A little boy named Benjamin, migrated from Assam to Bangalore, with the hope of a better life. His dream was to pursue hotel management, but it seemed far away from the little bakery the ten-year-old worked at. It was the Bangalore based NGO ‘Sparky football’ that taught him confidence and courage to work for his goals. Today, Benjamin is everything he ever wanted to be and more.
The mind behind the NGO was a talented football player since school, Tejas Ramakrishna. He enrolled in an engineering college he picked based on its football pitch and began studying a subject that he couldn’t get himself to enjoy at all. Realising that he would never be satisfied with this profession, he picked passion over societal pressure and quit engineering to become a football coach.
The Indian National Team’s loss during Baichung Bhutiya’s retirement match against German Football club Bayern Munich unlocked his desire to change the situation. While he knew that wouldn’t be able to bring a change to the team, he became resolute in his desire to teach young children to hone their skills and train them to become international level, football players.
After getting rejected by various football coaches for being an engineering dropout, he went on to learn freestyle football to stand out from the rest of them. He practised with such intensity that he faced several injuries in the process. He believes that the pain was worth it and that he “made his wounds proud” when he won the Indian Freestyle Football Championship Award from the former Manchester United Player, Dennis Irwin.
As a nineteen-year-old, it dawned on him that Football could be used to bring about social change. To better equip himself to create a change in society, he got a degree in Psychology and journalism. The abstract idea further began to take shape as he began to conduct surveys and understand how he could help those in need.
He started by working with an orphanage as a football coach and became aware of how much his work meant to the children. He then founded Sparky Football. Initially, the process was a tedious one, as it required him to build networks, set up a dedicated banking system for the NGO and various other requirements for setting up an organisation. He used to visit slums, painting his face like a clown and entertain children in order to learn more about them.
The NGO has also helped Tejas achieve his initial aspiration to train children and make them professional football players as numerous young children he has trained have become state and national level champions in different categories.
Gradually he met fellow like-minded people and thus, Sparky Football began to grow. With this NGO, Tejas and his colleagues have helped ameliorate the lives of countless people by guiding them through football.
Tejas says “When someone is playing any sport, at that moment, they are completely themselves. This creates a safe space for them to be who they are, this is when they absorb the most amount of information.”
At Sparky, Football is used to engage and then education is used to empower. The requirements of each person are different and thus their course is tailored to their needs.
Not everyone attains the goal of becoming a professional football player but each individual learns how to handle the various obstacles in the path of life. A competitive spirit is not inculcated within the children as Tejas is of the opinion that goals that are not aligned with pressure have a tendency to help reach a successful outcome faster.
Tejas strongly stands by the fact that the development of basic life skills is extremely important and he started his curriculum with a simple workshop on ‘how to tie your shoelaces. Then he proceeded to educate them on topics like gender equality, the Importance of communication, Health and fitness and many more such necessary topics. He shapes the minds of children in a way that they are not only independent but also inherently ‘good’ human beings.
Tejas started diversifying Sparky Football’s approach and took up helping people from different walks of life, such as AIDS patients, Special Children and young kids dealing with drug abuse. He was certified as a Soccer for Social Impact Coach by Coaches Across Continents, a US-based organisation. This opened up several new avenues for him.
He has gotten opportunities to speak for TEDx and has also won several accolades for his work as a freestyle footballer. Tejas also collaborates with several international consultancy agencies as a ‘sports for education life coach’
In 2018, he worked in Bangladesh with Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar in collaboration with the UN Football Confederation and the Bangladesh Football federation. The aim was to design educational experiences with sports and assist the refugees in learning the same skills.
He has also been to France on two separate occasions, representing India. The first time, in 2016, at a festival organised by the Street World Football Network in light of the Euro’16 Championships. He took the opportunity to educate the youth attending the festival through Freestyle Football. In 2019, he returned to France during the FIFA women’s world cup and spoke about gender equality and its celebration through football.
He also worked with the Qatar Foundation in 2019. The event aimed at teaching children about how sports can be used to bring peace to the middle east. He designed sporting activities and used them as metaphors for peace.
This experience of travelling across the world on several occasions has also made him discern the universality of sports and how it has the same impact on a person, no matter where they are from.
His mindset has helped him smoothly deal with the pandemic and also teach his students to do the same. Like many others, his organisation took a blow financially but he has not let it affect him and continues to help his students online.
During this dire time, he has been available to all of his students as a mentor and football coach. He is not only helping children cope with their personal issues but is also conducting online life coaching sessions to help as many people as he can. For those interested, he still provides freestyle football coaching through videos demonstrating football techniques.
For him, his work is not a job, but a way of life and experiences one comes across and faces in the journey of life are far more important than the actual goal. In his eyes Football is not just a ball, it is an opportunity to experience life, evolve as a person and expand horizons.
Get in touch with Sparky Football:
Facebook - @sparkyfootball
Instagram - @sparky_football
Website - http://www.sparkyfootball.com/