“Being in sports made me realize that merely providing athlete-support is not a sustainable solution, and that there is a need for creative sports ecosystems”
It was a hot and humid summer in Delhi in 2013 when I got a call from a new friend – Naman, a 10-year-old boy then. He excitedly asked, “Uncle, can we go to play tennis now as my parents have gone for a wedding?” It was 2 in the afternoon. I felt that childlike rush of freedom, play, and excitement again. I hurriedly agreed to pick him up in half an hour to play on the red-hot clay court in the sweltering Delhi heat. With the temperature on court feeling like 50 degrees Celsius, we survived (not really played) for an hour somehow. I enjoyed being crazy, although heat-stroked, and loved every bit of it. That one incident got me seriously thinking about the ‘power of play’, especially for our younger generation.
This thought lingered in my mind for many days. There was an overhaul taking place in my mind. I had an exceptional professional career, having seen seven promotions within four years. My good work ethic, commitment, and teamwork coupled with a good organization culture had all contributed to my professional success. While these ingredients were all there, I realized that I was missing out on two crucial elements – ‘passion’ and ‘purpose’. While I loved the thrills, accolades and recognition that my corporate job offered, I missed the internal peace, a sense of having contributed back to society. I wondered what I could achieve if I only added passion to the hard work that I was already putting in. So, I took a leap of faith and one fine morning, I resigned from my job. Although all I heard from people around me was that I was taking a big risk, I did not consider it a risk, as for the first time in my life I had clarity, purpose and internal happiness by-products.
I may not have played sports at a professional level, yet I had always enjoyed playing sports, watching sports and had internalized the power of sports. Nothing gave me greater joy than seeing people, kids, professionals playing sports; seeing a display of sportsman spirit at all levels – be it a gully game or a professional sport – seeing the way sports connected people in a way nothing else could.
With no background, understanding, experience or connections, I started from ground zero. I persevered every single day. And as any sportsman would say – focus on one point at a time, I focussed on one day at a time. Rather than looking out for a job in sports, I invested hugely in myself to first become job-worthy in this new sector. I read a lot of literature about sports, made at least one new connection every day, visited countless sports academies, interacted with all key stakeholders (athletes, parents, coaches, scientists, administrators) in the sports ecosystem; learnt and unlearnt every single day. Within roughly two years of starting my foray into sports, I felt more educated than ever on this self-learning journey.
“…as any sportsman would say – focus on one point at a time, I focused on one day at a time”
“Having an opportunity to work with people who want to excel on a daily basis has immensely helped me to be a better version of myself every day. I have realized the power of effort, perseverance, detailing, execution, intention, passion, and above all – a purpose”
With the right intentions and learning from the ground up, I could see one opportunity after another to serve sports. I had opportunities to serve a lot of sports participants (athletes, coaches, community people, children). Many were top Indian athletes from various sports. The turning point in this journey was the chance to support and work with Indian Paralympians. When I saw such specially abled people excelling in sports, breaking their physical barriers, it broke my own mental barriers too. It gave me the most important lesson of my life.
Being in sports made me realize that merely providing athlete-support is not a sustainable solution, and that there is a need for creative sports ecosystems. I was fascinated with the system built by Pullela Gopichand, Chief National Badminton Coach. Through help from a close friend, I was introduced to Pullela Gopichand. Having always been a great fan of his, and with a bigger intent to contribute to Indian sports development, I presented my ideas and understood his thoughts on building sustainable eco-systems. Within a month of that meeting, I came to Gopichand Academy in Hyderabad and thereafter made a permanent home in the city. I was able to contribute to his next dream/vision of ‘Physical Literacy for every Indian Child’. This initiative could reach over 30,000 government schools all over India.
Through Gopichand Foundation, we initiated the creation of a sustainable system for athletics development under the leadership of Coach Nagapuri Ramesh. The project has athletes from very humble backgrounds; and gave me the biggest opportunity to ‘impact human lives through sports’. This project and the ‘physical literacy’ initiative made me reflect and realize that a focus on sports development was not enough to earn medals, a focus on society and nation development through sports for all was even more important.
“We are on a mission to promote Olympism Values – Excellence | Friendship | Respect – through sports to our younger population”
From 2017 onwards, I was fortunate to work with another one of my idols, Abhinav Bindra, India’s only individual Olympic Gold Medallist. Under his leadership, we are on a mission to promote Olympism Values – Excellence | Friendship | Respect – through sports to our younger population.
Having an opportunity to work with people who want to excel on a daily basis has immensely helped me to be a better version of myself every day. I have realized the power of effort, perseverance, detailing, execution, intention, passion, and above all – a purpose. To summarize, I found a purpose that resonated with my passion and I put my heart and sweat into it, and I am flourishing through this journey.
- The article was originally published in Career Ahead July 2021 issue.