It takes real courage to keep going when situations clamp down on you at a tender age. It needs a strong will to stand tall when the ground underneath is slippery, strewn with hardships. Here is the story of 21-year-old B. Saikiran who believes that in life you either win or you learn, but you never lose. Such is his spirit.
As a young 13-year-old boy in 2010, Saikiran decided to change his fate and wanted to rescue his family from the circle of poverty. He comes from humble beginnings, from a family supported by his father’s earning as an auto-rickshaw driver. It was difficult to make ends meet. That’s when Saikiran came to the Anantapur Sports Academy (ASA) in Andhra Pradesh, to participate in the hockey summer camp. It was on the recommendation from his school teacher, who noticed his good performance in school tournaments. Little did he know that he would not only impress the coaches with his natural athletic skills but also get selected for the ASA Hockey residential program.
ASA is a sport-for-development initiative by the Rural Development Trust, a non-profit organisation. It benefits close to 8,500 children and youth through its various sports programs, including hockey, cricket, football, Judo, tennis and softball in the drought-prone region of Anantapur. In the 2017-18 season, the hockey program reached out to 801 children (29 % girls and 71% boys) in the district.
After joining the Academy, Sai realised his immense passion for hockey and soon started to take a keen interest in learning and honing his skills. At the academy, the coaches helped him clear his technical doubts, and soon, he mastered his ball controlling skills by training six hours daily on the hockey field. “My favourite skill is to dodge the goalkeeper and hit the goal,” says Saikiran, who considers Major Dhyan Chand, the hockey wizard, his idol. “Saikiran would take chances in the game for his side to score,” says Lakshmi Narayan, Head Coach, about his best player in the Academy.
Apart from regular training, Saikiran considers yearly camps very important. One was conducted by One Million Hockey Legs (OMHL), an initiative by the Dutch hockey legend, Floris Bovelander. Another was Stick for India, an initiative by ex-Spanish internationals Santi Freixa Escude and Andreu Enrich, and it provided him with valuable coaching on various aspects of the game.
Soon his leadership skills and dedication towards hockey allowed him to take up the captaincy of the ASA Hockey team. Further, being the best player in the Bengaluru Hockey League helped him climb up the ladder to represent the Andhra Pradesh State hockey team. After training for eight years in the academy, he had become quite skilled at the sport. His coach Lakshmi Narayana recommended that Saikiran try out at the army selection camp in Hyderabad. Soon after, the results were declared and he was selected as a soldier in the Indian Army in Secunderabad, and represent their hockey team. It was indeed a proud moment for his parents, academy coaches and his friends who had all supported him from the start of his journey!
When asked about his life and training in the army, Saikiran says, “I have made some good bonds with my seniors who are helping me work on my game to perform better. We start our training at 3 AM in the morning [and go on] until 9 AM; and similarly from 4 PM to 8 PM in the evening. Our training sessions focus on becoming physically and mentally stronger. I feel proud to serve the nation and I am inching closer to my dream to represent the Indian Hockey team and win gold at the Olympics.” Saikiran is currently focussed on excelling at upcoming competitions for his army team.
Positive stories like that of B. Saikiran prove that the toughest things can be achieved through strong will and hard work. Sports can transform lives if individuals make use of the opportunities provided to them. The need of the hour is to emphasise sports as an important tool for social and holistic development in India, as ASA has already shown.