The coronavirus pandemic has affected the world like never before, the way of living known to man has changed and so have the circumstances for most. In a situation when masks and gloves have become the new normal, how does one continue with a contact sport like football?
There are only a few footballers that make it right to the top and it is their education in the early days that define the progress. Indian men's football team captain Sunil Chhetri recently said the earlier you start playing football, the more skillful you are. Hence, the importance of children taking up football young cannot be undermined, but in these times of uncertainty will the parents let their kids continue playing football?
"I don't know how long the lockdown is going to last, but if this is the way it's going to be, then virtual learning is going to exist for a while," New Delhi's Ranjini Rao, mother of 13-year-old Kabir Rao, told News18.com.
Most of the football schools in the country have switched to online training. Zoom calls and video exchanges are how football is being taught for the past couple of months and for some, it has done wonders.
"I have seen my child's skills develop a lot in the last couple of months with the skill-specific classes he has got from Roots Football School. I am surprised with the effectivity of the online training," 11-year-old Adrik's father Anindya Dey from Bengaluru said.
10-year-old Siddhanth's father Rushank believes his son was always decent with his football skills, but it is his strength and stamina that he has seen remarked improvement in.
For some others, however, online training is not exciting enough and their inability to meet friends and play with them is affecting their mental health.
"There has been no change in the scenario and everything is happening within the four walls. So, children are having sub-conscious depression. They are tired of the scenario, they haven't been able to meet their friends personally and it's difficult," Chennai's Puja Jain, mother of 12-year-old Aaditya who trains at World1 Football Schools, expressed.
In Manipur's Bishnupur and Mizoram's Champhai, it has been particularly difficult on the kids for the culture of football in the area has them engrossed in the game at all times.
10-year-old H Vanlalmalsawma in Champhai has been finding it extremely difficult to stay at home and he has been coping up with it by playing in his lawn and helping his mother in the kitchen.
For Bishnupur's Mayanglambam Lamnganba Singh, who plays in the U-11 category of the Young Legends League (YLL), staying indoors has been bothering him a lot. His father Surchand Singh said in a situation like that, he usually calls the YLL coaches who tell him a few exercises to do, which he does in the lawn and calms down.
WILL YOU LET YOUR CHILD PLAY OUTSIDE?
"No vaccine, no get-togethers. I am a parent and even if I had 10 children, I wouldn't take a risk with any of them. I am very clear about that, be it school or football, even if that means putting my child into a mechanical lifestyle," Puja stated.
Most parents in big cities like New Delhi, Bengaluru and Chennai are not comfortable with the idea of letting their kids out anytime soon. They feel the situation is too dangerous for their kids and they are willing to wait for a couple of months more.
"Given their age, especially Siddhanth, I would play safe, I wouldn't be too keen on sending him on the ground unless at least the cases subside or there is a vaccine. Aania is not too far from her 10th standard so I wouldn't risk her as well. There's a fear of catching the virus and that would affect her academics too," Rushank shared.
Ranjini, however, felt the world is no so ideal and life cannot stop for the virus. She said her family has accepted that "it is going to hit peak and transmit once to everybody and then it's going to die off." She believed it was more important to be aware and cautious because in the end, "we're all social animals and this cannot go on forever otherwise we would be combatting mental health illnesses like depression and loneliness."
For Jitendran Panicker, whose 17-year-old Karthick is looking at pursuing football as a career and trains at the residential academy of Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools in Gurugram, it is the football school that has to make the call. His mantra is clear, "I am ready when they are ready."
In smaller cities, where the cases of coronavirus are either very few or have subsided, parents are far more open to letting their children out to play. In fact in Bishnupur, the YLL coaches had even organised training with the permission of the Superintendent of Police when it was in green zone.
"In our area, things are not that bad actually. My kid is really young and so I don't want him to lose heart when it comes to playing football and so I take him out for a bit every now and then and make him play," Soraisham Robindro Singh, father of Ronald who plays in the U7 category of YLL, said.
Panchkula-based 11-year-old Garv Sharma's father said with no new cases in the past one month, things have pretty much unlocked in his area and hence, he doesn't mind his child going out to play at all.
Parents in Champhai district of Mizoram, however, expressed discomfort at letting their kids out. Mizoram has recorded a total of 24 Covid-19 cases and when the whole country is being unlocked, the Mizoram government has announced a two-week total lockdown from June 9.
"I think it's a little bit risky till the end of July to let him play football outside," C Lalhmingropuia's father C Vanlalliani said.
IS FOOTBALL EDUCATION A PRIORITY?
Most parents see the football education of their children as something that keeps them happy and active and are willing to manage their overall expenses to fund their child's footballing dream.
Soraisham Robindro, whose shop has been closed since the lockdown was imposed in Bishnupur, said he couldn't pursue his football dream due to financial reasons and he is not willing to let his child go through the same.
"Going by the interest my child has in the sport, I am ready to splurge all the money into his football, I will manage the rest," he said.
Farmer Surchand Singh is also willing to do the hard yards to let his child continue playing football.
"My child really enjoys playing football, so I will put in as much money as I can for him to continue that. Moreover, it actually doesn't cost too much here because YLL people don't charge us," he expressed.
Most parents have football budgeted in their expenses right from the start. Despite the professional difficulties in coronavirus times, they feel they will be able to manage their monetary situation to have their children continue playing football.
Ranjini feels football has taught her son a lot of values that a classroom doesn't cater to. "A classroom doesn't teach you how to cope with life. With football, I've seen him blossom and learn values. There's no way it's going off my radar and suddenly he's sitting at home and becoming a nerd."
Garv's father wants his child to continue playing football but given his financial situation, he doesn't know what the future has in store for them.
"The fees is a lot and if the situation worsens in the future, I don't know. Right now, I had my salary cut, all the work was down in the pits and so, I don't know if they'll keep me in the job. My financial situation is really bad. Till the bank balance permits, I will try to support," he said.
For Puja, the decision to fund Aaditya's football education depended entirely on her 12-year-old. She said online training did not make much sense to her because it is the feeling of being on the field and fighting it out with mates to score a goal that justifies the investment.
"It will depend entirely on how badly my child wants to be in the training session. Currently, he is done with the football as soon as he completes his online assignment. That is not what I would ideally want to spend my money on."
#Soundon We definitely miss our football friends and cheering for our team⚽ Tag your football friends and let them know that you can't wait to play with them again❤️ #BBFSKids #BBFSFamily #BBFSYes . . . . . . . . #bbfootballschools #bbfs #bhaichungbhutia #grassrootsdevelopment #grassrootsfootball #footballclub #footballdaily #footballacademy #indianfootball #indiafootball #footballindia #heroileague #footballnewsindia #isl #uefa #fifa #coachlife #soccerupdates #soccerskills #traiathome #playinside A post shared by Bhaichung Bhutia FS (@bbfschools) onView this post on Instagram
However, she says she feels bad for the football academies that are suffering huge losses in the current situation.
Kishore Taid, co-founder and CEO of Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools, told News18.com that they have had only about 50 per cent attendance for their online sessions.
"Definitely we are suffering monetarily and also in terms of our goal of imparting football education to our kids. But I feel it is about adapting and we have been working heavily on the online classes, which for now is how we go forward," he said.
In the BBFS online sessions, children engage with the coaches and perform the required drills like squatting, crunches and more. The coaches supervise the kids on video calls while the children together perform the drills.
To spice up the online classes, BBFS have also been making the children take quizzes on world and Indian football and throw up different challenges every now and them.
Match analysis is another activity that BBFS have undertaken with the kids. The children are given video of a player of two and they all have to come up with their respective observations.
Taid shared that they are not currently charging for the online sessions since the fees is already paid by the parents but they are working on the structure to be put in place for the future. "The cost (of the online classes) is much lesser overall and we will have to compensate that with the parents."
Joy Thoudam, a coach at Tyda FC (Toubul Youth & Development Association Football Club) in Bishnupur, said the stoppage of YLL due to coronavirus is sad. He said the baby league was giving the kids game time, improving their understanding of the game and was helping their personality develop.
"Parents here have been very scared and have not even been allowing their kids to go in the nearby house. We went to the parents specifically and told them that if the kids want to do isolation training, we offered to give football if needed and also a plan on how to go about it," he shared.
Bengaluru's Roots Academy coach Ravi said he has actually learnt a lot of technology in order to conduct online sessions for the children. He believed parents will not be comfortable in letting their kids out as soon as the lockdown is lifted and so, the current situation is going to last for a bit more time.
"In online classes, we do more of skill development and core exercises. That's actually working out well, especially for younger kids, because you hardly get to do that in team training," Ravi said.
He further said that even if they begin field training again in a couple of months, they cannot get the kids to make contact very soon and hence, the activities will have to be based around social distancing.
The face of grassroots football education in India is undergoing a shift. With online training set to become the norm for quite some time to come, kids, parents and coaches are all having to adapt to the new normal. While academies have surely taken a monetary hit in these difficult times, like Taid said, it is all about evolving with the time and situation.