One of the biggest complaints that Indian football fans have is that professional football clubs, neither ISL nor I-League, seldom invest enough into their community and grassroots programs. However, goaded by the AIFF and Technical Director, Scott O’Donell, it is the I-League clubs in particular that are beginning to show the way forward. While Pune FC and Bengaluru FC have among the best community and grassroots programs in India run by professional clubs, it is encouraging to see others like Mumbai FC and Shillong Lajong FC (SLFC) reaching out.
Led by the recently recruited Head of Youth Development, Gumpe Rime, SLFC kicked off a series of grassroots festivals across Meghalaya on December 7th. The festivals have been designed to give children aged between 8 and 12 years an opportunity to have fun and learn skills while playing football. By using ball-based technical drills and small-sided games, the SLFC coaching staff plan to keep the kids engaged while they assess the players’ football skills and scout promising young talents. Further, it is hoped that the training will help children develop focus, self-esteem, positivity, control and teamwork.
The series of grassroots festivals started at Malki Ground, Shillong on December 7th before moving to Mawlai Nongpdeng, Mawlai Phutmawri, Smit, Sohra, Umpling, Mawprem, Lumsohphoh, Rynjah and Pohksheh before concluding at Jaiaw Langsning and Jaiaw Pdeng today on 21st December. The club has touched the lives of over 1,000 youngsters through these festivals.
“The aim is to make more children play with the same grassroots philosophy of ‘football for all’ involving fun activities, to reach out to as many localities in and around Shillong and spread across the state gradually. At the same time, we are creating a database of young talented players so that we can bring the best talent to our academy and develop them into future stars.” – Gumpe Rime, Head of Youth Development, SLFC
Besides the obvious benefits to the club, the SLFC Grassroots Program is geared to help not only the young, but society at large, by chanelling the children’s energy and talent constructively through football. It will also introduce kids to the game at an early age so that every child has a better chance of developing a solid foundation of technical skills.
As Rime says:
“It is imperative to lay a strong base in order to unearth and develop future generations of local talent.”
The grassroots festivals have gone well, but the club also realises that there needs to be continuous guidance offered in terms of training and coach education. To fulfil these responsibilities, SLFC coaches will visit various localities in the area on a regular basis, keep an eye on talented players, enlist volunteers and initiate a coach orientation program to deliver good quality football coaching on an ongoing basis.
Overall, it is an excellent initiative – one that will help the club foster closer ties with local communities and build a strong fan base, which is good for the people, good for Shillong Lajong and, most importantly, good for Indian football.