Anantapur, once a crucial part of the Vijayanagar Empire, is now a primarily agrarian district with a developing industrial sector. Plagued by drought and poverty, the district is one of the 13 that receives funds from the Backwards Regions Grant Fund Programme (BRGFP) in Andhra Pradesh. For many years the people were left quite hopeless, until Vincent Ferrer and his partner Anne decided to start the Rural Development Trust (RDT) in Anantapur in 1969 to improve the quality of life of the rural poor and the underprivileged in the area.
Apart from the work done to educate the people, and uplift the poorer sections of society, the RDT takes a special interest in using sports and cultural activities to give children a holistic education.
As a part of this idea, RDT set up the Anantapur Sports Academy (ASA) in 2002 with modern amenities, infrastructure and equipment that are on par with international standards. The ASA has a special grassroots football program in place, giving children as young as 8 a chance to play football with their peers and seniors in any of their 18 football centres. These centres are led by Head Coach, Miquel Llado and Assistant Coach, P Vijayabhaskar.
“RDT supports these teams by appointing full-time coaches who are supervised and trained by Academy coaches, and by providing them with modern training equipment, and by assisting them in football operations.” – Miquel Llado, Head Coach, ASA Football Program
Taking their program one step further, in 2010, ASA set up their Football Academy. RDT’s football program follows a pyramid structure – by the age of 8, young children start playing football in their schools, or with their seniors at the grassroots football centres. A few years later, after developing their skills, the same kids go on to play at their mandal clubs. These mandal clubs, set up with the support of RDT, give children the opportunity to train with their teams every single day. Further, the clubs are invited to attend the periodic training camps conducted by Spanish Clubs FC Sant Vicente and Sant Cugat FC. These training camps give the local football players high quality training from highly qualified coaches and a chance to sharpen their skills.
In order to help talented players really reach their full potential, every year the ASA conducts selection camps, where 50 players from the 40 mandal clubs are handpicked to attend and live at the ASA Football Academy. There, the young players are given education along with a healthy, nutritious diet. The infrastructure of the Academy was developed in partnership with FC Barcelona, and the football ground there is well maintained.
“Currently in the Academy, we have 55 players covering the U15, U17 and U20 age categories. This year, we have plans to take children from the U10 and U12 age categories into the Academy as part of a non-residential program.” – Miquel Llado, Head Coach, ASA Football Program
In 2014, ASA was able to add another feather to their cap by starting the Ananthapuramu Football League for boys and girls in different age categories – U12, U15 and U17. This year, the League kicked-off in September, and is slated to continue till February 2016. The ASA provides the mandal coaches with the resources they need to help train their teams for a successful run in the League.
The ASA has worked hard to increase the reach of football in Anantapur. They are continuously looking for new and improved ways in which they can make a difference to people’s lives through the sport. Assistant Coach, P. Vijayabhaskar, shared his thoughts about how the program could possibly be improved. He feels that it is important to focus on the annual summer camps organised by the Spanish Football Clubs. In his opinion, these camps are an important platform for the students as they get an opportunity to nurture and develop their skills.
Here’s a look at the ASA’s Football Program so far, and their plans for the future:
“Our future plans are to develop a League for girls, and to keep promoting football at early stage groups, because finally this base of young players will contribute to increase our standards of quality and they will contribute to making us even more visible at the national level.” – Miquel Llado, Head Coach, ASA Football Program
Aware of the fact that a lot of work in left to be done, Head Coach, Miquel Llado addresses regular coach meetings and discusses areas where the coaches can provide children with better support. The RDT and ASA work together to help transform the lives of people in the Anantapur District, and it’s important that we all take a minute to acknowledge just how hard they work, and how far their children go!