The penalty kick that you see in this video was hit by one of the girls belonging to the Art of Play program. It was the semi-finals of the School Games Federation of India cup; the goal was crucial for the team to win and the girl delivered under tremendous pressure. Her team eventually went on to win the cup and became the first girls’ teams in decades to win the SGFI cup recently for any Government School in Faridabad.
All smiles after the win 🙂
As an athlete and a professional working towards changing the dynamics of sports at the grass-root level, I very well knew that I can’t just move on saying – “What a goal!”. I have to dig deeper, try and understand what this goal really means in the bigger scheme of things.
As adults, we are always setting goals for ourselves. Sometimes we achieve them and other times we fail. We have the luxury of time to strategize and plan towards our goals. We set short term and long-term goals and can prioritize them. Our goals are generally selfish catering to OUR growth and development, and most importantly to OUR happiness.
The meaning of such a goal in a team sport like football is completely different. The girl in this video is securing (and accomplishing) a goal for her team, is different than the goals we adults set. A goal on a football field is something that has to be accomplished in a matter of seconds. The strategizing and planning for it happens in those couple of seconds. Even if you have practiced hitting penalty kicks a thousand times, results are not assured. At that moment, the girl has to depend on her skills, her luck, her precision, her stable mind and also bet against the goal-keeper.
When she eventually secures that goal, a plethora of wisdom gets unlocked. She learns that scoring (and accomplishing) the goal was not really an individual act, in fact, quite the opposite. The hard work, the strategy, the discipline and more importantly the faith shown in her by her team, presented her the with the opportunity to hit this penalty kick and help not just her, but her team win. Granted that hours of practice she put in helped but without her team, she realizes, she is nothing.
Amongst other things she also learns that just like she became her team’s hero, the goalkeeper of the other team didn’t. She accomplished her goal and that meant someone else didn’t. So, when she shakes hands with the goal-keeper, she empathizes with her. She realizes that she too must have worked equally hard, but today wasn’t her day. Tomorrow it could be her on the other side. And that is why she subscribes to humility and not arrogance.
The girl comes from the hinterlands of India, a village in Faridabad. So, for her, this goal changes her self-perception as well as the way others perceive her. The boys in her class who are watching her play suddenly realize that she can hit a penalty kick with the same precision as they can. The boys realise that it was the girls who reached the finals, while they couldn’t. It suddenly opens their school’s eyes towards the possibilities that exist for these girls beyond the classroom. More importantly, it empowers the team as a whole.
For the girl herself, she defies boundaries of her own body and her assessment of it. After that grueling hour of play, when she wants to give up, though she pushes her body to focus and concentrate and hit that amazing penalty kick. She feels liberated because at that moment it breaks the shackles that the society has locked her in. Be it confined to the kitchen, focusing on studies, wearing certain kind of clothes, being less athletic than boys, so on and so forth.
The problem really, I fear, is that even when a goal in sport could contribute so much towards a child’s learning, after a day of celebration the whole thing might be forgotten. In my experience as a student and now as a professional working in this field, I know that parents equate school with only studies and not sports. Schools are institutions that exist to develop the mind and not the body. So when a child comes home from school, 9 out of 10 times the question from parents is, “What did you study today?”. I have rarely seen or heard parents ask, “What did you play today?”
I truly believe that the parents and the school share a two-way relationship. As the school demands certain things from the parents, it also has to react to their demands and needs. A small example could be the parent teacher’s meeting held regularly in schools. The parents are always keen to meet the class-teachers or the subject teachers to understand how well their kid is doing. A physical education teacher, on the contrary, has little role to play, because neither the parents want to know how well a child is developing physically, nor is the school interested in tracking that dimension of learning.
The goal, as set by parents and the education system for their children from an entity called school is a well-educated mind, never a well-educated body. This I now understand is the fundamental problem. As adults, we have done injustice to children when we deny them their right to work as hard on understanding and developing their body. What we forget is that who we are and what we can become is not achieved by the mind alone but by a combination of a well-educated mind and a well-educated body.
After spending a little over a year working at the grassroots, I have learnt that while it is important to create as many opportunities for children to hit as many penalty kicks as possible, my goal should also be to start a conversation with the adults on – “What is the importance of a well-educated body?”. Fortunately, or unfortunately, they are the ones setting the goals for their children.