Archis Patil spends hours in his room , balancing a football on his eyes, nose, cheeks and lips.
The 20-year-old mechanical engineering student isn’t just killing time. He’s training for his favourite sport: Freestyle football.
“It’s a performance sport, a one-man show — and it’s my fitness workout,” says Patil. “There are no rules. But
individuals show off their tricks.”
In rushed-for-time metros such as Mumbai and Delhi, where the workday leaves just enough time for a little leisure, youngsters are increasingly taking up newfangled sports that combine fun and fitness, with shortened formats that bend the rules — or do away with them altogether.
Freestyle football even has its own national-level competition, now in its second year in India. This year’s finals were held in Mumbai on February 27, with 85 participants.
Among the other new age games catching on are ultimate frisbee,
pickleball and 3-on-3 basketball.
The basketball variant has just six players per game instead of 10 and takes up only half the court. Each game lasts 30 minutes, as opposed to the conventional 90.
Pickleball is a combination of three sports — it is played on a badminton court and features lawn tennis shots using a table tennis-like wooden paddle and a perforated plastic ball.
Ultimate frisbee amalgamates elements of basketball, soccer and rugby where 14 players in two opposing teams score points by passing the frisbee to a teammate in the opponents’ end zone.
It has been steadily gaining converts since 2007 when a few expatriates first gathered in Delhi’s Lodhi Gardens to introduce the game to the city. Now every weekend, 10-15 regulars, comprising expats and locals, men and women, boys and middle-aged men, play it from 4 pm to sunset.
A non-contact game, Ultimate is one of the few sports where men and women play side by side. The New Delhi team goes by the funny-sounding moniker of ‘Stray Dogs in Sweaters’. Bharadwaj Jaishankar, a regular player, said: “The name was given by a bunch of expatriates in 2007, when they came across stray dogs wearing sweaters. The sight fascinated them and a team was born.”
“These informal sports are apt for people whose long working hours don’t permit them to be part of structured team sports like cricket or football,” says Heath Matthews (30), physiotherapist to tennis star Sania Mirza and Olympian shooter Abhinav Bindra. “In Mumbai and Delhi, with few open spaces, such sports can be modified to suit the facilities available.”
“Showing off is part of the fun of these games,” says Raoul Hirani (25), a fitness expert and basketball player. “3-on-3 basketball, for instance, is more of a solo sport for players to demonstrate their fancy dribbles.”
At a 3-on-3-basketball tournament in Mumbai last week, 52 city teams participated — four more than last year. Played mostly by 15- to 35-year-olds, Hirani says it works for “the older lot” because it’s much less strenuous than regular sports.
Equally suitable for sedentary city folk is pickleball, introduced to Mumbai by insurance agent Sunil Valavalkar in 2007. An avid tennis player, Valavalkar (46) picked up pickleball in Canada and is spreading the word in clubs and gymkhanas, “because it’s the perfect recreational sport for the non-athletic common man”.
“Sports are getting costly, aristocratic and technological,” he says. “Pickleball is more accessible. It’s an injury-free sport that keeps you fit while having fun.”
Back home, Patil has just one complaint about freestyle football.
“There are no chicks in this sport… or my life,” he sighs.
With inputs from Moonmoon Ghosh in New Delhi