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xSport Coaching and ASB team up to launch first NGO sports project within Indian schools

Professional coaches train children from government schools at the American School of Bombay

As soon as the coach blows his whistle, 20 boys eagerly walk onto the soccer turf at the American School of Bombay’s Kurla campus. “Every child take one ball,” coach Amir Reza Kasraei calls out, starting to demonstrate a basic soccer drill. Alongside, a similar group of boys are deep in concentration as they dribble basketballs across the court. The students attend government schools in the neighborhood -- Gandhi Bal Mandir High School, a Marathi-medium school, and Holy Cross High School, an English-medium school. The international coaches train professional athletes and are in Mumbai to work with American School students. In addition, they offer weeklong training sessions to children from the underprivileged sector in soccer, basketball and tennis.

For one of the drills, the boys pair up and go through a series of movements, maintaining eye contact and keeping one leg on a soccer ball. “This is called pre-vision training,” Coach Kasraei explains. “For kids who haven’t done a lot of sport before, this improves their reflexes and responses to other players.” If the kids are amused at being asked to “dance with the ball,” they don’t let it show. They earnestly follow instructions and move in small circles, precariously balancing one foot on the soccer ball at all times.

“I’m teaching the kids to deal with the pressures of life,” says Mr. Kasraei. In Germany, he trains professional under-19 players, but says he has never before worked with students who are so humble and obedient. “They always listen, they always want to learn… it’s unbelievable how polite they are,” he says. Almost as if on cue, one of the boys comes up to us -- they are on a short break -- and offer’s the coach a glass of juice. “That would never happen in Germany,” says Mr. Kasraei.

“These kids are also more competitive than the ones at the American School,” he says. They have grown up on the street, learning to climb, to fight. They are used to being active instead of sitting in front of a screen. “They have better hip balance, and all the critical movement in soccer comes from the hip,” he adds. The boys rush back on to the turf, practicing on their own before the break ends, and Coach Kasraei calls the boys to attention as he resumes the drills. “I never do an activity for more than three minutes, because they lose interest,” he says. “That’s a typical person’s attention span, and then it’s time to switch.”

A volunteer from a local college helps to translate from English to Marathi for the boys. “Coach Amir’s style is very different, he has a unique way of teaching,” says Harshil Somaiya. “It’s a great chance for the kids to learn from an international coach, and for free… where else would they get this opportunity? I myself have never seen 50 balls all together,” he adds.

The basketball students are also enjoying themselves immensely, leaping like gazelles as they dribble the ball from one end of the court to the other. “We like coming here because we get good practice… in our school, we don’t even have a basketball hoop,” said one of the students from Holy Cross High School. His father, who is here to watch the morning practice -- it is a public holiday for the festival Eid, but the kids were still up bright and early for the sports session -- said this is the first time his son has had the opportunity to play basketball. “It’s a new game for us in India, and my son loves it,” said Deepak Shinde.

The London-based basketball coach, Clint Weirich, is teaching the kids how to pass. “Snap your wrists like this,” he demonstrates. “I assume they’ve never played basketball before, so I teach them basic passing, shooting and dribbling form,” he explains, adding that he emphasizes exaggerated gestures and follow through. “Working with these kids has challenged my coaching style. I realize that I talk a lot, but here I have to do a lot of showing,” he says. “The kids have no ego -- they do what I show them to, and they get it. Even in advanced passing drills, their form is spot on,” says Mr. Weirich.

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