This feature was originally published in Tadpoles magazine and can be accessed here.

One-of-the-shortest-players-to-have-played-in-the-NBA-5ft-3inch-Muggsy-Bogues-conducts-a-dribbling-session. Bogues was a Chief Guest for this event. Photo Courtesy: Kerala Basketball Association.

One-of-the-shortest-players-to-have-played-in-the-NBA-5ft-3inch-Muggsy-Bogues-conducts-a-dribbling-session. Bogues was a Chief Guest for this event. Photo Courtesy: Kerala Basketball Association.

There’s an Alia Bhatt commercial that’s been doing the rounds lately— “youngsters like us have so many problems these days: boyfriend problem, exam problem, pimple problem…” and so it continues. While all of the starlet’s worries are miraculously solved by applying a face wash containing neem extracts, the real worry of many young Indian basketballers isn’t cosmetic. It’s about convincing their parents to let them play.

“Go study, not in the house, the neighbours will complain!” these are the automatic reactions of most parents at the sight of their sweaty kids with dust in their hair and muck on their shoes.

Basketballers are of many different shapes and sizes, but when it comes to dribbling, passing or shooting there’s one thing they all have in common: they want to keep doing it all day long, inside and outside!

While the hollow sound of a bouncing basketball is music to the ears of its practitioner, for parents, neighbours and non-sports inclined siblings, it’s more noise than Nusrat Fateh Ali.

A welcome change

The last few years though has seen a welcome change in the approach of parents, vis-à-vis their kids’ athletic interests. As India matures from a cricket nation to an all sports one, every new generation gets that extra legroom to tread a slightly different path than their parents. Don’t get us wrong: professional dynasties will always exist. Doctors’ children more often than not join the medical profession, young actors continue in front of the camera and many lawyers follow their parents into courtrooms.

However, it is heartening to also hear of parents who encourage their children to “find their own passion” and who don’t try to live their unfulfilled dreams through their offspring.

“My parents and sister undoubtedly have been the biggest support I have ever had. They trusted me with my decisions and had faith that I was making the correct choices, be it playing a tournament a week before the board exams or just prioritizing in general. They encouraged me throughout my playing time, never missed a local/state game and even made it a point to come to every Nationals they could. Just their presence gave me extra energy to perform and I couldn’t ask for anything more.” Krittika Divadkar, an upcoming basketball player from Maharashtra tells Tadpoles.

Her fellow Pune and India teammate Ishwari Pingle fully endorses this view. “My family is always eager to watch me play wherever possible. Usually I hear players say that their parents won’t let them participate in tournaments because of exams. In my case it was vice versa. They always pushed me to play even if it meant that I wouldn’t get enough time to study. When I was considering skipping a selection camp because of my exams I remember my dad saying: ‘you can always give exams again, but once you miss a match it’s never coming back.’  Being an ex-hockey player himself, he understands me well and advises me about sports in general.”

Recognising basketball as a means to an end

Unlike Divadkar and Pingle who wish to pursue sports professionally, even those youngsters for whom basketball is recreational, support has been forthcoming. “New-generation children are both confident and aggressive. It’s important to have a classroom-playground balance. When he brought up a one-year-gap idea, I was unsure. Friends and parents put pressure on him. I was worried he was too much into basketball. But he managed to convince me with his idea.” said Rajesh Ram Mishra, VP, Wipro in an interview for a leading newspaper. Mr Mishra was speaking about his son Sudhanshu Nath, who used basketball as an ‘extra-curricular’ qualification while applying to foreign universities.

For Rhodes Scholar Vrinda Bhandari, sports have always been an excellent release that has helped her re-energise; something her folks understood despite certain misgivings. “I was the first person in my family to play at the national level. My parents have always been very supportive (although my grandparents were initially unhappy with me going in sleeper class trains to faraway places with boys; and because my grandmother worried that I would become too dark).”

Financial backing

In a few instances, middle class Indian parents are also willing to shell out their hard earned savings to send their children abroad for the best coaching and professional playing opportunities. Ambati Prudhvishwar Reddy and Ravjot Singh Kahlon who are currently training in Europe and USA respectively, represent two prime examples of parents putting their money where their mouth is.

Be it moral, technical or financial support, today’s guardians are pulling out all the stops to make their children’s sporting aspirations come true.

Gopalakrishnan R
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