More than a passing interest in sports
WATCHING FROM the sidelines as the gymnasts trained, competed and pushed the limits of physical agility, the little boy made up his mind when he was barely five that this was what he wanted to do. Ravinder, former state and national gymnastics champion, followed that resolution through and made the sport his life. Now a coach with the Sports Authority of Andhra Pradesh, Ravinder has been in the field for nearly three decades, first as a competitor and then as a trainer. Sports or some form of play is an activity we all grow up with, something that occupies a place of some importance in the early part of our lives.
Most children at some point in their lives dream of playing on the national cricket team or representing the school, state, or country at one athletic or sports meet or another. Very few actually take the interest further, even if they have a natural ability. And then we see a Sania Mirza bring home a grand slam trophy, or a Virender Sehwag make the team proud, and wonder, "What does it take to get there?" Apart from the extremely focused few, a sport is something people and particularly parents do not consider a serious career option. It is seen as a risky and at best short-term activity that cannot provide a sustained livelihood. Parents are happy enough to allow sports a parallel place in a child's life, but the moment it begins to interfere with "studies" it is stopped. While this attitude may be justified in large measure, it is also important for parents to realise that a child with a keen interest in a particular sport, combined with the determination to put in everything it takes to excel in that sport, perhaps should be encouraged to think seriously about a career in sports.
Ravinder obtained a diploma in coaching from Calcutta in 1998, and immediately upon completing the course; the Sports Authority of Andhra Pradesh offered him a job as a coach, with a posting in Kurnool. "Things have changed a lot since I first entered the field," says Ravindra. "The coaching facilities have improved and the support from government has increased, and we are able to mould athletes of international calibre now."
The opportunities for athletes to compete, too, have increased, as the visibility of sporting events and sports professionals is higher. But can sports help you earn a living? In reality, apart from the top earners like Sachin Tendulkar and Leander Paes, professional athletes do not make much money, and most of them are not in it for the material rewards, either. As Rama, whose 12-year-old gymnast daughter participated in the recent National Games in Hyderabad, says, "Often social and family pressures work to discourage you from thinking about a professional track in sports." But Rama and her husband have decided to "keep all their options open and expose their daughter to as many opportunities as possible." Or, as Celita Schutz, captain of the 1996 U.S. Women's Olympic judo team in Atlanta, said in a recent interview, "I've accepted I won't get rich playing judo, that I'll be buying my own shoes. I do what I do because I enjoy it and I'm good at it and I want to keep moving and see where it takes me."
In most cases, sports becomes a "parallel track", along with some mainstream job, usually in the government services or public sector, where there is a quota for sportspersons who have reached the state/ national level. Many private corporations, too accommodate successful sportspersons within their ranks. While a parallel track is a safe and sensible choice, it does mean that a substantial part of your life is spent on work unrelated to your main passion. Another option is to make a career in an area related to sports, which can be sustained even if (or when) you are not a competing athlete. Like Ravindra, many decide to go into coaching. This means acquiring the necessary qualifications. Instead of a traditional degree course, you could pursue a BSc in Physical Education followed by a diploma/certificate in coaching, which is offered at various institutes around the country. Apart from the State and Central Government sports federations and authorities, coaches are also employed by various leisure establishments, educational institutions, and even the corporates. Some coaches branch out into the fitness and leisure industry.
A host of other areas are opening up for those interested in sports, particularly for people who are not athletes themselves but have more than a passing interest in sports. Sports management, sports medicine, sports psychology, physical therapy for athletes, sports writing and photography, sports therapy for differently-abled persons, and sports equipment and apparel design, are all possibilities. The key is, you have to think creatively, and find out how to make your interest (or your passion) become a part of your work life, and how this can be sustained.
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