The legendary Nelson Mandela addressing a group of young sportsmen, had once said that he did not know how many of them would go on to play the sport professionally, but what he did know was that amongst that group were future doctors, lawyers, accountants and other professionals who would use the life skills and attitudes learnt from playing sports, in their future lives. (More Sports News)
The symbolic National Sports Day has just passed and the nation has duly paid tribute to its famous sportspersons. If you were to ask a classroom of young students how many of them like sport and are interested to play it, most hands would go up. We all know that children learn best when they are asked to do something they enjoy and love doing.
Should we then, not leverage this love for sport to impart the life lessons to children and young adults that would shape their future lives? Should we not think of sports as a medium of instruction that students would love to be taught in?
Most people confuse sport with either just the playing of it, or look at it as a subject to be taught in classrooms, out of text books. The National Education Policy 2020 leans heavily towards the latter view, without recognising that sports is so much more than either of these two things. Used properly, it could become a way of life that defines a young person and shapes what he could become.
The NEP however, fails to grasp this simple truth or leverage sports potential contribution towards moulding young minds and building personalities. It refers instead, to sports and physical education primarily as a subject, to be taught as part of the curriculum, with its applied aspects restricted to boring physical education sessions, much as they are at present.
In doing so, it misses out completely on the larger canvas of sports as an experiential, life shaping tool that can be used in the holistic education of young students. This is a major flaw that needs to be strenuously highlighted and addressed urgently.
Hard time finding the relevance of sports education in schools? File photo
Life in the pressure cooker
The overwhelming importance currently placed on marks and percentages has led to increasing self-isolation amongst young students, who live in ‘little boxes’ of their own and are sucked into a mindless, test-oriented rat race to get ahead in life, making coaching centres the multi-billion dollar Industry that they are in our country.
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They seldom have the time or inclination to be a part of a sports team, or to come out and kick a ball or play a game - activities that could cushion or absorb some of the pressure on them and help to handle the shock of possible failure and disappointment.
Instead, they prefer to exist in the isolation of their pressure cooker cocoons, made worse by the expectations of parents, relatives and friends. No wonder, we hear heart-breaking stories of student suicides after every CBSE/competitive examination. Medical professionals say we could be sitting on the cusp of a mental health epidemic amongst our young students.
Lessons from a sports field
Playing sports inculcates camaraderie and team spirit, empathy and compassion. It also teaches stress management and the art of learning to lose, because unless you are Roger Federer, you will lose many more times than you win. Practised correctly, it can help build strong individuals with a positive mind-set, work ethic and basic honesty, that could in future, eliminate the indiscipline and non -adherence to rules that has been such a bane of our society in recent years.
Sport also teaches people to make on-the-spot decisions under pressure and work out success strategies in dynamically changing situations. Young people need to get used to this, because only winners perform their best under pressure. Sport does this brilliantly, in training sessions and competitions and thereby, prepares them for life itself.
In the planned and graded training processes of a sports team, one can easily discern the gradual erosion of selfishness and growth of teamwork and self-discipline. And over time, the emergence of the qualities of successful sportsmen -- intelligence, strength, stamina, courage, independence and adaptability. The very same qualities that ensure success in other walks of life!
It also automatically develops leadership skills and teaches man management strategies, as young players try to keep their teammates focussed and motivated, often in tough situations.
Most importantly, sport equips young people to handle failure. It teaches them to come back to the ground the next day, after a first ball duck the day before. Dealing with failure is an imperative life skill that builds self- belief and mental strength. Sport teaches this every day and to balance winning and losing, which becomes a habit for Life.
And these skill sets developed through meaningful sports participation, build personalities in ways that traditional classroom academics cannot.
The game changers
This innovative use of sports can therefore become a huge game changer in our national educational environment, if only it is viewed as such by the New Education Policy. Let us endeavour to impart the holistic and experiential learning that the NEP envisages, through the medium of sports in the early years.
Holistic development is not new to our country. Rabindranath Tagore had envisaged it 100 years ago when he built Vishwa Bharati. It is time we integrated his vision into the fabric of the Nation’s Education Policy.
And if experiential learning is being recognised as a key teaching tool to promote holistic education, can we overlook the fact that there can be nothing more experiential than sports?
Sports as a teaching tool
Let us simply ensure that everyone plays sport compulsorily, at least in the primary and middle school years, so that they may be exposed to the life skills that it teaches. Young children should ideally, start out by playing all sports, in order to imbibe the basic physical literacy skills associated with each of them.
Let us use trained sports coaches in these formative years, which can make children fall in love with sport and create a lifelong passion. Let us create viable pathways to facilitate progress from the play for fun stage at junior school, to the serious participation stage at high school and college. Let that game of cricket or football or tennis on the weekend, remain a cherished and much looked forward to thing for everyone, lifelong, enhancing the quality of monotonous, workaday lives.
Tough task! Infrastructure, resources are a problem. PTI photo
Wherever coaches, infrastructure or resources are a problem, let us create after school programmes in collaboration with local sports academies. Let every child learn to play a sport and let the sports period not degenerate into boring physical training, but provide a viable window for sports coaching instead.
Let sports not be seen as a subject to be taught as part of the curriculum, and memorised and written in an exam paper to get marks and percentages, but as something that enriches lives. Only then would meaningful benefits accrue from sports education.
The biggest challenge of making sports accessible to everyone, would be the lack of resources and infrastructure at most government schools, when compared to private schools. This needs to be addressed and standardised across the board, to make sports a truly effective vehicle for imparting life skills and personality development training.
The only way to do so at the present time would perhaps be a collaboration between schools and sports coaching academies with proper facilities and trained coaches, in our towns and cities. This could turn out to be a win- win proposition for everyone.
If sports cannot be made a part of the school day because of lack of infrastructure and resources, let children play at these sports academies as part of the school curriculum, after hours if need be. This could be partially funded through the Khelo India programme and would have the additional benefit of encouraging sports entrepreneurship and job creation in the sports education sector.
In villages where such academies are not available, resources can be made available through government agencies like the District Sports Officers and the Nehru Youth Kendras, which would further strengthen the reach of Khelo India. Mass participation at the junior levels will create significantly bigger talent pools for our state and national sides, which could translate into more medals for the nation. It would also, most certainly have hugely positive, inspirational impacts on rural lives.
Sports as a subject
Parallelly, the graded study of sports sciences and sports management as specialised professional subjects at the high school, college and university levels, will significantly enhance the professionalism of our national sporting ecosystem and will not only facilitate our quest for international success, but also enable us to tap into the 756 Billion USD global sports industry, creating meaningful employment and financial stability for many.
Most importantly, it would help change traditional mind-set towards sports and education in general, in a meaningful way and make it a viable, sought after vocation.
And as Mandela had said, it would also help us to produce better doctors and lawyers and scientists and businessmen who would use life lessons learnt from sports fields in their formative years, to live life with honour, courage and fairness. That would be true nation building for the future, for the India of our dreams, as we endeavour to take our rightful place in the new world order.
(The writer, a retired Wing Commander, served in the Indian Air Force and played Ranji Trophy for the Services team. Views are personal)