In July last year, senior constable Satinder Singh was called to the office of the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) in Muktsar district and told to go to Malaut and Rupana villages, around 50 km from the town, and teach volleyball to children. Singh says he was pleasantly surprised at the assignment, but worried. Though a national volleyball player who had joined the Punjab Police nine years ago in the sports quota, Singh’s volleyball skills had gone rusty after years of routine policing duties at Muktsar’s police lines. But all he needed was to take his position behind the volleyball nets for him to get back into the sport. Today, he trains around a hundred children in volleyball, cricket and football in the two villages.
Satinder is one of seven policemen from the district who have been roped in by Muktsar SSP Manjeet Singh Dhesi to work as sports coaches in villages, part of an idea to distance children from drugs and channel their energies better.
The policemen coach children between the ages of 10 and 18, with both morning and evening classes for volleyball, kabaddi, basketball, football, athletics and cricket. Since the free coaching programme was launched in July last year, over 700 children have been trained by the seven coaches, of whom nearly 10 children have played till the national level while many have gone on to play for the state. SSP Dhesi says the policemen-coaches are called only for emergency duties, “otherwise they are supposed to spend their time on the ground”.
Dhesi, himself an international shotput player many years ago, says, “When I joined Muktsar in July last year, I shortlisted personnel with a sports background. While the sports department provided kits and other material to the children, we raised money through voluntary contributions too. Police personnel pitched in too. The idea was to catch these children young. Moreover, at least this way they will have a goal in life rather than wasting their time after school hours. The idea has been working well and many children have been bringing laurels to the state.”
Last week, Satinder accompanied Muktsar’s volleyball team to Ludhiana for the the Punjab U-14 Games. After a loss in semi-finals, the team finished at fourth position. “Of the 12 players from Muktsar, nine are my students. Two of my players, Ajaypreet Singh and Rashmeen Singh, had also played the U-14 volleyball nationals last year,” says Satinder.
Every day, Satinder trains nearly 50 students of the Government Senior Secondary school at the Malaut village ground. He also trains children in football and cricket at Rupana village, 30 km away.
“My colleagues and I pitched in with Rs 5,100 each and got floodlights installed at the Malaut’s ground. So now I finish coaching at Rupana early and train students at Malaut till late evening. This ground is in front of the DSP’s office and hence it is safe for the children to train even if I am away in Rupana village,” he says.
Jagsir Singh Puri, Head Constable at the Gidderbaha police station in Muktsar district, is now a basketball coach and, like Satinder, had accompanied the Muktsar basketball team to Ludhiana for the U-14 Games. His team stood second in the state. “I coach children at the Ganga Ram Stadium in Gidderbaha. I coach a team of girls too. Over 100 students come to me for training in the morning and evening,” says Puri, adding, “we are focusing on young children since we must make sure they don’t they fall prey to drugs or waste their time as they enter their teenage years. Two of my students have played till the nationals”.
Besides Satinder and Puri, the other policemen who are part of the Muktsar coaching team are Gurmukh Singh, who trains students in basketball in Malaut city; Constable Swarnjeet Singh, athletics coach in Kakhan Wali and Sheranwali villages; ASI Harbaksh Singh, who trains students in athletics in Gursar Joda and Shamkhera villages; Hawaldaar Amarjeet Singh, a kabaddi coach in Baddian and Bhaliana villages; and Constable Jagjit Singh, a volleyball coach in Jhorar Enna Khera village.
Back at Malaut village, Ajaypreet, a national-level volleyball player who trains with Satinder, says, “After spending 2-3 hours on the ground, all I have energy for is to go home, eat dinner and sleep.”
His father Kuldeep Singh, a marginal farmer, says, “The problem of drugs is huge in Punjab and I have always been worried for my son. Now I don’t fear that he will fall into bad company. Ajaypreet used to be distracted, but he is now focused on his game and studies.” Ajaypreet cleared his Class 12 this year with over 75% marks.