A goal in football is a successful culmination of a move. But sometimes, a goal signifies a start. About a decade ago, Priya Gopalen and Sandhya Rajan were looking for a football coaching scheme for their sons in Chennai. They were unhappy with what they found. So they empowered themselves and, in 2013, started their own programme, named Great Goals.
Great Goals offers lessons in football, basketball and multi-sport ABC (Agility, Balance, Coordination). As of now, it operates at seven centres in Chennai and works with three schools. It also organises tournaments and projects for village kids near Ranipet, Tamil Nadu. “Parents juggle multiple things in a day to bring their child for sports training. In return there has to be value in it for them,” says Sandhya. “We felt there was a lack of programmes that offered that value.”
How is Great Goals different? For one, it follows organisational best practices. The coaches have a plan for each session, they are trained in first aid and life support. A field report is filed after every class, which mentions injuries or incidents. “The child feels safe and everyone around the child is contributing towards an ecosystem which is fostering enjoyment of sport. We have many systems in place, such as experts coming to talk to our coaches about child safety,” says Priya. The fees range from Rs 1,500-Rs 5,000 per month, but needy students are granted full or partial relief. “If you want to play, we will make sure you play,” says Sandhya. Great Goals provides much-needed encouragement for girls’ sports. Says Priya, “We are not just teaching girls how to play these games, but also opening their minds, society’s minds. Once, one girl came 45 minutes early for her class. When we asked her, she said, ‘This is my happy place’.” Priya is an urban sustainability consultant and a partner and director in Onload Gears and CanFan Pvt. Ltd. Sandhya was a teacher and serves on the boards of India Cements Ltd. and Easy Access Financial Services Ltd.
Initially, some people expressed cynicism that Great Goals wouldn’t sustain. But now, it is on the cusp of its 10th anniversary, drawing motivation from seeing the difference sport is making to the lives of girls and boys. “Our sons are 19 and they stopped playing four years ago,” says Sandhya. “People assumed that when they grew out of it, the company would die a natural death. But we’ve seen how much we’ve impacted children’s lives. There have been downs and challenges. But giving kids ways to play keeps us going.”
(This appeared in the print edition as "A Goal For Children’s Sports")
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