Prashant J. Singh — Redeveloping Grassroot Football. Part-I
If you are part of the football grassroots in India, then you would already know about Prashant Singh. For the rest, Prashant has been part of the football grassroots for 9 years in India. He is the director at Ultra Sports India, working as a lead instructor with AIFF, was part of the reliance youth sports program, and has served as the former technical director of Football Delhi also. New addition under his belt, he established Thane FC.
Prashant has played a key role in the formation of SportsArm which even he was not aware of till this interview. Prashant was Rohan’s instructor in the grassroots leader course at New Delhi last year in 2019. The course led to constant thinking of how we can have a more progressive and sustainable sports ecosystem.
Prashant is an inspiration to many aspiring coaches.
The discussion topic is the effect of pandemic and the role of technology in sports coaching scenario in India.
How did you cope up with your coaching activities during this pandemic?
During the pandemic, everybody was in a way forced to take the training online since outdoor activities were shut down. We started online classes at Ultra sports India academy for our athletes. We also focused on coaching development and education. Coaches were attending webinars and lessons from coach educators around the world. Awareness of accessibility to such knowledge definitely played a huge role. A coach educator in Europe is easily approachable from India. Geography has now become history.
About the players, our focus was more on keeping players fit and to learn techniques.
What were the difficulties while changing/shifting the coaching philosophies and techniques?
Initially, the biggest challenge was the acceptance of the parents and getting comfortable with technology at such times during the pandemic. No one had ever thought that the players could be trained in-front of a camera/webcam. We conducted a few demo classes for our coaches so they conduct classes comfortably with more effectiveness. The mindset was a big challenge for switching the training towards online but it led to another challenge — increasing screen time for the athletes. There were other challenges too but mostly things revolved around these two.
What is your view on a coach’s role in building up a sustainable / self-responsible team? How can one achieve it?
In the grassroots ecosystem, sustainability revolves around the financial part. Here, it is very unfortunate, we have taken a lot of steps back. There was a paradigm shift in the last 5 years. There are now athletes who are open to speaking to their parents about football as a career even as a coach, referee, or a player as an employment avenue. This shift had just started 5–6 years back. Due to the pandemic, a lot of people involved in the grassroots have been affected which might make them switch their job to earn their living. There is a lot of uncertainty in grassroots football since there is no structure. The government guidelines come in place prior to the organized sector. When the guidelines or SOPS come into play in grassroots there are many variables and external factors that it takes a while to get back to the form it was before. So financial sustainability has taken a huge hit. It’s not only coaches, but everyone who is a part of the game has been affected. No one is talking about the referees; the coaching will start soon but the tournaments will still take time to resume. Even the sports infrastructure has its operational costs like rent, EMIS, loans, etc. It is a tough phase for everyone involved in the grassroots.
Part-II is all about sports technology and how different stakeholders of grassroots can leverage it for better performance.
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