Why Don’t We Allow Students To Focus On Sports And Studies Equally?

We have often come across the proverb “All work and no play will make Jack a dull boy”, and yet we haven’t actually believed in it. This is especially in the context of the Indian education system and society in general, where the major burden on the young child is to excel in subjects and focus on marks.

It has been justified in the name of “competition” that a child must undergo endless hours of rote learning as “marks” will eventually decide his fate in the future.  Off late, there has been a change in this trend and schools and colleges have started giving importance to sports and extra-curricular activities. This has coincided with the country having a little more vibrant presence at the international sport’s space. But still, it is a slow change.

When it comes to sports or sportspersons in school/college we take it for granted that he/she (the child) must have been poor in studies. We are happy to make these broad generalisations and assumptions without considering that sports or play are as essential as education for the holistic development of a child.

Playing sport is not just restricted to the physical aspect of a child (or an individual) rather it helps in building his overall personality. It helps to improve leadership qualities, team building aspects, social skill and most importantly it helps to instill confidence.

During my school and college days (about 15 years ago), there was not much scope for a sports period during the weekly timetable. And only those who wanted a break from studies used to indulge in sports.

With time, there has been a slow but a gradual shift in schools’ approach towards sports. Yet, a general prejudice still exists among the educationalists and school heads when you speak to them. I have been working at Anantapur Sports Academy, a sport for development initiative in a rural setting. At Anantapur, sport is given equal space with respect to child holistic development.

Most of the students here come from a difficult background and many, (if not all), are first-generation learners. Playing sport regularly has helped these kids to overcome a lot of inhibitions. Especially when one is playing team sports like football and hockey, communication with your team members plays a very important role in your team winning or losing the game. So these young students who are here might not be able to converse properly in English yet their ability to put across their point is remarkable. Even though I don’t speak their language, communication with them has not been a big issue.

I believe sports can make or break an individual, as discipline acts as an intrinsic part of playing sports. And with it comes time management. Teams have specific time frames within which they have to compete and win the game and that too under pressure.

This aspect is at the core of each and every sport. It translates into the individual shaping an individual’s personality. From the outside, it could appear to others that the child/sportsperson is overconfident. But that is not the case, not always at least.

While working at my current space, I realised how these kids are different from those who don’t play sport, as these kids don’t get disturbed with any impending deadlines, for instance, exams, or assignment submissions.

They know the importance of time, and their capability to finish the desired task in that specific time. Here, during the exam preparations, I have seldom come across a child who is scared to write his exam the next day. They are so used to these pressure situations and have come across them several times while they have been playing, that it is just another match situation for them.

A sense of responsibility for the community seeps into an individual while playing sport, especially a team sport. I came across this young boy, Eshwar, while working at Anantapur Sports Academy. He is 11 years old and is part of one of the football groups.

He was just two years into the academy but his sense of team building was immense. When his second year started at the academy, he was up to help the younger ones who arrived after him. He himself was 11 years old but was willing to take up things for his team. And this was not restricted to his sport but also in academics. He would make sure that people were studying during a specific study hour. In fact, he along with his young teammates, he framed a group of rules which they were going to follow in their dormitory. The interesting thing about the whole exercise was that it was not a one-man show. Instead, they held a discussion where each individual of the team came up with a rule and then everyone agreed or disagreed but talked about it before putting it on the paper.

Now, many parents argue that their child will get distracted from studies if they indulge in sports. This was one of the major concerns at one school where I was working three years back. We were elaborating how our school (Akshara Vidhyaashram, Cuddalore) offers enough play periods and break during the day so that the child is refreshed to take up his studies. And these parents were arguing that school should take responsibility if their ward’s grade drops. Cut across to ASA, where there were these two students last year who scored a full grade of 10 points in their High school exam while representing their respective teams. One of them, Loeshwar Reddy, took admission in a different college, as his dream is to become a scientist and work with NASA. He hasn’t stopped playing football though.

Usually, students participating in sports are asked to refrain from taking up the science stream for higher studies but there is no particular way to state why one cannot manage both playing sports and taking up the science stream. I too, was a little reluctant when these three girls this year Supritha, Sravani and Sushmitha came to me after their 10th board and suggested their willingness to take up science.

Supritha had scored 10 points while Sravani had 9.5 to her credit while Sushmitha had 8.9. The college principal was also of the view that it would be difficult for these girls to manage it with their sports. But what I liked about the whole exercise that these girls were not willing to budge an inch. Their stand was constant that they will manage as they have been managing sports and studies all along. All these girls are part of the academy for the last three years. They have already broken barriers of coming out of their villages to play Hockey and represent their district/state in Hockey leagues, and all along they have managed to balance their studies too. Whenever I have interacted with Supritha her stand is very clear; she says she wants to study and continue playing hockey too at the highest level.

Sports in education will only enhance the growth of a child. Rather than the child, it is us the adults who need to break our own barriers and prejudices to make it simpler for the young students. The possibilities are limitless only if we are willing to give emphasis on sports in a child’s life, especially at a young age. The lessons learned from sports would show results in a child’s academic performance and personality too.

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