When B Anusha was in Class 7, her Physical Education (PE) teacher encouraged her to play for her school in the Girls’ Country Cricket Championship, hosted by Anantapur Sports Academy (ASA).

Anusha comes from a remote village called Pandlapalli in Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh state. Her parents are farmers with a small plot of land, and her father also works as a tractor driver for hire. Exercising seriously was not an option for her. But the then 13-year-old was named tournament MVP and won a scholarship from the ASA to attend their residence academy.

Since then, Anusha, aged 20, has played for Andhra Pradesh U-16, U-19 and Senior State Women’s teams.

“Exercise at ASA has helped me in so many ways,” she says. “It made me more confident than I’ve ever been. It gave me exposure and financial assistance by playing for the first country team, which I needed… Along with playing sports at ASA, it gave me the opportunity to train at one of the best cricket facilities in the country.” State where I was able to improve my cricket skills.”

Anusha is currently in her third year of graduation at PVKK College, where she is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in computer science. But her dream is to “continue to play cricket at a higher level and (one day) represent the Indian women’s team”.

Major focus on the grassroots

ASA is part of the Rural Development Trust (RDT), which has been working in communities in Andhra Pradesh for more than 50 years. In the late 1970s and 1980s, the Trust was studying hepatic To encourage the children to be active, but this was done in an informal way. Sport became an official and integral part of its programs only in the late 1990s. That’s when ASA was born. Over time, the ASA’s programs have expanded to include eight sports – cricket, football, hockey, judo, tennis, kabaddi, softball, and, most recently, archery.

“In the beginning, our program was to provide financial and material support to teams traveling to tournaments,” says Moncho Ferrer, RDT Program Director. “Later on, we started organizing events like tournaments and camps at the grassroots level to ensure that children access their basic right to play in a safe and quality play space, which later grew into a year-long program focusing on the all-round development of children at all levels of the programme.”

The organization’s programs follow a traditional hierarchical structure. At the bottom is their popular programme, which is conducted entirely in the public schools in each community. Then there are the development centers, and at the top is the residential programme, which is located in the ASA Sports Village which was built between 2000 and 2002.

ASA is part of the Rural Development Trust (RDT), which has been working in communities in Andhra Pradesh for more than 50 years.
ASA is part of the Rural Development Trust (RDT), which has been working in communities in Andhra Pradesh for more than 50 years.

“The main focus is on the grassroots,” says Sai Krishna Boluru, executive director of the ASA. “All sports have a core program except for tennis. We also have about 104 or 105 (development) centers, which include youth clubs, government schools and sports centres.”

According to Pulluru, the difference between folk and development centers is that the latter have their own physical infrastructure, such as computer labs and classrooms, and offer English language classes as well as nutrition. The residential program at Anantapur Sports Village is for children who have the ability to excel in sports.

The ASA also runs leagues from August to December for each of their sports with matches taking place every Sunday. The Country Cricket Championship is the longest-running league, and arguably the jewel in the crown of the organisation. According to Pulluru, more than 100 villages used to participate in the tournament, with the final match being held in Anantapur in an authentic cricket ground. However, it has recently been restructured and now features 16 teams in each of the Under-12, Under-16 and Under-19 mixed age groups. It was also renamed the Ananta Premier League (APL).

The ASA also operates an athletics meet exclusively for girls.

“In these leagues, we scout for talent and offer full scholarships—academics, boarding and boarding, access to the competition—to those who can follow,” Boloro says.

‘joy and happiness’

The programs are designed for children between the ages of 6 and 18. Over time, life skills have been added to the programs, for example, a trainer might hold a session on topics such as communication, inequality, or gender awareness.

Boloro estimates that 6,700 children were part of the program at the start of the season, and about 1.5 lakh children have gone through the program over the years.

“It’s a dream for me to be part of this kind of program,” he notes. “When I finish my work, step out of my office, and watch the kids play, I can see the real joy on their faces. That’s what gives me such a sense of joy and happiness. That’s the thing that really gets me going.”

In 2016-17 the ASA started a mixed gender festival where girls and boys compete together, although this is only for younger kids. The age depends on the sport – for cricket it is under 12, football is under 9 and for softball it is under 14. Participants are brought to one venue once every two months and the festival is held over two days, with the final round being held at Anantapur Sports Village.

Kids in the Champions Legacy Club asa
Boloro estimates that approximately 1.5 lakh people have gone through the scheme over the years.

Y Lahari, a 12-year-old from Dharmavaram, was first introduced to ASA when he played in the mixed-gender U-9 Football Cup a few years ago. In 2021, at the age of eleven, he won a scholarship to attend the academy.

“I like to play (soccer) because I can make a lot of new friends and also go to other places,” says Lahari. “I can keep fit by exercising regularly.” He credits the ASA with teaching him new skills such as teamwork and communication, as well as values ​​such as respect and fair play.

“I am interested in arbitration,” he adds. “I want to become a professional FIFA referee where I can officiate national and international matches.”

ASA relies primarily on volunteer coaches and physical education teachers—”they’re the backbone of the program,” says Boloro. The program also created a path for participants to become trainers. “Not everyone can get to the next level. To build a sports culture, you need more coaches.”

The ASA encourages those interested to join the Youth Leadership Program for one year and become volunteers or shadow coaches. As part of the programme, they are given the opportunity to organize events and hold workshops. The ASA then supports those who complete the program and wish to become professional coaches by helping them obtain their coaching licenses from various state associations.

In particular, the ASA wants to increase the number of female trainers in rural areas. “Although there is still a long way to go, it is worth noting the changing perceptions among the broader community (particularly parents and teachers) about boys and girls playing sports on an equal footing,” says Ferrer. “The program has enabled young people to acquire the skills needed to further their higher education and livelihood opportunities, particularly as a coach and/or referee.”

ASA relies primarily on volunteer coaches and physical education teachers
ASA relies primarily on volunteer coaches and physical education teachers.

“Sport has made me who I am today”

One of these coaches is B. Hindu Kumar (24). He was selected for the residency program as a 14-year-old in 2014 and is now a coach with the organization. He comes from a village called D Honnur, and says his parents were “very happy” when he was chosen, as it meant he would get a good education and could also continue to play sports.

“Sports has made me who I am today,” Kumar said. “It gave me a career opportunity as a coach, (and) I learned a lot by playing sports; most importantly believing in myself and my team, and helping each other to achieve a goal, are the most important aspects of any part of life or career.”

He also said that the program also taught him to develop empathy. “It (the program) supported me when I was in need, as I come from a family where my parents were farmers and day laborers,” says Kumar. “Today I can demonstrate the same qualities as a person and professional working with children who have the same background as mine.”

To measure the results of its programs, the ASA uses different criteria for each level of the pyramid—grass roots, association, and empowerment. At a grassroots level, they use the number of children they have in the program as well as the number of clubs they have established. In the case of tournaments open to all clubs, they measure the number of children participating from each club in the league. At the empowerment level, they track the number of young leaders and volunteers in the program, as well as the number of trainings and job opportunities they can facilitate.

The programs are designed for children between the ages of 6 and 18.

The ASA also uses the Social and Emotional Development Index to track traits such as self-esteem and self-confidence among children, as well as social skills such as communication and relationship building. The organization also developed a program-level gender index that factors in the number of female trainers, the ratio of girls to boys in each position, and the overall ratio of girls to boys across all of their programmes. The ASA also has a section on gender in its survey of 10- to 15-year-olds that aims to measure their perception of gender equality. Students should rate how much they agree or disagree with statements, such as “I believe that members of the opposite sex can participate equally in sports” and “I believe that everyone is equal.”

In terms of financing, the ASA benefits from being part of the Rural Development Fund, which has its own sources of income. Moreover, the academy has project partners such as the La Liga Foundation and the Rafael Nadal Foundation. However, according to Boloro, corporate financing remains a challenge due to the lack of information on how CSR funds are used in tribal and rural areas.

“In the early years of the ASA, many questioned what an NGO should do with sport, but now we see many sports for development programs doing great work across India,” says Ferrer. “So, we are humbled to see the trust we placed in a new program in the early 2000s has developed and grown to be significant by reaching approximately 8,000 kids each year in eight different sports. Over the years, we have achieved many Individual achievements, but more recently, to share, I see B. Anusha, has recently been shortlisted for the Women’s Premier League (WPL) auction as an achievement for her and our programme.”

Written by Sherba Tasneem. Edited by Divya Sethu


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