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Pitch Perfect - A Bengaluru based youth sports coaching initiative is thinking out of the box

In this second Sports & Business interview, we speak to Bengaluru based Pitch Sports? founder Chidanand Kumar. With a staff of 25 and growing, Pitch seeks to professionalize grassroots coaching in India.

Sport is considered India’s sunshine industry, and is one of the fastest growing sectors in the country. Behind every successful sportsperson that we see today, there is a large network of professionals working tirelessly behind the scenes. Who are these individuals and institutions? What prompts these key movers and shakers to lay a solid foundation for India’s rise as an ‘all-sports nation’? This column will seek to answers these questions by interacting with some of the leaders in the nascent Indian sports business sector.

In this second Sports & Business interview, we speak to Bengaluru based Pitch Sports founder Chidanand Kumar. With a staff of 25 and growing, Pitch seeks to professionalise grassroots coaching by incorporating the best practices from coaches and pedagogues from across the world. In doing so, they are also simultaneously tackling three major irritants:

  1. Reducing dropout rates to ensure more children become professional sportspersons.
  2. Unlocking existing sports infrastructure that otherwise remains unused most of the year; and
  3. Developing sports outside of cricket.
Mr Chidanand Kumar

Q. What prompted you to start your company? Why in the sports sector?

Second question first – Sports sector because I grew up playing, watching, managing and coaching different sports. I had tried my hand at motorsport, action sport and the conventional sports. The exposure meant that I understood and was able to read the sports market with some degree of accuracy.

Back in 2011, there were no companies doing the kind of work we wanted to do. There were no recreational sports programmes for children. All the existing programmes were competitive. Some coaches and organisations opened up the programmes to beginners, but the methods used were boring and involved a lot of negative reinforcement.  We felt that there was a need for a company that built the ecosystems in sports from the bottom, upwards. This means that children could start playing at the recreational level and progress to more intense methods of training from there. This needed to be a natural process.

Q. How is your company contributing to the sporting scene in India?

Pitch uses technical product inputs from the best coaches and pedagogues from across the world. We train our coaches to absorb the coaching philosophy and execute the sessions in an enjoyable way. We realise that former players who know the right technique, do not necessarily know the best way of teaching it to a child. We train them and ensure that the right technique is being taught in the right way, in the best atmosphere.

We contribute by:

  • Widening the base of the pyramid by getting more children to take up the sport.
  • Ensuring that the dropout rate is low so that children stick around for long enough to become completion level players .

Q. What sports do you personally follow? Any particular sportsperson you admire?

I follow football, basketball, motocross, cricket, X-Games and tennis. I believe that hard work trumps talent. It’s a lesson that holds true for sport and life in general. Rafa Nadal and Cristiano Ronaldo are two players who are at the pinnacle of their sports only because of their ability to out train their competition.

Q. Do you have any sporting background?

I have been in professional motorsport and am also a semi-professional footballer. I did motocross at the national level, riding races all over the country. I played football at the state level, winning the A division title in Bangalore in 2009. I also play recreational basketball, squash, and hockey. I don’t consider myself to have been a particularly good sportsperson. I was able to compete with superior players because I was able to train harder than them.

Q. How many employees in your company? In what all verticals do you operate within the sports sector?

We have a team of 25 at Pitch. We do only youth sports coaching.

Q. What market gaps does your company seek to fulfil?

Catch 'em young.

There is a need for quality grassroots programmes in India. We need to get children to start playing sport at a younger age. The ‘catch them young’ programme at SAI (Sports Authority of India) focuses on catching players at age 12. That is too late. We build after school programmes (“K-12”) which are focused on one sport.

We bring the highest standards of youth sports coaching to the country. In basketball, for example, we have partnered with the Assist Basketball Network. Their CEO Rob Friedrich has literally written the book on basketball coaching (he is the author of ABC basketball). Through this association, we are able to recreate the American basketball camp experience in India. The programme will include a full-time foreign coach, NBA player visits, foreign tours, tournaments and access to the ABN scouting network which places players worldwide.

We believe that there will be a trickle-down effect and we will train local coaches to use ABN philosophy and coaching methods. This will see the entire coaching mechanism in the country adopting better and more scientific methods of coaching.

Q. Prior to your sports company, have you worked elsewhere? If so, what are the main differences you feel in running a sports company in India as compared to any other industry, like say IT?

This is my first job.

Q. Are you satisfied with the way the Indian sports industry is progressing?

At the highest level, we are able to compete in just cricket, which is played only by eight countries. At the grassroots level, the conversation is always diverted towards lack of world class infrastructure. We keep spending money on building expensive sports infrastructure when we do not have the talent pool to utilise the infrastructure. We find that stadia around the country are rotting. The need of the hour is a plan to fill out the existing infrastructure and ensure that it can be accessed by aspiring players and coaches. We need a plan to unlock some of the infrastructure which is locked up by the armed forces.

Q. What are the various challenges you faced in setting up, and continue to do so?

We had and continue to have problems in accessing public infrastructure. Public spaces are not utilised for sport the way they can be – the usual red tape. We do not run our programmes at any public spaces. All facilities that we operate from are privately owned.

In Bengaluru, we found that there was a conflict in use of public parks. Elders used them for walking and the children for playing. In most cases, it is the society elders who have prevailed, and managed to convert children’s playgrounds into walking parks.

Utilising existing infrastructure

Q . What future plans for your company in terms of growth/new areas of operation?

We plan to be specialists in youth sports coaching. We believe that we have a lot of work to do in this niche. We plan to expand these programmes pan India and have children and coaches exposed to the grassroots programme done the right way.  

We shall expand our programmes to cities all over the country. We hope to have two foreign coaches in every major city in India. We will work with schools and other organisations to ensure our methods and technical product reach a large number of students.

Q. Any advice to others who wish to become entrepreneurs in the sports field?

I would advise anyone starting out to quickly figure out what they are good at and to specialise in just that. We see a lot of ‘jack of all trade’ firms failing, or doing an ordinary job. The smaller specialists are the ones who can be game changers. We need to see them scale up.

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