Youngsters want to give back to society, but only a few actually do. Atif Hyder is a 25-year-old who began Hyderabad’s first football academy to develop young talent. This week, You & I caught up with the lad to learn more about his work.
What made you start a football school in Hyderabad?
Football is on the rise in India. A significant percentage of the population now follows the beautiful game, be it the World Cup, European leagues, or our very own ISL. My friend and co-founder, Rithwik Mali, and I decided to give something back to the sport. As children, we never had the opportunity to learn from a licensed coach or receive professional training. Noticing the growing interest in football among the city’s youngsters, we wanted them to benefit from the right infrastructure. Hyderabad Football Academy aims to teach the basics of football, channel skill and talent, and show kids the right techniques.
We operate at two locations: Babukhan Arena in Gachibowli and Turfside in Jubilee Hills. Our coaches are licensed by the All-India Football Federation, the governing body for football in India. Our head coach Ananth Tejo Dasari graduated with a degree in sports science from Liverpool Hope University in England, and is working hard to fine-tune a balance between fun and intensity in training sessions. He works on specific aspects of football: passing, dribbling, shooting, defending, strength, endurance and agility.
Wasn’t it a bit of a risk?
Helping a child learn how to kick a football or pass it accurately can never be a risk. Rithwik and I work with mindset that we will have achieved our goal even if we help only one child become a better player. In this era of global capitalism, you sometimes think of sport as only a business. Somewhere along the line, we forgot that the game was meant to be played for the love and pure joy that come with it. A kid scoring a goal in his backyard or school playground can bring out the same emotional outburst as that of a professional scoring in a packed stadium.
So how has the response been?
Fantastic! Our academy in Gachibowli has now been operational for six months and currently trains kids between the ages of four and 14. We were surprised and thrilled by the enthusiasm and passion of kids as young as four or five years old. They display good talent, and with the right guidance I’m sure that Hyderabad will soon be producing a good number of quality footballers, alongside the likes of Kolkata and Goa.
What’s your take on the city’s sports culture?
These days, Hyderabad is buzzing with sports activity. It’s a part of nearly every conversation among young boys and girls, whether it’s a thunderous free kick, a glorious off-drive, a three-point buzzer-beater, or even a left-hook knockout. There has been a sharp increase in the variety and volume of sport in the city, among both children and adults. Parents want their kids to pick up a game that not only develops them physically, but also mentally and socially. Traditionally, a lot of parents have placed emphasis solely on academics to aid the development of a child and have not given sports their due. I hope to see that change, and I also hope there will be a lot more parks and recreational facilities in the future, where children and adults alike can go play their favourite sport and enjoy themselves.
Do you have a connection with athletics?
I’ve been involved in sports since I was a kid. I come from a family of athletes and have been playing football ever since I was a little boy. I’ve played for my school as well as college teams, and was part of the Tarnaka FC side that won the APFA Division B this year to be promoted to Division A. I have also represented the Hyderabad U13, U15 and U17 cricket teams.
..... as told to Anahita