The TRUE POWER of sports in India

On the second day of Art of Play’s inter-school football event in Ambala we had programmed the girls matches, the boys/girls’ semi-finals and finals. It had rained the earlier night and was drizzling the morning of the matches as well. All the markings we had done for our two football fields on the first day had vanished. Google, on my phone forecasted rain till 11 in the morning. It seemed like a gloomy day, to me- it felt like we were headed for a disaster in our very first tournament.

We started to mark up the football field in the drizzle, hoping that the clouds will clear, and the sun will show up eventually. The matches were scheduled at 10 am, we were working on the field since 7 in the morning. At 9 am we started receiving calls from almost every school team, asking us if the event was happening at all, given the rains. Our coaches assured the teachers that, there was not much rain at the venue and even if it rained the event will still happen.

Till around 10 am there were not many on the field expect for the Art of Play’s team. My heart was sinking, all the hard work and planning was threatened to go waste.  At 10 minutes past 10, the sun appeared through the clouds, so did the first team of the day, a team from a village 30 kms from Ambala, Shehazadpur. It was their girls team, all of them in their salwar kameez uniform.

The moment they saw us the girls came running to the football field. They were all so tiny, so thin I wondered if they could really play football all day long. One girl out of the group stood out, Varsha, if not for her athletic built for her haircut. “Such swag!”, I said aloud to a team mate.

The Shehazadpur girls team. They were getting ready to play in their uniform, until we told them to change. It should be pretty easy to spot Varsha in this photo 🙂

We told the teacher that the girls needed to change into their jerseys, the matches would start in another half an hour. There was a slight hesitation amongst the girls. What happened? I asked, “Didn’t you get your jerseys?”. One of the girls in the group suddenly asked their teacher, “Sir, so should we wear those SHORTS. Are we allowed to play in SHORTS?”. My head twirled a little bit.

“Whattttt!!!!” Why do they need permission for this? Who is he to allow or disallow them? My reality is still not theirs, such different Indias we live in.  It’s 2018. Fascinating!

“Phir kya (Then what)? The teacher said, “Go change.” The girl who asked the question smiled from ear to ear. The pure joy on her face for getting to do something that was so trivial for me, left a lump in my throat. This was no time to get emotional I told myself. I had a whole day of the event to deliver.

The girls changed and ran to the field with a football in their hand. In their jerseys they looked free, ready to conquer the world. They started their warm up, with one of our coaches on field. The coach came and told me to focus my attention on one girl, Varsha. “Just watch her play”, he said. She will blow your mind.” I nodded.

So happy, so free!
Varsha warming up with her teammate. Do not miss the wrist band, it wasn’t part of the jersey 😉

In 10 mins the match started, my eyes were fixed on Varsha. After the initial kicking of the ball between the two teams, Varsha finally managed to get the ball at her feet. Off she went almost like the wind! She found her gaps as if there was no one on the field expect for her. It was magical, almost too good to be true. Her body, her movement, her control of the ball, her body balance at such a young age, was stuff of champions. I may not have played football, but an athlete can spot an athlete.

Like a Pro!!!

The matches progressed further. By the semi-finals, Varsha had already scored 4 goals- the only girl to have done so. She scored her fifth goal in the semi-final and a reporter who was sitting next to me said in Hindi, “Kamal ka hai woh ladka! Kya technique, kya balance, kya control? Wah! Par madam ladkon ko kyun khela rahe hon ladkiyon ke saath. Mixed teams kyun?” (What a guy! What technique, what balance, what control? But, Madam why are you making the boys play in the girls team?”)

I smiled at him and said, “Ladki hain sir! Ladki hain. Jisne goal mara abhi who ladki hain.”  (She’s a girl sir. She’s a girl. The one who hit the goal is a girl.”)  I said ladki (girl) three times in that sentence. It wasn’t planned but, that’s how I said it. I think every girl reading this blog will understand, why so!

By the end of the final, Varsha, had scored her 6th goal of the tournament and led her team to victory. She played from all positions- defence, attack, mid-field while striking those goals. She received the ‘best player award’ and two random people also gave her a 500 rupee note each, as blessings. Later in the day she described this to be “the best day of my life”.

The real prize for me though, was when the official government football coach of Ambala district noted her contact details in his diary. “I will try and talk about her to the district selectors I know. With proper training she can do some great things for the Ambala football team.”


By the end of day two, the Art of Play team was so exhausted that we sat on the ground of Rajiv Gandhi stadium, for almost an hour. Not talking to each other, mostly in silence. Lying down under the twilight, my mind and body numb with exhaustion, the only thing I could think about was- Varsha, celebrating her last goal and me telling that reporter, “Ladki hain sir! Ladki hain. Jisne goal abhi mara who ladki hain.” (She’s a girl sir. She’s a girl. The one who hit the goal is a girl.”)

After a month in a new job, in a new city, in a new role it suddenly dawned on me wherever I was, whatever I was doing it felt right. So right!

The winning team – Shehazadpur. Varsha won the best player award. The were just so happy 🙂

The Practicality of Death

While the world mourned Sridevi’s death I was reminded about the fragility of life. The greatest, the loveliest, the most courageous people in the world die. It is the law of nature. You live. You die. Up until Sridevi’s news this is the way I looked at death. Practically, void of much emotion.

While I was coming back from the Mumbai airport to my house my Uber driver played Sridevi’s hit songs on repeat. The only thought that went through my head, as I heard Sridevi’s song in the background was- How and what will my 88 year old grandfather have to say about Sridevi’s life and death? My grandfather, Dattatrey Mutatkar was lying in the ICU in a stable condition, in Aurangabad on Sunday. I was scheduled to be in Aurangabad Monday afternoon to be by his side listening to the million things he wanted to tell me. My father had told me, he is fighting hard and there was all hope that he would recover soon.

Hope is a good thing, until destiny gets it chance. In life, you learn it the hard way that though hope is a good thing, destiny will always trump. My grandfather, did not talk to me about Sridevi’s amazing sarees in Chandni, or how wonderful she was in Mr. India. At 7pm on Sunday he stopped breathing, fighting as hard as he could in the hope of meeting his granddaughter, though he lost his fight to destiny. I took the last bus accompanied with my dad at 11pm on Sunday night. My dad put up a brave front, I did not see tears or long silences. He was on the phone for the longest time talking to family and friends accepting condolences. I decided to emote less. Hold my tears in and be there for my father. I realized his loss was greater than mine.

When we reached the building where my grandfather was kept. The first person we saw waiting for us was my grandmother. Her eyes moist, ready to lose all inhibitions in the arms of her eldest son. The moment my dad saw her and held her in his arms, there was no eye in the vicinity void of tears. My grandmother was with Ajoba for over 60 years, never leaving his side in sickness or health. Seeing my grandad, wrapped up in a bedsheet lifeless, silent, was one of the most devastating experiences of my life. My grandfather was an expert in two things, reading and talking. He hardly listened, ever. His curiosity about the world and his zest for life, was worth emulating. This man who talked non-stop and never listened lay there in front of me not saying a word.

This experience has left me a lot less practical about death. This was my first time of witnessing a death of a loved one. Understanding death is a tough thing to do. I have a million unaswered questions about it. How should one face death, when they see it coming? Should you fight it with courage and strength? Is it ok if you can’t muster up the courage to fight for life? How long should you mourn for a loved one? Should it be four days, four hours, four years or forever? Is it really better to die at 88 instead of 40? Is the pain more or less? Does the pain of losing a loved one ever go? Should it?

The list could go on and on.

The journey of Ajoba becoming just a dead body was pretty quick. A group of people from the morgue and the hospital were there to help us with all the ceremonies and processes post death. In a lot of conversations they had with each other or our family, Ajoba was addressed as a mere ‘dead body or body’. My heart broke every time I heard the words- ‘dead body’. I wanted to shout and tell them to stop, but I couldn’t garner the energy to correct them. Life is unfair, now I know so is death. One minute you are a living, breathing person playing multiple roles, touching so many lives. A life that you have built for over 88 years, in just a matter of minutes culminates into a ‘dead body’.  You become an idea, a memory, a legacy that no one can touch or feel.

Ajoba’s legacy to me is his love for reading, his curiosity to know more, his quality of talking to people young and old- known and unknown, his ability to love unconditionally and his passion for life.

There is nothing practical about death. The transformation of a living person, into a ‘dead body’ could be a journey of a minute in the real world. But there is nothing practical about it. I have a feeling it should never be. The ability and the freedom to mourn, to emote, to feel and to never forget, makes dealing with death just a little more manageable.

Baba, Aji and Ajoba a few months back

30th! with Woody

I cried.

After a long and hard to understand Statistics class I came home feeling tired, confused and found myself questioning the need of the subject’s existence. When I reached home my husband, stopped me at the door and blind-folded me. When I came inside and removed the blind-folds, on the dining table sat a rugged iron suitcase. “You got me a sewing machine?” I asked him. He rolled his eyes and told me to open it. I did, and thats when I cried.

Inside the iron suitcase was a German made Olympia SM3, often called the BMW of typewriters for its feel and performance. The machine had scratches and showed signs of being used before. Chinmay told me it was, this machine was made in the 1950s and had been refurnished just for me. It was exactly like I wanted it. Typewriters have their own private stories. People who must have written on this typewriter seemed to have me their memories. Oh! The love letters they must have wrote , the poems, the job applications. My imagination runs wild thinking about the past.

The mysterious iron suitcase!

My romance for type-writers started a long time ago. A rich friend of a friend had invited me over for a meal to her house, that’s when I saw my first typewriter and fell in love with it. I do not remember the rich friend , neither do I remember the parents. All I clearly remember is that beautiful typewriter which they had used as a show piece in their house. Since then I have read, researched and watched documentaries about the typewriter. I know for a fact that the best writers in the world write their amazing novels on a typewriter, and not a computer. I have asked myself why that is? This is what I have come up with.


Typewriters don’t judge. They do exactly what they are told like, if you want to spell something wrong a typewriter does not put a blue/red line under it to correct you. It improves your spellings, you need to know how to spell it right. Writing is an act of solitude. It is about getting yourself out of the world you live in and entering the world that resides inside of you, without distractions. When I write on my computer there are too many distractions. There are calls, Skype calls, mail notifications, Facebook notifications, news notifications, it just never stops.

Writing on a typewriter ensures you no distractions. The only sound you hear is the sound of your alphabet keys smashing and the final ‘ding’. The sound of your writing is music to your ears. The sole purpose of your typewriter is to write, which translates into your sole purpose when you are working on  it. Writing is a personal and a lonely act and a typewriter ensures it remains so!

First attempt with all my mistakes!

The story of my crazy husband acquiring this vintage type writer is a stuff of legends. He exchanged mails all around the world. He even wrote to a man who is a personal typewriter provider for Tom Hanks and got an instant reply. The whole  story is one crazy adventure!

Money can buy you a vintage typewriter, but a crazy husband is priceless. As I reach the 30th year of my life, my hope is that I can add many such priceless moments and people, and write about them on and with, Woody.  Yes! Thats what I named him, because Woody Allen is an inspiration and the Olympia typewriter is the only brand he has ever used for all his writing.

Welcome to your new home Woody!




How I wish to redefine nationalism through sports

I was born in October 1987 in Gwalior, India. By the virtue of my birth year I am considered to be a millennial. Growing up in India in the early 1990’s was fascinating. Dr. Manmohan Singh, a great economist and former prime-minister of India, had just made some landmark economic policy changes in the country. In 1991, India had liberalized its economy and entered the world of free global trade. This move of the government made us a part of the globalization movement. The world became smaller, immigration was easier, economy grew and the world around also became friendlier.

(Image Credit: Google Images, In 1991, the then Finance Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh shaking hands with former Prime Minister of India, P.V. Narasimha Rao.


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Saina VS Sindhu

The Premier Badminton League this year is a showcase of India’s Badminton talent. The league is a testament that the present and the future fraternity of World Badminton will be looking towards India with awe and fear. I am grateful for the opportunity that the league offered me, of watching Saina Nehwal and P.V. Sindhu battle it out first time after Sindhu’s silver medal win in the Olympics. For me personally it was one of the most special matches I witnessed since I picked up the racket at the age of nine.

When the match started, I mute the commentary and sat alone in my room. I wanted to experience this match alone. There was a string of emotions, thoughts, images going through my mind and I wanted to be left alone with them. My mind predicted given the recent form Sindhu has been in, she would win. In my heart though I wanted Saina to win. I am a lifelong supporter of the underdog. In January 2006 when Saina was pitted against Aparna Popat in the Senior National finals I was rooting for Aparna for the same reason. Saina had beaten Aparna just a few months back in the Asian Satellite and Saina was 12 years younger to her. In the morning of that match while I went to train I saw Aparna training. After she finished training I saw her sitting in a corner of the stadium by herself for a very long time. That evening she was going to play the last competitive match of her career. Something about that sight of seeing her sit in that corner told me the final was going to be her best Badminton. It was! Aparna beat Saina that day in straight sets winning her 8th straight national title. There are some matches that go above and beyond the realms of a Badminton court.

The Saina- Sindhu match was one of those matches for me. In the recent past social media and newspapers have tried to predict Saina’s future after her recent injury. They have tried to analyse her progress, or sometimes the lack of it. Some have compared her to Sindhu and already declared that the baton has been passed. As a player and someone who has experienced some of the greatest Indian athletes first hand I would like to say one thing, “No one other than the player can decide when are they ready to pass on the baton.” The predictions made by people around them are futile. I have had the privilege of experiencing Saina as a team mate and as an opponent. She is one of the fiercest and most determined individuals on the court. She has maintained the same level of determination for the last 16 years, which is beyond commendable. Injuries take time to heal and patience is the key. Saina still has time and her determination and focus will bring her back to prime form. I can say one thing for sure that she still has some great Badminton in her and I won’t be surprised when she wins another Super Series.

Sindhu on the other hand is India’s current darling. She deserves all the attention and the glamour that comes with her stupendous success. She is humble, poised and determined to be better than the last time. She is young, hungry and sky is the limit for her. Sindhu has seen Saina train with P.Gopichand since her childhood. Just like any other 9-year-old girl she too must have got a lot of inspiration from watching Saina dominate the world of Badminton. From that 9- year- old aspiring to be Saina, she has done a marvellous job to dominate the world of Badminton, and create her own legacy and identity. I wonder what went through her mind before and after the match. As strategy, she was attacking Saina on the forehand side of the court and making her run diagonally.  As the match progressed, it was clear to me that after the first six points of the match Sindhu just looked a little faster, a little sharper and a little less tired. At the top level of any sport this tiny margins are the only thing that determine the winner on a given day. The match had some amazing rallies and seemed to finish a little too quickly. My heart had to lose to my mind this time, though this is not what I take from this match.

I want to tell all the fans including myself to look at this match as a celebration. Here are two of India’s most successful women athletes, who have achieved some of the greatest things in Indian sport. The world will tell you to compare between them, to choose between them, and to decide whose achievement is bigger. In my humble opinion don’t make a choice and don’t judge them after this match or beyond. The only thing we should do as a country is celebrate them both. Saina as the one who made us believe that we could reach the top of the Badminton world and; Sindhu who comforts us by making us believe that we will be there for a very long time.






How three men are finding athletes in India’s public schools

28, 30, and 31 are the respective ages of Hemant Kumar, Anish Mukherjee and Kshitij Patil – co-founders of a non-profit organization, Art of Play.  The term ‘Non-Profit’ sounds scary for most of us who belong to this age group. Most of the middle-class population in this age group is busy finding ways to make profits. In contrast, here are three middle-class men who have set up their first company which by definition is not about making financial profits. When I asked this as my first question to Kshitij, he replied “Well! That depends on how you define profit. Doesn’t it? For us we have made some real profits in the last one and half year. Not all profit is about the bank balance alone.”

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Should the virtual become the reality?

When my friend Kritika requested me to baby sit her 10 year old son Arnav for a day and a half I was excited. I really like Arnav. He is observant and articulate. He respects women and Kritika tells me that sometimes he goes a little overboard with it. She told me that in his karate class when he has to fight against girls he always loses. The girls are ruthless but he will just never hit them back. When I asked him why he plainly said, ” I just don’t like to beat them, they are all so pretty.” Well, then! It will be safe to say that I think he is one of the nicest 10 year olds around.

In my very limited experience with children I have always loved the time I spend with most of them. Their perspectives are different. They have fundamental questions which you have never tried to answer yourself while you always wanted to. Their love and hatred is based on trust and they trust much easily than adults. There are no grey shades, things are mostly black or white. Life is just very simple.

So when Arnav came home I was looking forward to a day of conversations. We had Pav Bhaji and strawberry milkshake Mumbai style for lunch and then I asked him what would he like to do. He sat on the sofa and swayed his leg, I realised he might be nervous. We had never spent so much time before. So he looked around and pointed at my VR Headset – the virtual reality device that was kept on a stack of books and asked, “What is that?”. I explained the concept to him. About what those goggles/headsets do, the games that can be played, the places that one can visit etc – all from one’s living room. I told him he could go all the way to the space and come back…..twice. This got his attention. I put the VR headset on him and it took him around ten minutes to understand how it functions. This generation is so quick with learning about technology. It is pretty amazing.

The Google VR- Headset

Arnav was hooked on to those goggles after that.When his eyes got tired he would switch his attention to the Xbox One sitting in the living room and then animated movies. We spent the whole day sitting on the couch. Him in his virtual world and me studying. At around seven he looked really tired so I suggested that we should have a quick dinner and he should go to bed. He did exactly that.

As I looked at Arnav sleeping peacefully and closed the door I felt uncomfortable. I sat on the sofa with a glass of milk and tried to reason with my discomfort. In the 8 hours that we spent together he got to see dinosaurs through his goggles, shoot men, race cars and watch movies on the T.V. He seemed pretty happy, satisfied even. So what was troubling me? Was it the fact that my existence in the room really did not affect his happiness? If I was not sitting in that room would he really care?

When I got up in the morning I looked outside the window and looked at the beautiful fall colours. It made me feel good just sitting and looking at the trees and the birds chirping. It was peaceful. I suddenly realised what had troubled me the day before. In the 8 hours we had spent together we had not had a single meaningful conversation. In the need of keeping him busy, I had left him wandering in a world that really did not exist. He saw dinosaurs and went into the space …. but it was not real. For an entire day I let Arnav live in a world he would never really be able to touch or feel. All this because it was just a convenient choice for both of us. I could study and he could be entertained just sitting on the couch.

View from the window

That morning we had breakfast and I decided that we were going to spend the whole day outside. I would take him to the park and spend the day there. I packed us some lunch and left. When I told him we were going to the park, he asked me if we could play video games instead. I promised him if he got bored we will come back home. The 30 mins drive to the park was silent. We walked around in the park, he insisted on holding my hand. So I did. It was a beautiful morning. The nature around us was overwhelming. After a while we sat down on a bench. Arnav had not spoken much the whole of that time. I was almost worried of boring him. But then Arnav asked me his first fundamental question, “Why do leaves change colours in the fall?”. I suddenly felt hopeful. It was another thing that I had to google the answer.

The day after that was a breeze. Arnav was unstoppable with his questions. We spoke about rabbits, trees, squirrels, caterpillars and butterflies. We spread a bed sheet on the green grass, ate sandwiches, I lay down beneath the blue sky while Arnav tried to draw his version of the rabbit. By the end of the day on our drive back he trusted me enough to tell me about a crush he had on a blonde girl in his class. It made me laugh, while he blushed.

From caterpillar to a butterfly

When we reached outside his house I got down to get his stuff. As I started to say good bye I asked him which of the days he liked better. “I liked today, it was fun to chase that rabbit in the park.” I smiled gave him a tight hug and left. Out of the rearview mirror I saw Arnav waving back at me with the sack bag on his back and the painting of a rabbit which looked like a rat in the hand that was not waving at me.

This time the real world won against the virtual.

I really hope Arnav will always choose the real over the virtual. I hope he chooses actually visiting Central Park instead of experiencing it on his Virtual Reality headset. I really hope he knows the joy of chasing rabbits will always be superior to seeing dinosaurs sitting in his living room.

In the end I really wonder if we can play a more conscious part in helping Arnav make that choice.

Sayali Gokhale- Exploring the world of Badminton coaching

I owe my Badminton career to some wonderful people…. all men. I started playing the sport because my father loved it. Santosh Kshatriya, Vasant Gore, Hemant Hardikar, Prakash Padukone, Vimal Kumar –  all men who coached me during various points in time in my career. From holding the racket to becoming a national champion and everything in between, I learnt all from men. Looking back, I realise I was taught how to play women’s singles by men and not by women and I think it is something that requires attention.

Why is it that in such a long history of Indian Badminton (where we have 2 women world champions) there has not been a bigger contribution by women in coaching? Why has a woman coach still not produced a national or an international player from scratch?

Being a coach

Being a coach is difficult. Success of a coach is measured differently than that of a player. I have seen the best of players struggle to become effective coaches and I have seen lesser skilled players become much more effective. One of my coach’s said this, “You require passion that is enough to carry both you and your player through in the worst phases. You need to have the balance to know when to push them and went to hold back. You need to study everything in the sport right from the latest fitness trends to the weaknesses of the players on the circuit. Being a player is an 8-hour job, but you need to be a coach 24 hours a day.” Being an ‘effective’ coach is one of the toughest jobs.

Can women possess all these qualities; can we be effective enough?

I think it is time for women to answer this question and make a bigger contribution to the sport. I am sure there are women coaches all over India but there are really very few who have dedicated 24 hours a day to coaching.

Sayali Gokhale, a friend, is a two-time national champion and has represented India in various important international tournaments. Her strength on the court was her consistency, strokes and resilience. She was always a tough opponent to beat in the national circuit and was respected for her work ethic.

With Sayali and Sagar Chopda. We have been friends since the age of nine. Its been a great journey.

Sayali left the sport in early 2016 and started coaching May of the same year.

“When Prakash Sir (Prakash Padukone) asked me if I would consider coaching in his academy in Bangalore it was tough to let go of the opportunity. I had inhibitions though. The Academy is home to India’s best junior players and a lot of them were boys. I wasn’t sure about how would they perceive me as their coach.”

Family Support and Sacrifices

Men singles is different from women singles in so many ways. The basics are still the same but there are a lot of different nuances.

So what led her to let go of her inhibitions?

“I think the credit goes to my husband (Sagar Chopda, also a Junior Doubles’ National Champion himself). He convinced me that training the best junior kids in one of the most prestigious academies was a learning opportunity I could not let go. So I decided to give it a chance.”

With her husband Sagar Chopda at her last competitive national tournament

Making this decision was not easy for Sayali. To be a coach in Bangalore meant living alone in a one-bedroom apartment, living away from her family and from her husband.

I asked her if it was difficult especially now that she was married and that had more responsibilities.

“Oh! Yes. I am making some sacrifices but as a player you are used to that. I have to tell you that I have the coolest in-laws. When I told them about being a coach in Bangalore. They supported me a 100%.  There was no fuss and that has helped me tremendously to focus on the job in hand.”

With the very supportive Chopda family!

 Role models

 Just like myself, Sayali too never had a female coach.

Was it difficult having no role-models?

“Yes and No. I think I have learned a lot from all my coaches since I was nine. Every coach had a different style and strength. I am trying to emulate all the best practices from each one of them and find my own style of coaching. Having some more women coaches on the circuit will definitely help for sure. I hope Saina and Sindhu are thinking about coaching in the future. We need many more of us.”

The discipline of a coach

After having personally known Sayali it is difficult for me to imagine her shouting on top of her voice and being tough on others. She has a very soft-spoken personality…… or so I think.

“Oh you need to see me on court now; you will be in for a shock. It is funny, just recently my husband was playing on the adjacent court while I was coaching. After the session he told me if he had me as a coach he would be very afraid. I have learnt to be more vocal and strict, it is a part of the job. I am still learning.”

 The first day on any new job is the scariest and the most difficult. How did she face her fears?

“I had called a meeting with all the players in the academy. I told them upfront that I am new to the job and would need their support and feedback. Just like them I was learning too. In that sense I have been very lucky. Both Vimal Sir (Vimal Kumar – current coach of Saina Nehwal) and Prakash Sir have been very understanding. All my trainees have been wonderful. I have felt accepted from day one. That has really helped.”

 Now is the best time to pick up Badminton professionally

Every generation has their own challenges and problems. While we were starting our careers it was less professional guidance on strength and fitness training and lack of sponsors. What according to her has changed for the present generation?

“I think this crop of players really have the best facilities they can ask for. There are physical trainers to take care of their off-court needs. The top players in the academy are taken care of financially by the Olympic Gold Quest and are really well-managed. It’s all up to the players now. India can become a Badminton powerhouse if players show the will.”

 The important role that Parent’s play

Every parent has a lot of expectations both from their children and more so from the coaches. I had to know how challenging is it managing parents.

“If there is a course on Parent- Management I want to enrol in it. Parents today are really involved in every aspect of their kid’s life. I have seen parents involved right from their kid’s warm-up till their stretching in every session, every day. In a way it is great. But their end-to-end involvement also puts too much pressure on the kids which could be a problem. In tournaments sometimes I am joined by the parents to coach them. I have to sometimes coach them more than the kids. I think parents need to let the kids just be a lot more. Kids need to be allowed to make mistakes and learn from them.”

 Bringing it all together

Sayali maintains that she is still very new and has a lot to learn. She also feels intimidated sometimes when she has to sit across coaches who have been at the job much longer than her in tournaments. I know Sayali will find her place and her respect. This could be the beginning of a new era for women coaches in Badminton and I feel a sense of pride and relief that Sayali Gokhale is leading the way. I wish her the best and hope this inspires more women to play a bigger part in making champions. It’s time!

With her students at a junior national tournament.

In Conversation with an American Basketball player- Amber Brown

How was the atmosphere in your family when you first started playing Basketball?

I was always encouraged by my family. I don’t ever remember being told not to play. My father got me a basketball goal when I was little.  I and him were never too close but he still got me that goal and that was a really big deal for me. I started playing from the elementary school.  I was never discouraged from playing unless I was in trouble which looking back I think I always was. I guess I just got lucky.

Did being a girl ever make it difficult to pursue sports?

It was hard as a girl. As a little girl you generally suck at Basketball. You aren’t strong enough neither tall.  You are just really not good. But then you are a little girl and everyone would try and be nice and let you play with them. Though it is a different story that they would never pass you the ball.

I had two brothers and I had to be dependent on them when I was little. They would always want to play video games while I would want to be on the basketball court. Trying to get them to the park to play was a major hassle, very difficult to accomplish. I will also say that in America there is a clear distinction between how many people watch women sports versus men sports. There is a difference in the numbers.

Though luckily once I was in school it became much easier. Playing basketball became routine. It was like going through the stages- figuring out what you want to do, and then you try to convince your parents to support you. If they don’t that sucks! But if they do you are good. In America it’s not too hard to get on the team, because everyone wants to do it. Sports is huge here. It is pretty well accepted and popularised. Everyone doesn’t want their kid to be a professional athlete but everyone wants their kid to do something they love and be good at it.

How is the structure of city in relation to sports?

Structure is all the same in every city. How far you get as an athlete is just based on how you move up in the structure. It is based on your skill level, confidence and how hard you are ready to work. I always felt like I was always better than the other girls. Because I was playing basketball as a little girl and most of the girls didn’t really care so much about the sport.

Before you go to elementary school they have private organisations or local city organisations. Like city of Richardson has a YMCA where they have the T-Ball leagues where you just pay and join the league. How you join, how you get involved it is all online now. So it is pretty structured that sports is offered by every city. Most cities offer these programs.

This is through your Parks and Recreation department and hence publically funded. I just played in the park across the street in the park. I would always play with the grown men. I never played in the private league.

How is the school structure in regards to sports?

School really structures it very easy to move up. Because for the most part if you want to play you can play. It’s not like in college where you have to meet a certain skill level. Most schools offer whatever is the most popular sport. The demand for the sport comes from the parents and students. When a school is built the infrastructure is built to accommodate all the popular sports. But if the sport is not available and a lot of parents and students want to play Badminton, for example, the school needs to make sure that Badminton is offered. It could be through putting the court up on the basketball court. The school is responsible to direct the operation and fund it.

The infrastructure is paid for by school. You can attend a school and know that your child can play a sport. It’s not like an unorganised structure where you have to create a place for sports. It is already ingrained in the school system.

How do you start competing in sports?

You compete against elementary schools  in your school district. There is some kind of zoning involved. It is a hierarchical structure. It ends at national level. You can play till the national level in the high school and not in the elementary school I think.

You don’t play privately for the district  state or the national (Like we do in India where we represent our district or state). The only way you go up the ladder is by representing the school. The only time we play privately is during the summer for the summer league. Playing for the school is a much bigger deal than playing private leagues till high school.

Do you get any added grade or marks for being an athlete in school?

You don’t get extra marks or grades for playing a sport in school. You just have to participate in a Physical Education class

How do things change from high school?

When you are trying to be a professional athlete you get scouted by professional leagues. Scouting agencies know everything about you. Right from your performances from the elementary school level to high school. So once you get to high school you are scouted by colleges. Depending on your skill level you are also scouted by professional leagues. Now you have to graduate high school to play. I don’t think it’s a requirement that you have to graduate from college to play professional sports though. Professional leagues are totally privatised.

How do you get recruited into the professional leagues or colleges?

If you are really good you don’t have to be worried about getting recruited by a college. There is a very structured format and regulations about how they can recruit you. They send you an email and then talk to your coach and tell him they are interested in his player. They can solicit themselves very much. You can then visit the schools and look at the programs they offer and make your decision. Legally colleges cant incentivise athletes to come to their schools. It is against the law. Though it does happen.

How did you get into University of Texas in Dallas?

I got a few letters from various places. I knew I wanted to play college sports. I wasn’t getting letters that they would pay for my school. I wasn’t that good but there are athletic scholarships too. But it’s a just recruiting process based on your skill level.

I wanted to play sports but academics was very important to me. So in my case I approached the UTD basketball coach and UTD is small and their athletic program is not massive so it’s not impossible to get in. I just asked the coach of my school to approach the college coach here. I had to go to try out which is called ‘walking on’. And then I got selected into UTD.

Does playing a sport have any benefits for you once you retire?

Playing a sport does not guarantee you a job outside sports. Though the professional level has insane amounts of money. They get a lot of money from advertisement. Almost every advertisement in US has an athlete in it. The future after sport is into sports. Most of the athletes here may not have a college degree or be professionally trained to do any other jobs. Athletes who are well equipped will be wanted by a lot of companies for marketing but the likelihood of that happening is pretty slim. Here it’s like sports is your only career and the funding is here for you to make a choice like that. You don’t need to have two careers. Sports is it. You can go all out with being an athlete without giving it a second thought because there is so much money in it. And I think that’s why America has like a 100 medals in the Olympics.

Though you can’t play sports forever. It’s like finding that balance is difficult. Once you retire you don’t have the educational training and then it does become a depressing turn of events. Because you go on skipping the steps that would get you ready to have a career after sport. For those who didn’t weave education and sports together it makes it very difficult for them after sports. If they don’t have educational training than all you can do is get a job that is involved in sports. Let me assure you though that it is not really such a bad option. Once you are a professional athlete money is mostly never an issue.

So would you say that sports in America is a public- private partnership?

Yes, I would add people into that. I think it is a public-private-people partnership. Like my school gave me the infrastructure and designed a structure to play Basketball. Nike a private company sponsored my apparel in school. Nike came to our school not as charity but because it was a great marketing strategy. Why was it a great marketing strategy? Because hundreds of people would come to watch our matches, whatever level of match we were playing. I hardly remember playing a match without an audience. We are blessed that way being athletes in America. The whole of America be it public-private or people invests in us. Be it their time, money or values. It is therefore no wonder we produce so many stars.

Amber Brown- A proud Comet and a UTD Basketball star. 🙂