the youth we work with, allowing them to become leaders in their schools and communities. Moreover, their participation in our sports programmes has encouraged them to dream, enabling them to pursue higher education, apply for scholarships and join the workforce, challenging their traditionally restrictive societal norms.
Our ambition at PSD is to make our programmes available at the farthest reaches in India. In particular, we would like to reach out to tribal populations and urban poor. We especially want to impact the lives of female youth, who have a penchant for learning and enormous hidden ability. We believe that no one should be deprived of a sporting chance due to a lack of resources.