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Is just the sport enough for an athlete?

A conversation on the several key skills that would further enhance an athlete.

A panel discussion on The Challenges Faced by Young Indian Athletes; L-R: Saisudha Sugavanam, Dr. Shama Kittur, Sujith Somasundar, Aparna Athreya, and Girish Manimaran
 

Aparna Athreya is the Founder of Kid and Parent Foundation, an educational company that runs development-centric programmes for children, youth and parents. Her vision is to foster emotional literacy and development in children and young adults. She is a passionate advocate of holistic development using creative mediums such as Storytelling, Theatre, Music Art and Literature. 

She is a Founder Member of Bangalore Storytelling Society and a faculty member at various teacher training schools where she runs topics relevant to early development. She has also worked extensively in the Welfare Sector with organizations such as Prajayatna, Ananya Trust and Government run Aanganwadis where she has conducted developmental programmes in Hindi and Kannada.

She has contributed to developing the curriculum for GoSports Foundation's Education Programme for athletes. Through this Education Programme, she has held several sessions on self-awareness for budding sportspersons from some of India's premier sporting academies. GoSports Foundation is a not-for-profit venture working towards the development of some of India's most talented junior athletes, competing in Olympic and Paralympic disciplines. Joined by India’s only individual Olympic gold medalist Abhinav Bindra, former Indian cricket captain Rahul Dravid and All England Badminton Champion Pullela Gopichand on their Board of Advisors, their mission to Empower India's Future Olympians is premised on the belief that sporting champions are created when the right talent gets the right support at the right time.

To learn how you can contribute to the GoSports Foundation Athletes’ Education Programme, reach out to foundation@gosports.in

1. A sit-down training session for an athlete! Is there such a thing?

When I began to tell the story of Michael Jordan putting salt in his shoes and a prayer on his lips every night, 25 pairs of eyes stared at me with rapt attention. They had all their senses tuned into the story as it unfolded before them. To hear a piece of news about someone you have deeply admired is one thing, but to listen to a story about him is like being in the same place, at the same time and sharing a bit of the person's life.

Jordan’s story inspires even the most ordinary of people; so imagine if it were being narrated to a bunch of young athletes aspiring to be champions. This story set the tone for the rest of the session; a session covering key aspects of self-awareness. The session went on to have activities, discussions and reflections on thoughts that were bursting forth from the young and spontaneous minds of the participating athletes.

2. Why do you think life skill programme is even needed for athletes?

Life, in this competitive world, is difficult as it is for young children with such an overload of media, gadgets, peer pressure and tall expectations of parents. The effort and stress to meet such giant expectations is staggering. Now, multiply that effort ten-fold and the life of an athlete will start making sense.

Budding athletes have not just their sport and sporting demands to take care of, but have their regular schools, homework, projects and exams too. To top this, they travel for extended periods for their tournaments multiple times in a year. The tournaments themselves come with an array of pressures, challenges and emotional upheavals which need no spelling out.

All this makes the life of an athlete awe-inspiring and unenviable at the same time! A life like this could be very stressful and intense especially so because athletes begin this arduous journey when they are as young as 7 or 8 years old. 

Children living in this high-energy, super-charged and high-stress environment get little opportunity to have a balanced and well-rounded upbringing. This is why special consideration needs to be given to aspects like self-awareness, emotional management, commitment, citizenship and team work. These are the crucial skills that will hold children in good stead not just on the field but off it too. Having a broader view of themselves and upskilling their mental/emotional abilities will help them perform on the sport and also help them transition off the sport if the need ever arises.

3. They are so young. How can abstract concepts like self-awareness be taught?

Listening to a Japanese folktale of the Stonecutter; playing a game where each child draws the biggest fear they have faced or tells a partner about who their biggest sporting hero is and why, are some activities that engage and keep children hooked on to the session. Yet each of these carefully designed activities foster crucial skills indirectly. Based on the sport (individual/team sport and so on) the sessions with the young athletes are conceptualized and designed specific to the age, stage and the needs of the children. 

Ensuring that the activities planned in the session align with the natural interests of children help them actively listen and internalize.

4. You’ve been doing these sessions for the last six months, what’s been your favorite moment?

After a session on commitment, responsibility and purpose, hearing a teenage athlete come up to me and say "I have just discovered why I did not qualify and it is not because of lack of practice; it is my anxiety" tells me that the sessions are slowly but surely working their magic in helping each young athlete make him/her discover themselves and become more holistically aware individuals.

Being mindful and mentally conditioned takes every athlete over the last hurdle of this exhilarating journey!

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