We need a system which works for athletes, rather than going against them
As the Rio-2016 Olympics draws to a close, there are many people trying to analyse India’s performance at the Olympics. For the most part, our performance has been disappointing but not entirely unexpected. A chorus of voices has demanded business class tickets or better contingent or simply more
investment from the government. However, a lasting solution requires serious thought rather than just knee-jerk reactions or mindless spending. Intelligent investment of thought and money can ensure the building of framework and systems through which our country can produce champions from raw talent. The large population ensures that if we work hard we will surely find athletes who are capable of bringing glory to the country. What they need is a system which works for them, rather than going against them. There are broadly three aspects that are involved in getting the athlete to a globally competitive performance level:
Coaches and Coaching Infrastructure
If there is one aspect of training for sports I have to choose as the most important and indispensable, that would be coaching. It is the quality of coaches that dictates how good a country will do in a specific sport. If you have good coaches in any sport in the country, you will surely see good performance in that sport. If you see a poor country doing well in a specific sport, it means that they have coaches with sufficient knowledge. A ‘good’ coach is one who is abreast of the latest knowledge in sports science. You don’t necessarily become a great sporting nation by only importing foreign coaches, but by importing usable sports knowledge. Training longer and harder will not help any longer in most sports. It is coaches’ job to be a sportsman, a scientist and also a psychologist. He should know how to devise athlete specific,
periodisation based training plans. A knowledgeable coach can also correctly dictate what kind of infrastructure is required for effective training and that is where the government should look to invest. There is nothing more
unfortunate than mindless spending when even basic requirements are not being met. If you pick sports where our country is doing relatively well, you will surely observe that it is because we have good coaches in those sports. Till those coaches are at the helm, we will continue to see good results in those sports. Recently, the head coach of the Cycling Federation of India (CFI) went to train under Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and got certified under them. In a short period of time we have already started getting some
positive results in cycling. Indian men’s junior cycling team has achieved the number one ranking in the world. To further improve the quality of coaching in the country, the CFI invited the UCI to provide certification courses in India itself that are bound to bear fruitful results. Efforts like these are needed in most other sports in the country.
The Athlete and Sports Friendly Environment
Some people are under the misconception that our athletes are not motivated enough. It is not the lack of motivation, but it is lack of proper guidance and essential infrastructure that holds back our athletes. Apart from training
guidances that athletes need is the peace of mind to concentrate on his/her training. If he/she is in a situation where he/she can’t sleep enough or have sufficient and nutritious diet or is stressed out because of any reason the athlete will have a suboptimal response to training. Putting an athlete in a
situation where he/she has to worry about his/her bread and butter, we can never produce a champion.
Another point is that our education system is currently incompatible with sports. It forces an athlete to choose between his studies and sports. Most of the parents consider studies as a better investment of time because it actually is. Out of the several shortcomings, the primary one is that our education
system values volume of syllabus over quality of syllabus. In comparison to a normal student who devotes 8-10 hours to school and homework, an athlete has roughly half of that time for his studies. Giving a sports-person few grace marks is definitely not the solution. Similarly, using sports as an excuse for ignorning studies should be discouraged as well. Policy makers must acknowledge that a sports person has the potential to be a lifelong asset to the country on account of several skills that he/she imbibes over the course of his sporting life which can be very useful in the professional world. Among other things, a sports person understands the true meaning of team work, discipline, hard work and ethics. However, an
under-educated athlete will probably never be in a position to be an asset to the country or even support oneself. An optimised and streamlined education system will ensure that we can get more than just medals from our athletes by developing the culture of the
student-athlete. Education should not be incompatible with rest of life, including sports. There should be less but
practically important syllabus in schools and colleges. The policy makers try to solve this problem by offering sports quota in colleges but that is just a
temporary aid solution to a problem which needs some serious thought and remedy. The solution to our sports problem must lie in our education system.
Sports Federations, Administration and Team Management
Sports federations and administrators play a crucial role in success of any sport in the country. They are the link between the policy makers, the
coaches and athletes. In an ideal
scenario, they should be taking over all the administrative tasks from the coaches and athletes. They are the helpers of athletes and coaches in the sense that because of them the athletes and the coaches can concentrate on their game. It is imperative that the right people are placed in the sports federations and administration because they are responsible for forming the ecosystem of that specific sport.
The government must take steps to ensure transparency in the functioning of the sports bodies. There should be a specific protocol for the formation of sports federations. The government needs to draft some clear-cut rules
regarding the formation of sports
federations. Lack of clarity invites unsuited but well connected individuals to important places. Familiarity with the sport and excellent administrative power (quality) must be the prerequisite to being a sports administrator or part of a sport federation. (The writer is a certified cycling coach)