Making a difference: The Football way - Interview with Indian freestyle footballer Tejas RK
People can be broadly divided in two categories - those who have all the time in the world, and those who wish that a day had more than 24 hours. Twenty-two year old Tejas RK certainly belongs to the latter group. A professional football coach, a freestyle footballer, a part-time referee, a student of psychology, and the director and founder of Sparky Football, an NGO, are just some of the ways Tejas can be described.
Unarguably one of the best freestyle footballers in Bangalore, Tejas’ story is inspiring to say the least. However, he faced more than his fair share of hurdles on his journey towards success. “My mother wanted me to become an engineer, and I had taken up a seat in an engineering college. I didn’t really enjoy it at all, and I spent almost all my time in the football ground, just improving upon my skills.” he noted.
When he failed his second year at college, he decided to drop out. He realized engineering wasn’t his calling, and wanted to make a mark in the world of football. Tejas had just witnessed the Indian football team losing to a German club side. “It was embarrassing. A country shouldn’t lose to a club. That’s when I thought that I should try to do something to improve football at the grassroot levels.”
He went on to write letters to various clubs and football academies, offering to coach children. “Most of them didn’t even bother responding to my mails. I then created a video of myself doing a few tricks with the ball, uploaded it on YouTube, and then spread it around in the football community. That really aroused the interest of the academies.” he pointed out. However, it didn’t take long to be disillusioned by the money-making policies of the academies, which led him to quit.
Meanwhile, he began to conduct workshops for children based on a football curriculum he had designed on his own. “The curriculum included everything from how to tie your shoelaces to how to score a goal. Football isn’t just about kicking the ball, it’s much more than that. It’s an art and science in itself.”
To make ends meet, Tejas performed in events for corporate organizations. He participated in competitions in the hope of winning some prize money, and took up a job at a call center, where he worked night shifts. During the day, he conducted his workshops, coached underprivileged children, and focussed on honing his own skills.
But as days went by, he saw that he could be more effective if he directly went to orphanages to interact with children. “As I visited the orphanages, their struggles hit me harder and harder. They didn’t have shoes. They didn’t have a place to play. I had to do something.”
“I sent a number of mails asking for sponsorships and donations, but no one came forward and helped. I was running out of ideas.”, he lamented. However, a group on Facebook, ‘Second To None’, was what gave him a lease of life. He posted a request asking for sixteen pairs of sports shoes. In a week, he had over forty pairs of shoes of all sizes sent to him. And now, he has rented a ground near Hennur Bande with his own earnings, where he coaches the children of the orphanage “Home of Faith”.
Gradually, Tejas has made a name for himself in the community. He was the youngest TEDx speaker of 2013, and has now founded an NGO, Sparky Football, which aims to build India’s best under-19 football team, comprising of underprivileged kids. Sparky Football was founded when he realized that he could have a more efficient and diverse structure if his vision was registered officially.
In order to understand the minds of children better, Tejas has now taken up a course in psychology. His remarkable time management skills enable him to juggle between his studies, coaching, and practice.
Often, it isn’t really that easy to follow your heart. It isn’t that easy to do what you love. To Tejas’ credit, he didn’t give up. Football in India is barely in the limelight, and opportunities are scarce. Which is precisely why the nation could do with more people like him.
Watch some of his freestyle footballing tricks here: