By David Morton
Programs in recreational activity, physical education and community coaching are already underway, and there has been plenty of success in competitive weightlifting at state, school national and PYKKA national level. So the question had to be askedL what would the talented and forward-thinking team at Pro Sport Development and the Khel Vikas Project get involved with next?
The answer? Athletics.
Pro Sport Development’s Head of Coaching Cormac Whelan explains that the decision to apply resources towards athletics was derived from what he and the team had experienced during their time working with the tribal and disadvantaged youth of Odisha.
“It all started with the 5k Barefoot Run that we held [in July, 2013], the aim of which was to obtain shoes for school children to play sport in. We were amazed by the general ability of the 300 or so children who took part, by how high the capability to finish the race was and some of the times registered without any type of formal training.”
This event was followed by a superbly attended Sports Day at the Gram Vikas Kankia School, with similarly impressive events in Koinpur and Thuamal Rampur as well as with the unexpected success at district level athletics events and subsequent state level representation by a number of athletes.
Another reason cited by the Pro Sport Development team for their decision to focus on athletics was the innate power demonstrated by the students as well as their predilection for focusing on individual events and success. Having seen the rapid ascent achieved by many of the Khel Vikas athletes in weightlifting, it was decided to investigate the avenues open to the team with athletics and whether there were viable opportunities for success.
With the raw talent, the athletics knowledge of School Sports Co-ordinator Rohan Kandoi and the wealth of coaching and strength and conditioning knowledge, it was decided that athletics was the option to be pursued and in short order, a specialist sport scientist was retained on a short term contract to devise and implement an athletics program.
Physiologist Gareth Sandford was brought in to lead the strategic direction of the athletics program and wasted no time in presenting an introduction to athletics to over 500 students and teaching staff. Designed to inspire and motivate the student body to participate in athletics, the message was whole-heartedly received as 106 students then attended base-line testing which was scheduled before the implementation of a six-week, specialist athletics training camp.
Sandford, who has consulted with British Athletics and was a core member of the UK Sport talent identification testing team, conducted a full spectrum of standardised field tests to assess the current capabilities of the students at the Kankia Academy. The importance of establishing a baseline from which athletes could progress is paramount when assessing the determinants of performance, and in order for the students to achieve the promise that Sandford has seen displayed over recent weeks, there will be a long hard road of training and practising ahead.
Events that have been targeted include sprints, middle distance running, shot putt and long jump, although there is already space and resources available for expansion should the requirement arise.
Aims for the future
The necessity of staying realistic in their expectations is not lost upon the athletics team at Pro Sport Development, and maintaining a high quality program is seen as key to their future success. As such, Sandford and Kandoi are working to ensure that all the knowledge and expertise brought from the UK by Sandford is suitably transferred via coach education so that the budding athletic stars that emerge in the foreseeable future have a chance to go as far in athletics as their ability and motivation allows.
School Sports Coordinator, Kandoi, acknowledges that the long term aim of the program, like any elite program, is to produce Olympians, even though he is currently delighted with the current achievements of the school’s athletes, describing the inspirational effect as “success breeds success”.
Whelan echoes Kandoi’s sentiment, voicing his long term aims for the program: “In the near future, we are focussed on developing the individuals and providing a structure that facilitates the pathway from grassroots participation to elite competition and enables a greater number of tribal youths to attend higher education. Further on, we hope to be producing athletes who are capable of representing India at international competitions.”
The ideas and expectations may seem grandiose but they are founded on the success that has been evident within the weightlifting program. They have been set in line with the dreams of many of the young people under the organisations tutelage. They are, in fact, achievable.
That Pro Sport Development is making athletics a priority activity and applying advanced knowledge to youth development can only be good for sport in Odisha, and hopefully as the athletes mature, for the sport of athletics in India as well.