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Sunday, July 05, 2020

Lockdown sport: Teaching football the virtual way, one goal at a time

Sanjeet Sen trains 30 children — mostly under the age of 10 years — from Gurgaon, Kolkata, Bangalore, and Hyderabad in his weekend virtual classes. But these classes, as he points out, are focused more on ball mastery, feeling the ball, game strategies rather than kicks due to space restrictions.

Written by Shweta Sharma | New Delhi | Updated: June 8, 2020 5:24:31 pm
virtual football, lockdown football, lockdown sport, indian express lifestyle Rayan Sarkar Saha, who says his favourite club is ATK, practices in his living room ahead of the class.  (Source: PR handout)

Every weekend, 10-year-old Rayan Sarkar Saha ensures he is done with lunch and is well-rested by 4 pm. But his excitement knows no bounds as he dresses up in full gear — jersey, shorts, socks, spikes/shoes — much before the clock strikes the hour. Now he is all ready to dribble and kick the ball, and learn new tips and tricks for the next two hours in his football coaching class. Well, a virtual one.

“He says jaldi se khana de do and ensures that his lunch is served on time as he says he cannot play on a full tummy,” laughs his mother, Tithi, who adds that “because of these classes, he has something to look forward to every weekend with much enthusiasm after all extra-curricular activities stopped”.

Agrees Rayan with an enthusiastic “Yes!”, and adds that he gets to do “plank challenge, push-up challenge and also learn new moves every week”. “I don’t really miss school, but I do miss the physical activities I used to participate in,” says the student of DPS, Gurugram (sector 45).

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These online classes have been conceptualised by Sanjeet Sen who used to unwind with football classes with children across various age groups after a hectic work week. But coronavirus crisis threw things out of gear, and with the subsequent lockdown coming into effect, outdoor football coaching completely stopped. It left Sen dejected, but he did not lose hope. He instead decided to give his football classes a virtual makeover, and well, the rest is history.

sanjeet sen, virtual football, lockdown football, lockdown sport, indian express lifestyle Sanjeet Sen taking a virtual football class on Microsoft Teams. (Photo: PR handout)

Two weeks into the lockdown, I thought of a weekend project of starting virtual football classes for my students sitting at home, which soon became a commitment. I wondered if we could leverage digital tools for business continuity (meetings, webinars, town-halls), why couldn’t collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams be leveraged for online football classes. The weekend football classes are a high point for these children as the lockdown has everyone confined to their homes,” Sen, who works as the product marketing lead for Microsoft, tells indianexpress.com.

Today, he has 30 students — mostly under the age of 10  — from Gurgaon, Kolkata, Bangalore, and Hyderabad attending his weekend classes from the comfort of their homes. But these virtual classes, as Sen points out, are focused more on ball mastery, feeling the ball, game strategies rather than kicks due to space restrictions, with household stuff like bottles, shoes, utensils having replaced markers and cones.

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“I leverage the platform to show videos, draw game plans/strategies, and go through each individual player learning that skill. For the theory session, I use the whiteboard feature on Teams to demonstrate different formations and movements, just like I would do in my regular class using a physical whiteboard. The session is planned for the kids to be engaged, and ensures they have fun. I have divided the class into four sections, starting with an orientation session where I play videos related to the theme of the class. I follow that up with a round of warm-up exercises, a session on skill and theoretical aspect of the game, and conclude it with a quiz or a competition. Additionally, giving rewards for getting football tasks correct are also some of the ways I keep the class interesting,” he shares.

These engaging techniques make the classes much more than just about learning the sport, says Mahua Ao, mother of 13-year-old student, Teresa Pongen. “As part of the classes every week the students are given a challenge for which they practice throughout the week. My daughter is terrified of push-ups. But when they were given a push-up challenge to do, she ensured that she practiced it with her father every morning so she could could perfect them in time,” Mahua tells indianexpress.com, adding the fitness routine taught in the classes is something Teresa does not only over the weekends, but throughout the week.

“I keep my jersey separately so that I can wear it for the classes. I especially enjoy the classes for which coach asks us to get slippers or bottles and we have to practice skills like passing and maneuvering,” says Teresa, a student of Pratt Memorial School Kolkata.

virtual football, lockdown football, lockdown sport, indian express lifestyle Teresa Pongen, 13, shares that she has been playing the sport since she was 8-9 years old. (Photo: Mahua Ao)

Virtual classes, however, come with their set of challenges. Ask Sen about how he manages and pat comes the reply, ‘Necessity is the mother of all inventions’. “The biggest challenge for kids under the age of 10 is their attention span. Also, SSG (small-sided games), aspects like defending/attacking; game plays, etc, cannot be practiced virtually due to space constraints and lack of other players. While the lockdown has limited the scope of my classes, they have also enabled experiences which were not possible earlier. For instance, I have been able to invite guest speakers like Vaibhav Joshi, the team manager for the U-17 Women’s National team, and Geoff Wilson, a sports strategist, who has consulted organisations like FIFA, UEFA, FIBA, and Barca Innovation Hub, to share their experiences. Practice continuity is what matters most now for the kids,” he shares.

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Agrees Tithi, who says that physical classes were all about the sport, but the virtual ones offer much more to the kids in terms of skill learning and knowledge sharing. “But at times, it is actually a cacophony when one student mutes another one during a class and they all go screaming ‘coach! coach’. But everything else remains the same. They still celebrate birthdays and are punished for being late — just that earlier the punishments used to be four rounds of the field, now it is sit-ups,” she adds.

“But those two hours are a break for me — I know I don’t need to keep a watch,” she shared. But since the kids practice and play within the confines of their home, do they not end up breaking stuff? “I haven’t broken anything yet!” exclaims Rayan.

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