We recently held the Great Goals Golden Baby League awards ceremony on Zoom. At that time I spoke about what it took to create an eco-system it takes to make the baby league possible. On reflection, this is how we  create a grassroots eco-system to promote sport at Great Goals.


So how are we creating this eco-system?


Players  – Players are the centre of a sporting eco-system. Without players there is no sport. They need to stay motivated, committed and enjoy the process of learning and playing the sport.  So key to this eco-system is a group of children who enjoy playing. Our programs therefore need to focus on and ensure their enjoyment while learning the sport – which is why we focus so much on skills meet fun. While all our programs flow from our annual curriculum, they are tailored to be age-appropriate and ability based.


Parents – When working with youth players, the parent is as important as the child. First the parent has to be willing to commit the time, effort and money to the child playing the sport. The parent needs to be invested in their child developing over the long term rather than focus on short term wins and gains.  Often this is challenging, because we want to see results instantly. However the parent has to believe that sport develops life skills; that their child is progressing at their best capability and allow the child the space to develop. This is immensely validated by all the sportspersons we have interviewed and are showcasing, as part of Sport is Life. To keep the parent engaged and aware, we ensure clear, constant and open communication, keep them abreast of all goings-on, share progress through report cards, flag and share concerns whenever needed. We believe that with the parents, we are partners in their child’s sporting journey.


Culture – Grassroots programs need to focus on enjoyment as much as it does on skill. A child-centric culture is key to a grassroots eco-system. What does this mean?  It means one that is built on fun, good skills, where motivation comes out of commitment and respect, and not from fear. It is built on open communication and consistency. It means also allowing the child the space to solve problems and make decisions.  When players are nurtured in a culture of respect and fair play, they automatically imbibe these values in life. Our culture and philosophy are built on the Long Term Player Development Model which we believe take a holistic approach to sporting progress. 


Coaches/ Academy – For a child-centric program to thrive, we need coaches who are able to deliver programs that reinforce the culture. So coaches not just have to be technically skilled, they have to be good communicators, facilitators of thinking and problem solving and role models.  They also have to young and energetic to engage children and make the learning experience fun. They need to translate their passion for the sport to the child. They also need to plan their programs so they can offer structure and consistency. They need to be strong in the sport and strong in education. All of this doesn’t come in one package. It needs to be constantly reinforced. They need coaching. They need mentoring. At Great Goals, coach development is a key area of focus, where we continually learn, adapt and incorporate current thinking and practices in sport and education.


Infrastructure – We keep reading all it takes is a child and a ball. And it’s true – we are using this our advantage in Great Goals Zoom classes. Sometimes players make a ball from t-shirts/ clothes when  they don’t have one. To create a viable eco-system needs space, infrastructure, and equipment. And at Great Goals, we are constantly seeking new spaces that are conducive to learning and safe. This will remain a quest and challenge in the years to come until this is becomes a macro-priority for the city, state and nation. We will continue to explore new spaces and new places to run classes in while ensuring player safety. 


Competitive Platforms – Players can train, but especially in team sports, they need competitive avenues to put their training into action – and showcase it. We need more and more leagues and tournaments at the Grassroots. Great Goals is proud to be the host to Chennai’s biggest grassroots football event for players under 15 – the Annual Great Goals Tournament from 2015 onwards. We have also run leagues since our inception in 2013 and since 2018 run the Great Goals Baby League –Chennai’s largest grassroots league for academies and players under 12. And through these set standards for fair play, structure and professionalism in the grassroots tournament space.


Community – In addition to everything listed, we need an army of volunteers, field staff, people who maintain the grounds, people who ensure equipment is clean and filled with air, water, first aid and ice of field. We need medical partners and physiotherapists to think in a child-centric way. And we need people to cheer and motivate players, coaches and academies to keep getting better. We value the partnerships we have with Kauvery Hospitals, Sports Dynamix, venues like Whistle Urban Sports Hubs, the schools we work with, and the many other valuable partners within our network. 


We need to be role models at every step of the way, so in the long run, we want to develop young people who are the playing at their best ability and are also the best versions of themselves as human beings.  And that’s what it takes to create a sustainable model of grassroots sports, we need to remind ourselves that this road is long and there are many highs and lows along the way.  And we need to continue to do what we do, as we learn and get better all the time. So that through Sport we continue to Engage, Inspire and Empower young boys and girls.