During the initial forming days of Bridges of Sports Foundation, we had 3 things as top priority to create a sustainable sports ecosystem in India – quality of training, engaging community and affordability. Let us brief understand these 3 things and why they are crucial part of the bigger picture.
Quality of Training
We need to understand that at grassroots, though it is assumed that quality is the most crucial – we found that more than 70% of coaches did not know about the basics of strength and conditioning and almost 90 % of children between age group of 8-18 did not know about protein! Almost all coaches had no access or understanding about various basic equipments. Hence it was apparent for us to start making changes from here. We focussed on 3 things –
- Use of equipments
- Structured curriculum
- Workshops for both the coaches and children
We created a zero compromise policy on use of equipments, as these not only improve training but also creates interest among children to join our training – seen by a 43% increase in enrolments into our program during the course of the year. Creating curriculum is easier but getting the coaches to understand and create their own structure training methods is more difficult. We created a basic structure for the curriculum, and allowed the coaches to improvise around this structure (with suggestive guidance from us, through workshops) – which enabled them to learn and develop over the course of the year. The core focus of the curriculum is to build and improve the physical ability of children which we monitor through 9 quarterly tests, which gives us an holistic view of their development.
After having researched more than 6 countries around the world on how they have developed their sporting ecosystems – it was clear to us that though CSR and sponsorships have a role to play, sports can truly sustained by the community itself. Be it in Iten, Kenya where the community members train and learn together through various local groups, in its small town or United Kingdom where community centres with all the sports amenities is sustained and operated by the community itself. In both these cases and in almost all other countries – community is an important stakeholder and is not just looked upon as a beneficiary.
We started with various experiments from our coaches and athletes doing community work (planting saplings to cleaning streets) – but we soon realised that sports based engagement is most crucial for long term growth with the community. Hence, after 3-4 different ideas – we started India’s first community grassroots athletics league – which is completely time based rather than position based.
Every year, for 6 months the community gets together to support their local teams (which are operated by the coaches of Bridges of Sports). They are not just supporting but they also contributing financially to sustain this league as all of these athletes and coaches are part of the same community. We have started the league in both Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka and the league is a big contributor to new enrolment of children, coaches and donors from the community.
Finally, at end of it we knew that for the community to sustain its sports, in the long term – it should be affordable for them. In initial years, Bridges of Sports bears or subsidises the cost of sports training but over the long run – it has to be completely sustainable by the community itself. For that to happen, we are focusing on making sports itself completely accessible – not in terms of financial accessibility, but in terms of accessibility to learn and train in sports.
This can be only possible, when we are able to build the culture in the community and the training skills is trickled down from the coaches down to athletes and children in the community. When this happens, any one who is seeking to learn and play sports is able to do that, because there is an abundance of skills in the community. This is what cricket has achieved in India, though there are lot of cricket academies anybody who wants to learn and play the game at grassroots – is able to do so.
Until we are able to build that culture in the geographies we are operational, we have used principles of gamification to make our program accessible. Through this approach the coaches accumulate points for the number of training hours they have completed, improvement in their technical skills, improvement in physical ability of children, gender ratio of their batch and finally performance of their team in the league. Based on the accumulated points, they are incentivised in the range of 10,000 INR – 50,000 INR. We have kept a minimum base incentive for all the coaches, with an aim to increase the base incentive every year, as we achieve scale. This translates to per child training cost of less than 100 INR per month. The incentive is an additional income for the coaches, which supplements their annual livelihood (there is an average increase of 30% in their incomes). Also, this structure opens up newer avenues of sponsorships from not just sports brands, but also local community centres, businesses, banks and panchayats.
With this approach, we have changed nothing in terms of quality of our approach and the work we intend to do in the community, but we have shifted the community from being a beneficiary to becoming a stakeholder of the process.