Equal footing for sports, academics

Ajit Agarkar | Updated on October 06, 2021

Healthy blend Balancing sports with studies is crucial   -  Nissar Ahmad

A seamless blend of sports and academics will help children realise their true potential

For too long, sports has been sidelined in favour of academics r and measuring achievements thanks to our mindset as a nation.

For way too long, we have considered sport as an option for only those who could not make it to any other field, and perhaps also those who simply could not cope with mainstream education.

As a sportsman, I remember growing up in a family that ‘balanced’ both. The requirement to pursue sport was to be done with the same commitment and passion as classroom learning was partaken. Supportive parents and families have often been an important ingredient to nurturing talent and providing the right kind of exposure to children in their formative years.

Given my wife’s experience and mine in the field of education and sports, we are often troubled by how quickly the decision to ‘drop’ sports becomes a parental choice especially in the business-end of the schooling life. This is tragic, given that the talent perhaps would ensure a more lucrative career possibility which was never realised simply because the need was to stick to traditional time-tested pathways. This need to choose has always baffled me because I strongly believe that a seamless blend works best for the future of the children and that for the country.

Mindset change

Apart from the mindset that needs to advance quickly into recognising that careers of tomorrow are about specialised skills, be it in sports or theatre arts, dance, music, or art (an area where technology cannot replicate the skills and talent of humans as we see in other industries), the truth is that this needs to be a foundation at a very nascent stage.

Schools are unique platforms to enable students to be exposed to diverse academic subjects and skills including sports. The understanding that this integration allows for more holistic development needs to be structured well. It must be based on developmental milestones, age-appropriate goals and not to mention woven in to complement academic subjects.

The current structure dedicates a couple of periods a week for sports. This is linked to a mindset that shows lack of awareness of how effective an increase in time dedicated to fitness and sports can be. More time spent on the sports field can improve concentration, cognitive development, address mental health challenges, and all the skills that enable the child to be life-ready and not simply exam-ready.

The sheer depth of analysis associated with sports is in fact linked to math, science, geography, etc. These are particularly relevant when you consider angles, different geographic locations changing the nature of the conditions or even the cultural aspect and not to mention important life skills.

The current parental challenge of excessive screen time is also addressed with physical play. Especially when schools do re-open, a structural change in the time allocated to sports will do wonders for the challenges these children faced during the lockdown. Besides honing one’s social skills, sport is a neutral avenue to bring different age groups, and differently-abled students together.

But there must be enough indoor and outdoor facilities to expose children to a variety of sports. There must also be adequate planning to introduce age-appropriate developmental milestones, so that at the end of the schooling journey, a child is richer with knowledge of different sports. This will help children to decide whether they want to specialise in a sport or keep it as a recreation such as swimming, chess, etc.

A structured approach creates a pathway for all children — those who exhibit talent and those who are hesitant, as sports becomes a part of their daily routine just like learning English or Math. This daily dose does wonders for the overall health, and creates a desire to excel and partake in competitive games. This inclusion promotes critical thinking.

For me personally, it is important for ‘breaks’ and to build the concentration levels as well. Children can express themselves through sports and channelise their energy productively. This will in turn help teachers in classroom management. Such an approach must be administered by trained and inspired coaches and mentors, who will motivate, encourage and hone every child’s talent. The inclusion of theory apart from skill, case studies, watching movies or even old matches in different sports, and discussing strategies with students can form a comprehensive package.

The ratio between sports and academics must be equal especially in the Foundational and Preparatory Years particularly up to Grade 5. It is in these formative years that talent and specialisation are identified, whose nurturing will help India with podium finishes later in international competitions.

Children need to be playing more, and the local governments must think of investing and creating open spaces that are accessible to families. With this, we create a structure that attaches equal importance to sports.

It is a simple case of building capacities and capabilities and thankfully, with the host of professionally run organisations that can aid families and schools with their support in planning, the future is looking positive for this nation that loves sport but now will think of creating more opportunities for every child to play and learn.

The writer, former international cricketer, is commentator, golf player and founder of ACE

Published on October 06, 2021

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