It was 2015 and Just For Kicks had completed four years of existence. For the first time, we had four team members working full time, had moved on to 30 paid coaches, our social media was active and running, corporates had begun funding us – I couldn’t help but feel that we had finally taken a big leap. Yet there was a fleeting feeling that something was not right, not good enough, a feeling that a lot more had to be done for the kids playing with us. I knew that if we are to power the Indian National Team, we had to work with the best in the world.
Engulfed by this feeling, I took a trip to London last September and set up meetings with almost every Premier League club one could think of – all the way from Fulham to Arsenal to West Ham. The objective was simple – to seek their help in elevating the quality of our coaches and providing kids international exposure. Meetings followed more meetings but it was finally Crystal Palace Football Club who opened themselves to the idea of working with us. I knew that we had struck gold, and that having the kids train with such a top club would pave the way for a new wave of progress at Just For Kicks.
A year has gone by and a whole lot has happened in between now and then. Of course, our team is 72 members strong, we’re impacting 2500+ kids in five cities, and leaving no stone unturned to ensure that the program delivery on-ground is impeccable. All the numbers and growth aside, watching four of our players preparing to travel to United Kingdom next week excites me the most.
Samrat, our 10 year old prodigy from Pune who plundered a ruthless amount of goals in last year’s tournament will be accompanied by city-mate Shatrughan who at 14 is probably at the edge of reckoning. 16 year old Ashish from Bandra has been running from court to station to obtain a passport and visa while Avantika from Dadar has been training extra hours to get herself to match up to the standards of her fellow players at the Crystal Palace Academy. For all four of them, this is not just an opportunity to travel abroad or play with top-level players, it is also an opportunity to tell the world around them that there is no substitute for sweating it out when it comes to sport.
The four of them along with six others from some of India’s most elite schools will be training with the academy team of Crystal Palace, playing friendly games with schools in London, and even catching a Premier League game of Palace against Stoke City. During their ten days there, they’ll be able to upgrade their fitness regime, test their skills in a competitive environment, learn innovative training methodologies from some of the planet’s most revered coaches, and experience the craze for the game. For all you know, it might just be the inflexion point in their career!
As we turn five this year at Just For Kicks, we’re beginning to think beyond the goals we initially set out on – that to develop life skills among children through football. Today, we’re dreaming of setting up a residential academy to give our most talented lot a genuine shot at making it big in the sport. Today, we’re dreaming of our players getting signed on by the best clubs and representing India at the highest-level. Today, we’re dreaming of our Samrats and Shatrughans walking down the tunnel at a World Cup game. Today, we’re taking real steps towards turning these dreams into reality. This trip to Crystal Palace is only the first of many steps.