Director-Founder: Pro Sport Development, India
Suheil Tandon studied for a Masters in Sports Management at Loughborough University in 2011 having studied for his Undergraduate degree in Canada. He has since developed an organisation working with grassroots sport in India to work with underprivileged youths. He outlines his postgraduate experience and his work with youth in sport.
During my Undergraduate degree at McGill University in Canada (in Maths and Economics) I learned about sport management courses at Masters Level that one could study to pursue a career in sports. I was also informed about Loughborough University in the UK as being one of the best sports institutes in Europe.
Sport had always been a big part of my life. I was interested in sport since my early days. I played several different sports in my youth, excelling particularly in cricket. This passion for sport made me explore the possibility of translating it into a career choice.
Once I explored more about Loughborough, and also had a chance to visit the University, I did not look any further. Meeting the faculty, I was convinced that the course would be top notch. Other than that, the campus itself was a dream come true for a sports fanatic like me. The added opportunity of being part of a professional cricket setup, the MCCU program at Loughborough, convinced me that this was a right place for me to pursue my higher studies and forge a career in sports.
The experience that I gained during my time at Loughborough University has had a profound impact on my career. My time at Loughborough University not only gave me the knowledge and exposure to succeed in my career, but also the confidence and self-belief to become an entrepreneur and bring about change through my work.
While at Loughborough University, my learning was not just restricted to the classroom, but went far beyond that. My classes, lectures and professors were excellent, and gave me the knowledge and know-how about the sports industry. But, it was also my interaction with the diverse international student and staff population on campus, in particular my coursemates, which allowed me to share ideas and knowledge about different aspects of sport, and at the same time, learn from the experience of others.
My time with the Loughborough MCCU program, including the professional setup and the people, also gave me first-hand experience into the development of sport, right from the grassroots to elite level. It showed me what was missing back home in India, especially in terms of grassroot sport development, and provided me the practical know-how with regards to working towards the same in India.
It was great to have a Loughborough graduate working with us in India, and I would definitely like to support more Loughborough graduates in the future, through my work and otherwise. As my time at Loughborough gave me so much in so many ways, I believe it is only right to give back to the University, and one of the best ways is to support its graduates through my work.
Maintaining my connections with Loughborough is something that I believe is very important, and I would like to see our organisation collaborate with the University in the future in some capacity. Also, I believe an institution like Loughborough has so much to offer a country like India, as it is still a nation that is finding its feet in the development, business and education of sport.
Hugely important! We have had many interns and volunteers from diverse backgrounds all across the world, a bulk of them coming from the UK and many from India as well. As I mentioned earlier, India is a nation still young in the development, business and education of sport. Hence, qualified and experienced volunteers and interns in the field of sport bring with them a vast array of knowledge, which they can apply to our programs, as well as transfer it to members of our team in India. This knowledge transfer, along with the mix of a variety of viewpoints, allows the organisation to take the best approach for programs as well as increases the capacity of our employees, which is key to our growth and development.
Through my coaching experience as a cricket coach, I developed a passion for working with youth, and aiding youth in achieving their full potential. It made me think about the potential that youth possess, and what they could achieve through sport.
Coming from a family where both parents dedicated their lives to the social sector, doing good in society through my work was something very important to me. Also, working with underprivileged youth was something that I had always thought about, but my passion and dedication towards the same really grew after working with 1,500 underprivileged tribal children in the Eastern part of India through the Khel Vikas project. The potential of these youth, and not just in sport, as well as their dedication and will to succeed in life really struck a chord with me. Knowing that such talented youth did not receive the opportunities and guidance to reach their potential was something that I wanted to change through my work.
After coming back to India from Loughborough, I was seeking work experience in the field. As I had done a Masters in Sports Management, the jobs I was looking for were confined to the sports business, marketing, sponsorship and broadcasting sectors in India. But, the more I explored these jobs and the more I went for such interviews, the more I was convinced that this is something that does not interest me.
After my experience in Loughborough, I was really interested in making a difference in sport in India from the bottom upwards, and was really passionate about working with youth in grassroots sports. But, at that time, I did not find many individuals or organisations working in grassroots sports in India. I then decided to start my own organisation, which would work towards the development of youth and sports at the grassroots in India. It was my time in the UK, at Loughborough, that provided me with the know-how and confidence to make my own path in this field, and I believe it was one of the best decisions I have taken.
In a country like India, sport (in most parts) and physical activity are not a big part of the culture. To really drive a culture of sport in the country, participation in sporting activity is very important, and this goal will only be achieved when the participation is sustained. I believe that the best way to change the attitudes and mindsets of the masses with regards to sport is to work with the youth, as they would be the ones to inspire the next generation to make sports and physical activity a core part of the culture, and to take it forward in a sustainable manner.
When I got into pursuing a professional degree in sport and early on in my working career in sport, I was passionate because it was one of the few things that could provide me with a sense of satisfaction and achievement. But, as my career progressed, I started to see and realise the true power of sport, and what it had not only done for me as a youth, but the role it could play in the life of every youth that took it up. My eyes opened up to the fact that sport was one of the few things that could help the youth in their development in a variety of ways.
My goal in working within sport is to allow youth to achieve their true potential through sport. This could be something as small as having the skills to work well within a team in a professional work environment or something as big as winning an Olympic medal.
Currently, most of the PSD programs are funded by working in collaboration on projects with partners. In essence, the programs we work on directly benefit the beneficiaries of our partners. Hence our role in the project is that of an implementation partner, whereas our collaborators are the funding partner.
We have also utilised online crowdfunding as a medium to fund some of the programs we work on. Again, some of these have been in partnership with other organisations, while others have been independently run. Online crowdfunding is still a new method of funding in India, and something that we are also wrapping our heads around.
What culture differences have you noticed between studying in the UK and Canada and working in India?
There are plenty of differences between the work cultures of UK, Canada and India. Each country has their pros and cons, but it was definitely a reverse culture shock coming back from the UK and Canada, and working and setting up my organisation in India. In the UK and Canada, everything moves in a very structured and systematic manner. In India though, this is not always the case. Things do work – but how and when is not always clear. Structure, organisation and planning is something we work on conscientiously within our organisation and programs, but will always be a work in progress, I believe.
The other difference is in professionalism in the sports coaching and development fields in UK, Canada and India. In India, we are still trying to reach a more professional outlook in our coaching and sport development activities, especially at the grassroots. This is also due to the difference in attitudes towards sport. In India it is seen as something extra to do, but in the UK and Canada, it has become an integral part of life. Through our work, we are trying to change attitudes of various stakeholders towards sport and inject professionalism in the areas of grassroot sport coaching and development.
What I found different in India was the amount of help and support we received to get our entity and programs operational while setting up the organisation. Without a lot of resources in our early days many organisations and individuals provided a variety of pro-bono support in many functions of the organisation, without which we would not have managed to be so successful. The community support structures in India from close friends, family and other networks allowed us to navigate the various challenges we faced.
Extremely rewarding! The most rewarding aspect has been to make a difference through our work, especially in the lives of youth. Reaching out to a greater number of beneficiaries through our programs has been really pleasing.
Moreover, engaging young professionals, interns and volunteers through our work and providing them not only with opportunities of employment, but also platforms to learn and grow in an enabling environment, has been satisfying.
We would like to grow our outreach to many more youth in many more locations in India. I envision having programs running in at least 20 locations benefitting a total of 100,000 youth.
We also hope to work with a greater number of organisations, as well as provide training to many more coaches, PE teachers and community trainers, to enable them to further work with and benefit youth through sports. I envision training a total of 5,000 trainers over the next 5 years and working with at least another 15 organisations.
My proudest moment has been to help three of our female weightlifting athletes, part of the Khel Vikas project in Eastern India, to continue their education and careers, along with ensuring that sport continues to be a part of their lives. Their tribal girls come from highly marginalized and underprivileged backgrounds, with huge pressure on them to return to their villages after finishing their schooling, and in some cases, to get married.
Through their participation in our sports programs, we were able to convince our partners to support their further education and career, as well as convince their parents to let them pursue their careers and passions. Currently, one of these girls is working as a PE teacher and sports coach in one of the tribal schools that Pro Sport Development worked with in the Khel Vikas project. The other two girls are in the process of completing their Bachelor’s degrees.
All three of them want to pursue a degree in Physical Education in the future, and become PE teachers/sports coaches, to allow them to work with youth. We are looking at ways to further support their dreams.
We wish Suheil all the best with his plans to expand Pro Sport Development's work!
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