Building future sporting talents and what it takes

Jun 01, 2023 04:59 PM IST

Football legend Bhaichung Bhutia in what it takes to spotting a talent and nurturing him/her.

- Bhaichung Bhutia

When I was young, I used to spend my evenings on fields or at parks or on the streets playing football with my friends. But by the turn of the decade, there was an unexpected shift in the minds of young children, as they started opting to remain indoors. To me that was a disheartening sign and it always bothered me. So when we launched the Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools (BBFS) in 2010, we had a clear goal in mind - to bring children out of their homes and back on the ground. Over the years, through trial and error, we understood the potential and need for structured sports coaching. As of today, we have set an ambitious goal to train and develop one million children in India.

Visuals of a football exhibition match in Shillong.(Dream Foundation)
Visuals of a football exhibition match in Shillong.(Dream Foundation)

It was one of the most important steps we took towards development of football talent in India. To ensure we have a sustained pipeline of football talent, we must first convince people that their children should take up sports early on. Academies are the starting point for many aspiring footballers in India. But it is essential for children of younger age groups to start playing before they enrol to the academies. This will help them in adapting to the playing formations and techniques required to compete at higher levels, and also develop a deep-rooted understanding of the sport within them.

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Take Europe for example. It has been the dominant region in football for a reason. To hone their skills, young children join sports academies as early as the age of four and there is a structured developmental pathway in place to ensure their continued participation and growth.

The tremendous response that we have received at BBFS in terms of participation from aspiring footballers, and hundreds of success stories that have come out from our academies over the years, is a clear signal that when provided with proper infrastructure and right level of coaching, our Indian athletes have the talent to perform at the top level.

There is a need to improve our coaching modules and ensure the children are trained the right techniques at the right age. The biggest hurdle in developing top-level coaches in India is the lack of coach education programs for aspiring coaches. The Indian football associations, academies and organisations should find a way to disseminate information to the coaches regarding various programs which can help them in adapting to the latest methods.

Additionally, improving upon the quality of the infrastructure in India is another major challenge in front of us. More than building beautiful galleries or tiled washrooms, there is an even bigger need of building proper stadiums, arenas, courts, etc. in the country right now. It is essential for the holistic development of athletes - so that they can learn at the right time on how to compete in world-class infrastructure.

Thirdly, looking at the success rate of our residential academies, I strongly believe that for a country like India with a population of over a billion, there is a need to build at least 40-50 residential centres to develop elite athletes. Residential academies bypass a lot of the infrastructural barriers the kids face in our country to realise their potential.

Apart from taking care of athletes' academic, training and nutritional needs, residential academies also provide a future plan for the continued development of the athletes, and provide them with multiple career options in sports after they finish their academics.

In order to attain these goals, our primary objective should be to build a healthy sporting ecosystem, involving private organisations and government initiatives, which can work on the sole focus of developing athletes for the future. We have already witnessed the impact of Khelo India Games and Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) and how they have been integral in nurturing talent at the younger age-groups over the past couple of years.

Similarly, our partnership with Dream Foundation, have helped us in reaching out to different parts of the country and unearth talent who might not have been able to find a platform to express themselves, otherwise. We recently screened over 9,800 children across 86 cities and 15 states, across under 13, 15 and 17 years categories, to find the most promising players. I am certain some of these children will play for professional clubs or even the national team someday.

As a member of the Mission Olympic Cell, and Sports Authority of India's Governing Body, I often get the opportunity to express my opinions in front of the policy makers. I have often stressed the importance of the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) in sports and I am glad the government has taken major steps in this direction over the past few years.

Now the collaborative efforts of private associations and government sponsorships have started to reap rewards across multiple disciplines. The performance of our Indian contingent at the recent Tokyo Olympics and the Commonwealth Games have been a testament to it. Similar intervention in football can perhaps fulfil our mission to form India's first team that can qualify for the FIFA World Cup in the future. There is no dearth of talent in India but it is all about creating an ecosystem that provides the right support at every step of the way.

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