The lack of a structured method to develop talent at the grassroots level is one of the greatest missing links on the roadmap for development of sport in the country.Champions have to be built. Talent found, skill sandpapered, techniques tuned, minds strengthened. It requires a detailed and relentless pursuit of greatness. Presently, majority of support is directed towards the elite athletes. To me, that too is not enough and unfortunately it does not infiltrate to the grassroots. Countries who are successful and serious about their preparations are already planning, training and nurturing talent for the 2024 Olympics, which doesn’t even have a venue yet.
Talent spotting is extremely scientific these days. It’s no longer about a coach seeing an extra edge in a child. Sports scientists conduct a series of tests, study the anatomy of not just the child but also the parents, do physiological tests and advice what sport the child is best suited to, the sport in which he has the maximum amount of natural talent.
Creating the correct foundation right from the beginning is critical to success. Athletes have to be exposed to top-class coaching at a very young age so that they can learn the right technique and basics. A lot of our athletes from various disciplines are highly talented but have very poor foundation. An athlete’s weakest link is always exposed under pressure and if the basics are weak, it’s very hard to win at the highest level.
The quality of coaching available thus becomes crucial. We need to train our coaches, give them exposure and proper education. We need world-class coaches at the grassroots. This is absolutely imperative if we are to follow the developed countries that have a production line that spits out one good athlete after another. It’s a preference for design over prayer.
Our national sports federations must have structured junior development programmes in place and it should be a prerequisite for them to receive government funds. They must work hand in hand with schools and build cost-effective small-sized infrastructure across the country. Children from districts must be habituated to performing in enclosed arenas in front of noisy crowds. Sport has to be made accessible and more respected. Kids should have a place and proper backing to play.
Once the talent is identified, our best trainers should be there to handhold them so that they graduate to the next level. The identified talent has to be persevered for a fair period of time. Chasing a medal isn’t a dreary task of shuffled papers, it’s an adventure and a commitment. The issue is not just money, it is enthusiasm.
Success at the highest level pivots on all-round development and balance of character. So apart from developing talent, proper education to equip them with life skills is a must. This is also crucial as it provides athletes with opportunities post their playing careers. This will encourage talented athletes to persevere with their careers for a fair share of time and not get disappointed by the failures they will encounter at some point. This will give them the security that they can fall back on something post their careers.
Developing sport at the grassroots requires huge funding. The corporates need to show the way and start supporting Olympic sport. I was surprised to see that Olympic sport is not included in the schedule of the Companies Act which specifies activities that may be included in the companies’ Corporate Social Responsibility. I do hope that Olympic sport is included specifically as it would open opportunities.
The writer is India’s only individual Olympic gold medallist