When India could not qualify in hockey during the 2008 Olympics, Arumugam decided it was time to get to the root of the problem and teach young children to play. So he quit his well-paying job, and went on to make hockey players out of government school kids.
Arumugam had a perfectly well settled life in Delhi. He graduated from IIT and got a great government job. But one day, about 10 years ago, he suddenly decided to take voluntary retirement from work and start training government school kids in hockey.
Arumugam had always loved watching and playing hockey and had even written several articles in local publications about the sport. But the turning point in his life came when India could not even qualify in hockey during the 2008 Olympics.
“India has such a golden history in hockey. But when we could not even qualify, I was really sad and thought we should create more hockey players and some awareness about this game,” says Arumugam.
So he quit his job and started an NGO called Hockey Citizens Group. He also launched a program called One Thousand Hockey Legs in Delhi to bring children together for this sport.
Arumugam began to approach government schools because, according to him, the students there needed more intervention. The poor equipment and lack of facilities available to them in sports made him reach out to them.
Once some of the schools agreed to let him help, he repaired the grounds, planted the grass and made the fields ready to play. He also provided free sports equipment to the kids.
Today, with the help of his team, Arumugam reaches out to 80 schools in five cities of India including Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Puducherry and Kanpur and trains over 2,400 kids on a regular basis.
“I thinks sport is great for personality development. Especially in government schools, kids are often not disciplined and are irregular. Sports has given them a systematic lifestyle,” he says.
Arumugam often gets coaches from various places across India to teach the kids. Some coaches work voluntarily but others have to be paid. Arumugam uses funds from his own pocket most of the time, but now he also gets donations from people who believe in his cause.
“I have been trying really hard to get quality coaches. As I mostly have volunteers, they can’t be called experts. It would be great if we could get more coaches on board,” he says.
Arumugam’s government school kids are fine players who play for their school teams. Some of them are district level players too.
Although convincing the government school authorities to let him help them was a difficult task, Arumugam managed to get one school on board from every 5-6 schools that he approached.
“They think NGOs are not genuine. They doubt our intentions. But over a period of time I have got them to trust me. It is still difficult but I know the way now,” he says.
Another challenge came in Arumugam’s way when many kids started playing hockey only to get free stuff but had no real interest in the sport. So he came up with an idea to address this issue as well.
He started providing free things to only a few outstanding players who were regular in their practice and showed dedication. And if other students started showing the same level of interest, he gave them the free stuff too.
“The commitment level among students is low. About 50 percent of the kids do not take things seriously. Bringing that change is also a slow process,” he says.
Arumugam also pays special attention to some “unfit” kids who might need special assistance. And he has been working hard to improve their physical fitness.
Arumugam makes full use of the holidays in the government schools. Throughout the year, the training is organised on weekends so that studies are not interrupted, and extensive practice is done during the long stretch of holidays in summer and winter.
“The kids earlier would just roam around and waste their time during holidays. Now they are disciplined, focused and organised,” he says.
Though it has been hard to measure the impact, Arumugam has seen a tremendous behaviour change in these students. A positive attitude towards life and a more healthy lifestyle is something which these kids proudly showcase these days, according to him.
Thanks to Arumugam’s efforts, two of his players, Rahul and Rohit, played in a hockey tournament in a reputed private school in Delhi and did very well. The authorities were so impressed with their performance that they gave them admission in the school for free.
Now Rahul and Rohit go to a good English medium school and have seen great improvement in their English speaking skills.
In the future, Arumugam wants to prepare more kids like Rohit and Rahul and reach out to more government schools. Twenty five percent of the children he trains are girls and he would like to see the numbers improve even further.
To know more about Arumugam’s work, check out their website.