What happens when the most notorious kids get together and play football? They become more serious, positive and regular in school. Thanks to Just for Kicks, the kids in low income government schools are seeing a positive and significant growth. Here is how!
Sayaji, a seven-year old, second-grade kid, turned up on a winter morning at 6 AM for a game scheduled to begin two hours later. Vikas Plakkot, founder of Just for Kicks, an organization which is using football as a medium to develop life skills for marginalized students, was surprised to see him in full attire ready to play so early in the day. Sayaji was unusually silent but went about his warm-up without a word. Plakkot did not interrupt, until an hour later when he came to know that Sayaji’s father had passed away early in the morning. Unfazed, Sayaji had come to the ground and wanted to play the game.
“His words still ring in my head, he said ‘Bhaiya, this is what makes me happy, please let me play’. He went on to play and score the winning goal for the team that day,” remembers Plakkot.
This is a true example of what sports means and the impact it can create.
When even quality education is a far cry in public schools meant for low-income households in India, implementing sports as an “extra” activity seems like an impossible task, especially when almost half the schools don’t even have a playground!
But Vikas Plakkot, an engineer who was not satisfied with just the degree and wanted to understand change, is changing the situation through his amazing initiative Just for Kicks.
The motto of JFK is simple – everyone plays!
JFK has enabled hundreds of kids like Sayaji to not only come out of their shell but also become more confident team players. Started in 2011 with just a dozen kids, JFK now engages 1,300 students in cities through football.
The idea clicked when Plakkot was a Teach for India fellow and, while discussing the state of education in India with other fellows, they agreed on the point that there was a lack of team work in the students.
These students came from very different backgrounds and circumstances. They had never been part of a team before. Plakkot and other fellows, being great sports fans, thought of using sports as a tool to impart team spirit in the kids.
“I took the bunch of 12 most difficult kids from a school and engaged them in football. Within in a month, there was a tremendous positive growth. They became more interested in studying; their attendance and participation in the school increased too,” Plakkot remembers.
“We chose football, because this sport imparts team spirit. Cricket is more of an individual’s game but football requires everyone to work together, and this is what we needed,” he says.
Through a unique model which involves many stakeholders including parents, teachers, headmasters and students, JFK has managed to keep the students’ interest alive.
“Teachers work very closely with the students as managers. This gives them an opportunity to observe the student closely and also understand him or her outside the serious environment of a classroom,” he says.
The process starts with identifying the right schools which are mostly low income government schools or budget private schools. After meeting with the teachers and the school authority, a sports curriculum of four years is drafted.
The cost of training and working with each kid is around Rs.3,000 per year, but JFK charges only Rs.150 for the entire year.
“We want to charge a minimal amount because we want parents and students to get a feeling of involvement. If it is for free then most of the time they don’t take it seriously,” he says.
The coaches are hired from other colleges and existing football teams who might be willing to train the school kids. A pre- and post-match session is done to make the students think about their performances and what they have learnt.
JFK organizes several leagues and tournaments to keep students as engaged as possible in a formal manner. There is a pre-match ceremony and a post-match function, followed by team pictures.
“We pay huge attention to minute details like shaking hands before and after the match, etc. These small things play a very crucial role in building character,” he says.
Sometimes it becomes hard to deal with the students and explain to them how the game works.
As they have never played a game like this, it is a challenge to explain to them why only one particular person can score a goal and why another has to just defend it and pass the ball.
“Some students might feel that their role is not as important as others. It becomes a challenge to explain to them that every one has a designated role and it is important too,” Plakkot says.
In just three years of operation, JFK has seen a great positive change in the attitude of the students.
Apart from overall personality development, there has been a huge rise in attendance rate. Every month, the schools where JFK is involved have an attendance rate of 95 to 100 percent.
The JFK team also measures the growth rate of a kid who plays football and one who does not.
As per their report, the kids who were part of JFK’s football programme saw over 28 percent positive growth in their overall academics and personality.
The team of 12 which currently works in Hyderabad, Pune and Maharshtra wants to expand to other cities and reach out to more students in the near future. They want to organize more large scale tournaments and leagues. JFK is also partnering with Liverpool academy, Pune to enhance their work.
“Right now we only focus on English medium schools, but we also want to reach out to other regional language schools,” he says. They have also come up with an interesting model like IPL or ISL where people can buy these teams for just $200.
JFK has started a campaign where you can buy a team and help the students play. Click here for more details.
To know more about JFK and their work, check out their Facebook page.