Schoolyard ruckus

[originally published January 23, 2012]

This past Saturday, Surabhi, Anna, our coach Surhud Sir and I went down to the old city for an afternoon rugby session with one of the grammar schools. In order to develop the sport, our coach has taken up his post as a professional rugby ambassador: he has been conducting training sessions in different NGOs and schools around Pune in hopes of garnering interest from potential little ruggers and their parents. His most recent trip took him to a school that was three hours away…by motorcycle. Talk about dedication!

Fortunately, the session the girls and I attended was a lot closer and involved chicken-on-a-stick eaten from the back of Surabhi’s scooter.

 Surabhi, Anna and I with our fledgling ruggers at the Maharashtriya Mandals school

Surabhi, Anna and I with our fledgling ruggers at the Maharashtriya Mandals school

According to the International Council of Sport Science and Physical Education, India’s under-35 population numbers at roughly 77,000,000 people; about 5,000,000 of them have some sort of access to organized sports. Though the federal budget for sports has recently increased, that money — representing a measly 0.073% of the overall budget — is largely being used to organize the 2014 Commonwealth games (a potentially scary state of affairs considering how the last Commonwealth Games went…). Now, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sport is proposing to amend the Indian Constitution by changing the classification of sports from entertainment and amusement  to youth development, thus putting an important emphasis on the need sports science and health, as well as community development.


For a country with such a young sporting infrastructure (circa 1946 that is, around the time of independence) a booming youth population and dreams of 2012 Olympic gold, this will be a good step forward.

In the meantime, and without a paisa in funding from the government, the IRB or IRFU, Surhud Khare has been developing his own grassroots rugby movement. The result? Thirteen female rugby players under his guidance who have been capped for India.

Not too shabby, eh?

By the time the girls and I arrived at the school’s dusty courtyard, our coach had session already underway. We quickly dismounted our bike, dropped our bags and joined in.

We set up some cones and divided the girls into two groups. They had never played before — but, what started out with the essentials (i.e. ball-holding 101, how to run with the ball) ended with the girls running scissor plays and getting the basics of tackling down.

They were having an absolute blast! They were focused, super receptive annnnnnd smiling: all good things when you’re explaining why it’s encouraged to yell and yes, that it’s okay to drive their body into somebody else. That being said, damn, some of these girls were athletic. Either I’m getting soft in my old age or these girls hit pretty hard — I would like to think that it was the latter. :)

 The sport of rugby emphasizes a sense of unity among it's players; here, giving a cheer of "STRENGTH AND HONOR" after we wrapped up

The sport of rugby emphasizes a sense of unity among it's players; here, giving a cheer of "STRENGTH AND HONOR" after we wrapped up

Coaching this time around was a bit easier than when I was working up in Bhubaneswar. This school was of the English-medium variety, so I was able to talk to the girls, encourage them, correct them and give them more explicit directions than many of my charades on my last coaching foray. I could contribute to these in ways that the language barrier had hindered me previously. That felt really good. They even gave me a nickname — Robin-tai — a term of endearment roughly translating to “big sister Robin.” Pshawww… so cute!

By the end of the session the girls were asking us if we would come back every day, and saying that they loved rugby AND that next time we came they would be ready and waiting for us. “We’ll even be 15 minutes early!” exclaimed one of the girls (and those familiar with IST, or “India Standard Time”, it’s somewhat affectionately? ironically? called) knows that this is the highest-of-high compliments.

Now, if I can get the last few of them to run through tackling drills without apologizing for thwacking me, I’ll call this one an absolute success!