This is not the story of yet another Indian engineer leaving his career for his passion. This is not just another story that will inspire you to chase your dreams, the unconventional way.
This is the story of 24-year-old Tejas, a postgraduate student from Bengaluru, who refused to be just another person trapped in the hassles of life. Tejas, a student of Psychology, coaches poor children to play football, because to him, the sport “is not just about kicking a ball."
What is Sparky Football?
Registered in the year 2015 as a non-governmental organisation, Sparky Football is aimed at nurturing children by using football as a life skill module for social change.
Currently, the team of eight coaches train children at five centres in Bengaluru, including orphanages, slums and a shelter home for girls who are HIV positive.
"Sports can do wonders for a person. It shapes his or her personality by encouraging them and boosting their morale. Through sports, one can also improve their interpersonal relations and develop a perspective of one's world. Through our initiative, we are looking at football as a life skill tool, to bring in holistic development in children," Tejas tells The News Minute.
It was a football match between India and a German club in 2012 that finally made Tejas take the leap.
"It was the game where Bhaichung Bhutia was retiring and I helplessly saw the Indian team lose to a club, not even a national team. This made me realise that we weren't paying enough attention to our children. It is the grassroots that need to be stronger. The only way to do so was to reach out to the children in the grassroots and coach them," Tejas says.
Ask Tejas about his childhood, and the football enthusiast would tell you that he has played a lot of football.
"During my school days, I have played a lot of football," the definite emphasis being on "a lot." "I liked football, but I did not know what to do with it," he adds.
At 17, when he was required to take forward his education, he chose to study engineering like his parents wanted him to.
"I was never bad at studies and I got through a college in Bengaluru for my engineering. It wasn’t the idea of studying engineering that thrilled me, but the fact that the college had an amazing playground, where, as I found out later, I spent a lot of my time," Tejas shares.
However, Tejas wasn't happy with what he was doing and yearned to do things to better people's lives and he had the best means to do so: through football.
After realising that he wanted to coach children, Tejas began to observe children playing the sport.
"I knew I had to coach these children, but I did not have a direction at all. I would spend a lot of time going to playgrounds where kids got together to play and observed them at length. They would often quarrel amongst themselves and I realised they had to be given better training," Tejas recalls.
He then approached several orphanages, who were accommodative of his ideas and let him coach the children for free.
Not a bed of roses
They started by coaching just 18 childre, but today, Sparky Football has come a long way. But this was not before Tejas had to go through the mandatory struggle period. First, it was the need to identity a direction in which he would work. Then, it was a matter of getting visibility.
"In the initial days, I approached many academies expressing willingness to join as a coach, but did not get much response. Later I uploaded a video of my freestyle football that got me recognised. However, being associated with academies as a coach was not a satisfying experience, and I soon moved out. I began to think of how exclusive I could be, as a coach. By then, I had also quit engineering," Tejas says.
Tejas went on to pursue psychology, which he says has helped him in more ways than one.
"Learning psychology has helped me immensely while interacting with children and in developing curriculum to coach them. For instance, positive reinforcement. At our matches, the coaches do not select captains for the team, but the team members themselves do it based on certain criteria. These criteria are most often determined by their relationship and behaviour with one another," Tejas says.
Coaching the coaches was another challenge that lay before Tejas.
"This is also my personal journey of exploring football and its possibilities myself. It was also important that I convey the same message to my fellow coaches," he says.
The aim with which the 24-year-old began Sparky Football continues to be the driving force: to build India's No.1 under 19 football team of underprivileged kids.
(All photographs from Sparky Football Facebook page)