Holistic approach needed for sports education: Rahul Verghese

rahul verghese

Naitik Carvalho’s situation is common and illustrates several issues that need to be looked at in our schools concerning sportsperson:

* The hardware and the software of facilities.
* The engagement of the broader ecosystem of concerned parties.
* The quality of education of trainers, coaches and students in the physiology and psychology of sports in general and of specific sport, in avoiding and managing injuries, and their short and long-term impact.

In sport, at a school like Purple Global, there are several stakeholders who need to be engaged: Parents, students, sports in-charge, the school administration, and the principal. As we start dealing with higher performing sportspersons and teams, we need to add a physiotherapist, a fitness trainer, a psychologist, a yoga instructor, as well as a sport specific practitioner as a coach.

Having parent teacher meetings on sports and specific sports with sessions with coaches, sports psychologists and trainers, among others, becomes important so that parents such as the Carvalhos get more aware of the facilities provided and required, and understand what role they need to play, and the long- and short-term issues involved, so that there are no surprises for anyone. Getting sport personalities to engage with the audience on the ups and downs in their careers, both physical and psychological, makes the education come to life, and the interaction can be very illuminating for all.

students sports

The software of sports: the team of psychiatrist, physio, game coach, yoga and physical trainer and their updated knowledge becomes more and more important. A structured outreach to students, parents, and the school administration should be put in place. This needs to happen at a base level for all students, and in a more focused manner for a school team and star player so that the role of and care from the ecosystem is appropriately understood, appreciated, and applied to get the best for the student in the long term. It must be stressed here that the long term does not apply only to star players and team members. All students should get to ‘love’ at least one sport as that is what makes them engage with, and immerse into sport and get the most out of it. Sport will then continue to play a role in the person’s adult life and even during their senior years, providing both a physical and a social connect with old and new social circles.

Proper hardware infrastructure for some sport with the focus on international quality standards becomes more important. This is why Purple Global needs to focus on specific sports it want to excel in, along with the broader basket of sport they want to ensure all students have initial exposure and access to. This should be much like the school subjects and languages, etc., that are selected. Then, the quality hardware and software need to be invested in.

Sport is not just about being fit and winning tournaments for the school and personal glory. Sport is a great way to subliminally build character and teach life skills, learn to play ones role in a team, take both winning and losing in one’s stride, keep cool, take risks, and more, at a very young age.

Therefore, all students should get access and exposure to some basic sport (both individual and team) such as soccer, cricket, table tennis, tennis, basketball, cycling and running and, if possible, some adventure sports such as rock climbing, or white water rafting. They should understand the basics of form, style, injuries that could occur and why; gear that they need to protect themselves or to perform better; and they need to be aware of the longer-term benefits, as well as the ethics in sport — so, no performance enhancing drugs, no painkillers or other drugs to mask issues that need addressing — the need for proper rehab and physio in the case of injuries, and counselling and treatment onsite apart from the coaching (which is what we tend to focus on the most).

School students, particularly in high school, are the most vulnerable as they don’t understand the meaning of long term, especially when they are playing with passion — they are getting their first brush of fame or the lack of it, the highs when they win, and the public lows when they lose, as a team or as an individual contributor. This is an age when competitiveness and peer pressure is very high and the mind and body are impressionable. Young teen sportspersons like Naitik also see themselves mending fast and overcoming injury quickly by masking it with a pain reliever, and therefore sometimes cannot fathom a more severe injury’s longer-term impact.

At an younger age, the attitude is what needs to be inculcated — winning and losing, fitness and injury, being a solitary star versus playing for a team and making the team win in the longer term, and so on. These life lessons are critical and there should be parent-teacher meetings for specific sports too.

The short term currently scores over the long term in a competitive environment, especially at the school level where professional inputs are currently lower, and more often than not, the young sportsperson is a guinea pig who suffers in the long term. Coaches like Elmer with the young sportsperson like Naitik both tend to think very short term especially in a crunch situation like an injury in a tournament.

When looking at style, form and technique, etc., films of star players and stories of how they have overcome losses and injuries or personal hardship both inspire and teach the audience. Making videos of student players and showing them gets them to see their technique versus a better or more correct technique to stay injury-free apart from being even more on top of their game.

Get sportspersons to speak with the students and both inspire them and educate them about the long term, as they would be listened to with rapt attention. Get parents in on these sessions too.

A critical element to be inculcated is that pain is natural and normal and should not be suppressed — it is the body’s alarm that something needs to be tended to or rested or done differently.

Masking it can actually worsen the issue or perpetuate it as perhaps what Elmer and Naitik have been doing in past injury situations.

As Dr Bhuller says, a coach should not have the power to overrule the doctor’s advice on a medical condition — any other condition is fine to overrule.

Pointers to schools:

* Schools need to start looking at sports as education, and not something to be dropped in the higher grades.
* Facilities provided should be top quality and not mediocre — trade offs should be on the type and number of sports offered and not on the quality of inputs provided for given sports to the student body.
* The breadth and depth of expertise required should be examined for a few sport disciplines that the school would like to excel in, apart from the basic sport exposure it seeks to provide the entire student body.
* The development of, and engagement of the wider ecosystem and the education of students and parents in particular about specific long- and short-term issues in competitive sport is important. Plus, sports must be seen as fun and not just competitive and for the select few stars in the school. This is critical to get the most out of sport and put the most into the student body through sport. Engaging as spectators, organisers, officials in games and tournaments, apart from as players, helps build a sporting ecosystem and culture within.
* The hardware and software, especially for the few chosen ‘tertiary level’ sport, should be of high quality. Parent-teacher meetings for these sports assumes greater importance.
* Training of sports specific coaches and others in the realm of international standards and continuously upgrading knowledge and skills assumes greater importance.
* Getting sports personalities (briefed to focus on the long term for a budding sportsperson, as also those at a non-competitive level) to engage with students and parents in particular, is a great way to motivate and educate the broader ecosystem.
* Sessions with a doctor of sports medicine becomes both informative and useful.

The long term should always over ride the short term as these are lives and emotions of young adults to be that we are dealing with, and our responsibility is ever greater.

Rahul Verghese is one of the biggest celebrity runners of India and founder of Running and Living

This article first appeared in Businessworld magazine.

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