The FIFA U-17 World Cup in India is making the whole nation think ahead about the future of Indian football and sports in general, resulting in widespread use of the term “grassroots sports development”. Of course, this makes complete sense – a nation waking up to its potential in sports should definitely look to build a robust grassroots development structure to reap the benefits in the future. But do we really understand what it takes to build an effective grassroots development structure? More importantly, do we really know what an effective grassroots development structure is?
Grassroots Concept in India
A lot is said after every Olympic Game or international sports events regarding the performance of Indian athletes – both positive and negative. The negatives mostly dwell on the fact that India does not have proper grassroots sports development, which is apparently why India does not produce enough youngsters with the potential to take on the world. But is it possible that the average Indian confuses grassroots development with youth development? Literally, grassroots refers to the most basic level of an activity or organization; it has nothing to do with age. Even if we do put age into perspective, grassroots development does not aim at producing 12-year-old prodigies, instead, it aims at ensuring every 12 years old has access to the most basic resources needed to practice sports.
The correct understanding of what grassroots development encompasses is very important in terms of setting the right expectations. We are quick to blame the government for not doing enough for grassroots sports. But if that is what we really want, we need to stop judging our sporting progress on the basis of medals and honors. We should instead be looking for behavioral change itself. Are there more children getting access to and practicing sports regularly? Is there an increase in the number of children competing at the youngest competition levels? Questions like these give us a better sense of how grassroots sports is progressing. Success at this level would then be the precursor for more academies with high-level training opportunities for children who shine at the grassroots level. For this process to bear fruit and improve performance at the most elite level, patience over the duration of a generation is required!
What needs to be changed to up the Grassroots game?
Patience is really a virtue when it comes to seeing through a stable grassroots development structure, especially for a country as vast and diverse as India. Because we are talking about establishing a culture in itself! If you want quick results, it makes more sense to spend a lot of money concentrated on the elite level across specific regions, rather than a lot of money at the grassroots level nationwide. And it is easy to be swayed by the short-term proposition claiming that success at the elite level will translate into more youngsters pursuing a sport. But it is similar to the chicken and egg conundrum – do we really know what needs to happen first – elite level success or grassroots development?
Sports in India is going through exciting times. Yes, we don’t have the answers to a lot of questions yet, but as a nation, we are asking questions and that is a significant step in itself. Whether we clearly understand grassroots development or not, it is important for policymakers and corporate supporters to know where the investment needs to be made. In the meantime, as a nation, the least we can do to help our government is to educate ourselves enough to set the right expectations and ask the right questions.
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