Features Thursday, April 23, 2015 - 05:30
In the mornings as one walks into Maria Niketan School in Cooke Town, Bengaluru, the voices of excited children intermingled with loud music emanating from the school ground fills the air.   The voices are of students of the Jude Felix Hockey Academy, a volunteer-based organization, which conducts hockey training for under-privileged children. The initiative was started by Jude Felix, former captain of the Indian hockey team, with the help of Shanmugham P, former international and state hockey player and the academy has been coaching children from the St. Mary’s Orphanage in the city since 2009.   “There was a need for an academy like this as there were no private hockey training institutes in Bengaluru. Children could learn hockey only if their school provided the coaching,” Shanmugham tells The News Minute.     Photograph by Benita Chacko   The academy is run on donations and the children are trained free of cost. These donations come in the form of cash or equipments, needed for coaching, from friends and some parents.   When the academy had started functioning, the students used to play the game barefoot, but today they have the necessary equipments. Somebody even donated 100 hockey sticks for the children. “Even when they come through donations, we do not compromise on quality,” Shanmugham proudly says.     The academy has grown over the years from training 35 children in 2009 to 235 children at present. Of these, 175 children come from the orphanage.   Among the exemplary coaches who train the students are Jude Felix, Shanmugham P and former goal keeper of the Indian hockey team Bharat Chettri. Three of their coaches have even played for the Olympics. Dasan, one of their coaches, is a 78- year–old, but his age has not affected his passion for the game.   The students they train represent their school Maria Niketan in matches and one of them, Rajendra, also represents Karnataka. Last year, the JFHA seniors won the C Division League. Their students, Joshua and Aravind, procured a government job at Sports Authority of India.     Photograph by Benita Chacko   Their experience with hockey has brought positive changes in the life of the orphanage children. Shanmugham claims, “It has been a miracle healer,” Rahul, a ninth standard student and a resident of the orphanage says. “I have been coming here for training for the last four years and hockey has changed my life. They teach us many good things here.”   Dhanraj Pillay, former captain of Indian hockey team and Khel Ratna awardee, said about the academy in its souvenir, “My association with JFHA started from day 1 of the academy. I support Jude and his team on this cause and try to spend some time with the academy children whenever I am in Bangalore.”     Image source: Jude Felix Hockey Academy Charitable Trust/Facebook   Apart from hockey coaching, the academy also works towards inculcating life skills in these children. Shanmugham, who has been working with children in NGOs since 2002, says, “These kids lack the right guidance in their life and often end up taking wrong decisions. We try to give them that guidance here.”   It is important for a child to balance his extracurricular activities with education and keeping that in mind the academy tries to make sports a reason for the students to complete their education. As a rule they allow the children to play only as long as they continue schooling. John Bosco, who now plays for the Calcutta Senior League, was a school dropout. On the insistence of his coaches he went back to school and today he has completed his pre-university exam.   In tune with their mission of holistic learning, they have aimed to strike a balance between outside children and the orphanage children, so that both can learn from each other’s experiences. They believe that these lessons from the sports field will transfer into all spheres of the children’s lives. To ensure complete physical growth of the students, they are also provided nutrition on the grounds.     Image source: Jude Felix Hockey Academy Charitable Trust/Facebook   Speaking on how to improve the hockey scene in India Shanmugham stresses on the importance of focusing on kids as he believes that only if a child is trained for 10- 15 years can he become a world class player. Jude Felix adds, “Government could help by providing more pitches to train and by creating more jobs for hockey players.”

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