Bridges of Sports is a non-profit organisation that trains children from the tribal and underserved communities to develop their untapped sporting potential, providing them with the opportunity to excel and build a career in sports. Started with the initial push of a few Indian Olympians, they have worked with communities in Karnataka, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh. As of today, they have trained a whopping number of over 1800 children from the grassroots in athletics.
A scientific sports programme, the first of its kind, was conducted in Manipal for a batch of their trainees from 20th May to 6th June. We spoke to Enakshi Rajvanshi, one of the leaders of Bridges of Sports, to gather some insight into the programme.
MTTN: Where are these children from? What are their backgrounds?
Enakshi: Most of the athletes hail from an Indo-African tribal community called the Siddis. Based out of Mundgod in Northern Karnataka, they have struggled even for basic amenities due to lack of resources, social inclusion, and other opportunities. Studies have shown that Siddis in Karnataka, much like in other parts of India, have remained isolated, economically and socially neglected, predominantly settled in forest dwellings. This limits their access to resources and opportunities in more ways than mere logistics. In 1987, the Sports Authority of India (SAI) started a scheme to train members of the Siddi community. Around 65 members of the community were initially chosen to be trained in athletic events as part of the ‘Special Area Games Scheme.’ The scheme was discontinued six years later, and although further efforts were made to revive the scheme in the 2000s, it was criticised for its short-sightedness, lack of inclusiveness and proper coaches. Bridges of Sports aims to amend and improve upon the efforts of the scheme.
MTTN: How were the children selected for the program? How will they be handpicked to represent the country at the next Olympics?
Enakshi: We conduct a rural athletics community league called PATANG, which is a time-based league and helps identify hidden talents in isolated areas. The timings of the participants are noted and compared with international records for that particular event and age. Based on the differences in timings, the children are categorised in youth level coaching and senior level coaching. The best athletes (within 10% of the international record) are taken through an elite athlete pathway which not only works with the physical aspect of training but also nutritional support, sports psychology, personality development and injury prevention, with the aim of preparing them for the Olympics.
MTTN: Have these programmes been conducted before?
Enakshi: The high-performance training camp was the first of its kind conducted for our athletes. We have conducted similar programs at Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences, Odisha, which is home to over 27000 poor indigenous children.
MTTN: What did a typical day consist of for the participants? Who accompanied them for the duration of their stay in Manipal?
Enakshi: The high-performance training camp consisted of four daily training sessions for the athletes with specially curated schedules for each day of the week.
The sessions included: An early morning warm-up, speed work or interval training session conducted by BoS coach Rizwan, strength and conditioning session conducted by the Centre of Sports Science and Medicine at Marena – this session also included weight training for the older athletes, early evening sand training at beaches around Manipal, and a recovery session at the Marena swimming pool. The athletes were provided food and accommodation in the MIT campus. 17 athletes selected through a pre-training camp were brought to Manipal along with 2 coaches, 2 Coordinators and 5 volunteers who were also a part of the Bridges of Sports Changemaker program and are students of MAHE.
MTTN: Why Manipal?
Enakshi: The collaboration with Manipal is a huge step forward in creating the desired sporting ecosystem which we are aiming towards. Sports science and technological advancements in sports have helped athletes achieve the unthinkable. With our athletes coming from one of the most backward communities in India, it was the first time that they underwent training at world-class facilities. MAHE is well-known for one of the finest indoor sports complexes in Asia and their research centre dedicated to Sports Medicine and Science. Opportunities such as these not only help in their development as an athlete, but gives them confidence and motivates them to see what lies outside their own little bubble.
Some of the athletes in our program are already within 10% of the national record with just a few months of training. With the addition of entities such as injury management and sports science, we believe that the day isn’t far when we see them winning laurels for the country.
-As reported to Niharika Dixith