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The famous American artist Fred Rogers once said

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning, but for children, play is serious learning.”

The education system, unfortunately, has created separate compartments called classroom and playground, with a strong bias that a child learns better from academic books.

How early lessons can kick in
Imagine this scenario. Saket, a senior manager at a leading technology firm, had a long day ahead. He has an interview with the company Vice-President for a leadership role he applied for two months ago. Then, Saket plans to watch his daughter Tara play in the U-14 inter-school basketball competition in the evening, a game that he promised to attend.

With a proven track record, Saket expected the interview to go well, although the Vice-President posed a strange final question on “what team sport did you play in your youth, and what challenges did you face?” Saket watched more sport on television than actually playing in his younger days, so he managed to give a canned response from the little he knew. While driving to the basketball game after the interview, he could not get over that last question on sport, wondering what it had to do with the new leadership role he applied.

The basketball game was a close one, and Tara’s team lost the match, although being higher ranked than their opponents. Saket observed that she took the defeat well, and in her post-match analysis spoke factors that led to the loss — wrong substitution, lack of coordination between defenders and strikers, free-throw conversation rate, and match pressure. Saket had not listened to Tara so intently ever, as the lingering question in his head since afternoon felt answered now. If only he had met his daughter before the interview.

Although Tara started off learning only basketball dribbles at the time of her enrollment at the academy, she picked up several life skills through sport. Life lessons from sport are no longer hearsay since it has been proven by scientific research.

Sports R&D at the grassroots
The University of Stirling in Scotland, through its research projects involving the children and youth, has developed a scale “Life Skills Scale for Sport” (LSSS). The purpose of the study is to measure the development of eight life skills within the sport — teamwork, goal setting, time management, emotional skills, interpersonal communication, social skills, leadership, problem-solving, and decision making. One cohort included 338 British youth in the age group11 to 21 years, who were participating in different sporting disciplines such as football, swimming, athletics, and basketball, amongst others. The finding of the study determined that participants had played the sport for an average of 5 hours per week, and the before-after measurement of life skills using LSSS did show a positive correlation in their learning.

In India, organizations such as Sportz Village and Pro Sports Development are making headway into the primary education space with a deeper understanding of the complex issues that exist at the grassroots level. Sportz Village Foundation, one of India’s largest sports education providers, have dedicated project teams working with several Corporate-CSR partners in implementing sports programs that drive change in health and education. Pro Sport Development (PSD), a social enterprise that uses sport as a vehicle to impact the lives of marginalized communities, bagged an award from the International Olympic Committee in 2018 for its outstanding work.

Although media predominantly highlights sport as medal-winning moments of elite athletes, the origin point of the arc of sport truly begins in a school playground. If the government policy-makers, corporate houses, and school management can unify to view sport with a broader lens of education, it can lead to a transformational change in the youth of our nation.

This post was originally published on Medium