I was pretty shocked about a week into the fellowship, when I realized that most of the kids in class, had never played or experienced any form of organized sport ever.

The school that I teach in doesn’t have a ground or a courtyard for the kids to play or run in, and so sports was hardly ever spoken about in school. The community had a ground on the other side, but the kids I realized, have crazily busy schedules throughout the day. In between learning the Quran in the morning, attending school in the afternoon, to tuitions/ extra classes/scholarship classes in the evening, most of them hardly have time to finish their homework, leave alone dedicate time to pursuing a sport/non-academic activity of their choice.

And this obviously this wasn’t right and something had to be done about it, because sure, while growing up I learnt a lot in class, but I really think that some of my better and worthwhile lessons were taught to me on the playing field, and the kids couldn’t be deprived of that.

Also and as importantly, when I look back at school, some of my most cherished childhood moments are memories I have outside class, of playing cricket or football with friends, because honestly, the thrill of scoring a goal or the adrenaline rush after winning a race is unparalleled, something you cannot replicate as hard as you try within the four walls of your class.

And so, I went to the nearby BMC ground, asked for permission to play football there and decided to start coaching my kids thrice a week, from 7 am to 9am, for a footabll tournament called Just For kKcks, in Mumbai.

And I can tell you, that that is by far the best decision I’ve ever taken in my entire life.

Sameer – one of my lower order English kids, who joined school only this year had been feeling extremely out of place as a new student, because the rest of the kids have been together for 3 years. It has been affecting his school experience I know, and even more so, because the other kids are at reading levels much higher than his. As a result of it, he doesn’t have too many friends, he’s always quiet and reserved, and he usually keeps to himself in my class.

To watch him play defense with Imran and Furkan the way they did yesterday, to see the three of them call out to each other during the game, hi5 each other after the game, and to then watch them walk back home arm in arm, intently discussing the game is something I can’t thank football enough for.

To watch Mudassir, who loves to keep the ball with himself (very reflective of his attitude in class) pass to Hafizul right in front of the charging Tahir (the goalkeeper), to leave him a open goal to tap the ball into, is another sight I wont be forgetting soon.

To watch Ahmed run like the wind with the ball, to watch the celebration that follows every goal, Rakeeb’s never give up attitude (the guy will run after you even after getting tacked a hundred times), Wadood practicing how to take a proper shot over and over and over again, are everyday scenarios that make waking up at 6.30 in the morning totally worthwhile. It’s like seeing your childhood memories unfold in front of you again, only this time, your watching from the other side, and honestly it feels just as good if not better.

The funny side to all of this, is that I’ve realized that the secret to being a good coach lies in doing exactly the opposite of what you do in class.

I would never for all the gold in the world, let Shahid and Mujtaba sit together during Math class, because together, they’d completely wreck havoc in class. All I had to do was to let them play upfront together for one match, to see them wreck the same havoc on the football field and boy, what a match that was.

From the first day when the kids just wanted to kick the ball  – direction, team, goal notwithstanding, to playing a game, where they’re actually scoring goals off corner kicks, they’ve come a long way.

But more importantly, they’re just happier now, you can see it in their faces, it means so much to them, to be able to come together as a team, and channelize all the anger, the frustration from home, and I daresay that that makes them better players than their richer counterparts in other schools.

And I can’t wait to take them to other places, to play against other teams and see for myself.

I cant wait for them to score their first goal for school, I cant wait to watch the celebrations after, I cannot wait for them to lose their first game, come back dejected and then go back as a team and win the next one; there’s so much to do, there’s so much to learn and look forward to, this coming year, and what a year it has already been.

Thank you football, I cannot thank you enough for what you’ve done to my life 🙂