Tejas has survived all odds to pursue his dream of preparing the best under-19 football team in India comprised of only underprivileged children. Today he has a player as young as 5 who plays with national level players. From getting resources to meeting basic necessities, Tejas has done all of this from money out of his own pocket. Know more about the amazing talents of the Sparky Football team.
Tejas was nine when he realized his passion for football. He would sit in his school grounds for hours and watch his seniors play. Soon, the passion became the purpose of his life and today he is literally changing the lives of orphan kids through football.
“My mission is to prepare India’s best under-19 football team of underprivileged children,” he says. And, you can see the spark in his eyes when he talks about 16 kids that he works with day and night to make champions out of them.
He was just 19 when he had it all figured out. The turning point in his life came in 2012 when Baichung Bhutia, former Indian Football team’s captain was retiring and played his last match against a German club. Unfortunately, India lost that match which hit Tejas very hard. “It was embarrassing and sad to see that an entire country’s team lost against a club. I thought it was very hard for one person to change the football scenario, so a change needs to be made at a grassroot and young level,” he says.
He wrote to many schools and colleges to train students but did not get any response. But, he wasn’t one to quit, and he made a video of himself doing freestyling and circulated it online. His amazing talent got recognized and he started organizing workshops for kids.
But, this was not it! If he wanted to create champions, he needed more focused kids who were willing to make football their life.
That was when he started an NGO, Sparky Football, with an objective to create football artists for the nation. Leaving no stone unturned, he gave in everything he had to prepare kids to make it big. He quit his engineering and took a call centre job in the night to make ends meet. He learnt the wonderful art of football freestyling all by himself by watching videos online.
Jack of many trades
A coach, a freestyle performer, a call centre employee, a referee, founder of Sparky Football, and the youngest TEDx speaker in 2013, Tejas has been wearing many hats. “I started working in a call centre because I wanted money to sustain my team and provide them with basic things like a football and jersey,” he says. He was also picked as the 2014 Football Freestyle Winner at Goa, judged and awarded by Manchester United legend Dennis Irwin, former team mate of David Beckham!
But he soon quit his call centre job and started doing freestyling performance at various corporate events to earn some money. Not supported by any sponsors or funds, Tejas has been putting his own money to coach and take care of the 16 kids that he trains. Also, to understand his kids better and teach them that education is also important, he took up a Psychology course in college.
“My mother was obviously not happy with my decision. She wanted me to become an engineer and here I was; I had quit my studies and was all engaged in football,” he says.
He also started clowning to engage with the kids. He goes to various hospitals and schools dressed up as a clown and shows various interesting football tricks to make kids more interested in the sport and to bring a smile on their faces.
“I wanted to make sure that people took me seriously and understood that this is not something which I am doing casually. I do not want to be yet another organization working in sports; I want to prepare the best football players of the country. That is why I do not take more that 16-17 kids,” he says.
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Being a one man show, it indeed was difficult to sustain himself and his team. The kids didn’t have resources. He somehow managed to get a ground for practicing, got jerseys and footballs for the kids, but could not afford to buy shoes. “The orphans did not even have their own shoes, so we started practicing barefoot. But we could not continue it for a long time as the students started getting hurt. I asked around for donations but did not receive any positive response,” he says.
And then a Facebook group named “Second to None” came to his rescue. He posted his requirements there, and within a week, he received around 45 pairs of shoes for his kids.
The rise of champions as young as five
Today, Sparky Football’s young team of 16 has played over 15 matches so far against several champions and experts. The youngest football player in his team is five years old who plays with national level players.
“Football is not just a game, it is an art, and there is much more to it than just kicking the ball,” he says.
Tejas invites various players and experts to play with his team. He starts training them early morning and in the evening after school. He has designed his own curriculum which teaches kids everything through football.
He even got five-time Santosh Trophy Winner and Karnataka Captain, Mr. Chethan Kumar, to play with the kids, and got a UNICEF certification which is only given to selected coaches in the world.
The kids, when first join him, are totally naive and Tejas teaches them everything from scratch. “I would spend hours with each student telling him about the game, telling him stories and making him understand the basics. I have taught them everything from scratch…even tying shoelaces!” he says.
Tejas wants to open a residential school for the kids where he can spend more time with them. He also wants to make the sport more inclusive and get girls on board too.
“I want to travel to a lot of places, learn new things and train the kids as per international level,” he says. He is also looking for more opportunities to perform freestyling to get some revenues for his NGO.
How you can help?
“People can contribute to us by getting me events to perform at. I am not looking for charity. I want to make even kids understand the struggles we have to face and earn everything by hard work,” he says.
You can sponsor a child, get football kits for the kids and help them with transport to reach for practice sessions at various places. You can also support them financially by providing funds to organize events and football matches.
It is inspiring to see that Tejas has figured his dreams out at such a young age and is doing everything possible to achieve them. With his hard work and dedication we surely hope to see a champion team on the ground soon. To know more about his work, checkout his website and Facebook page.