Now a world-class sports school in India that balances sports and academic schedules

As India’s first integrated school for sports and academics, TSS is a potential winner model balancing between the needs of budding athletes to excel at their chosen sport and the kind of academic pursuits they also prefer

Raghu Bharathur Sep 10, 2021
The Sports School (TSS)

India’s woefully low medals tally at the 2020 Olympics - notwithstanding some impressive individual success and team tenacity - underscores an urgent need to transform the country’s erratic sport culture by devising innovative infrastructural solutions. It has become a four-yearly ritual to extract solace from some modest individual excellence and complain about India’s inevitably mediocre to poor showing in Olympics over the decades. Just consider this one statistic. Since the 1900 edition of the Olympics, India has won a mere 35 medals across 24 Olympic  Games, including gold, silver and bronze.

The Tokyo Olympics produced for India just seven medals, including one gold, two silver and four bronze pieces. Even though it was India’s best performance in the quadrennial showpiece event, a country of 1.3 billion people could manage only the 48th position on the medal tally.

The Sports School (TSS)

In contrast, China, India’s demographic twin, finished at number 2 winning 88 medals, including 38 gold, 32 silver and 18 bronze pieces. Of course, it was the United States that once again topped the chart with 113 medals  (39-41-33).
The other three in the top five were Japan (58 medals), Britain (65 medals) and the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC—71 medals). Australia, whose population is 25.8 million, which is less than the combined populations of the cities of Mumbai and Delhi, bagged 46 medals (17-7-22), taking the sixth slot overall. That comparison may seem odious, but it powerfully illustrates the need for a radical overhauling of the country’s sports culture and infrastructure.

The fact that the demographic heft to medals tally is so widely diverse — China’s 88 medals and Australia’s 46 medals—indicates a need to tackle the problem of India’s sports woes at so many different levels. From nutrition to coaching to infrastructure, everything requires an overhaul.

A potential venture

With cricket consuming so much spectator oxygen and cornering massive sponsorship and television broadcast rights revenues, most of the other sport disciplines generally go dry. One venture that has the potential to show the way for bringing about a fundamental change is simply called The Sports School in Bangalore. It has a 30-acre residential campus and state-of-the-art sporting infrastructure.

The purpose of The Sports School (TSS) is to offer world-class training and playing facilities to train athletes in many disciplines in a way they develop an early familiarity with what it means to perform in international standard arenas. Take, for instance, these specifics. It offers BWF Standard 12 Wooden indoor synthetic badminton courts, 7 ITF classified acrylic cushioned tennis courts with floodlights, FIFA quality pro-certified artificial football turf, international standard 65 m natural turf cricket grounds with indoor and outdoor nets and 2 FIBA standard basketball courts and a calf-court with floodlight facility.

The curriculum is designed such that the academic schedules work well for athletes without one compromising the other. The school is associated with the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), for grades 4 to 10th, which is one of India’s premier educational bodies offering qualifications for more than 21,000 schools in over 28 countries across the world. For grades 11th and 12th, it is associated with Karnataka State Board. For university, graduate and post graduate courses, The Sports School offers courses by Jain Group Of Institutions (JGI), their educational partners and ranked continually among the top universities in India. JGI’s alumni include over 10+ Arjuna, Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan Awardees, and 300+ sportspersons of international and national repute.

Among the TSS mentors are Pullela Gopichand for badminton, Rohan Bopanna for tennis, Robin Uthappa for cricket, Bengaluru FC for football, Key5 Coaching for basketball and Rahul Ganapathy for golf.

Initial success stories

Early indicators that the TSS model is working is evident in success stories such as Nikki Poonacha and Sravya Shivani, both gold medalists at the South Asian Federation (SAF) Games, 2019. Then there are Samiksha and Rethin Pranav, ranked number one respectively in the under 14 boys and girls categories in tennis as of March 2020. As parents across India begin to recognize the importance of sports and the need to pursue it systematically from an early age, TSS is emerging as the go-to place.

In barely three years of its founding, it is already engendering a kind of sports awareness that India so badly needs, particularly at a time when the country’s medals tally at the pinnacle of sports, namely the Olympics, remains so woefully short.

Jaggi Nadig, a Kellogg School of Management alumnus, one of the early investors in TSS who has a passion for creating a national sports culture using sound management principles, says, “We believe that sports is not just physical play, it teaches life skills and helps nurture team spirit. Sports helps athletes cultivate positive personality traits, which helps them overcome impediments and challenges that come their way.”

A great deal of planning has gone into making TSS an institution that focuses on sports from many different angles. For instance, it has an integrated sports science center that offers sports biomechanics, sports psychology, sports specific nutrition, sports physiology, tailor-made yoga program and right sports training.

Use of technology

One of the key features of TSS is that it emphasizes the importance and involvement of technology at all levels. From performance analysis using cutting edge cameras to time measurement accuracy, from data collection using software-driven spreadsheets to instant replay booths and from sportswear made with specialized fibers to injury treatments by integrating artificial intelligence, TSS focuses on techniques that no other Indian sports establishment offers.

“The idea of The Sports School came to shape when a few sports passionate individuals came together. Srini, our founder, has a strong background in investments, tech and consulting. When he approached me with the concept of starting a school that would provide the highest quality of sports training with a flexible academic program that was tailor-made to the needs of an athlete, I was immediately drawn to it,” Nadig says.

“Each of our partners brings a tremendous amount of experience. It is a wonderful sight to watch all the stakeholders come together to help our student-athletes achieve their sporting dreams,” he says.

One of the ambitions is that India as the world’s largest democracy and the fifth largest economy with a GDP of USD 2.94 trillion, overtaking the UK and France in 2019, ought to host the Olympics. On the face of it, that may seem like a skewed priority in a country that has endemic poverty, but when the economic, cultural and other benefits of hosting Olympics are weighed in, a clear case can be made that India can and should host it.

With that as the backdrop, a center like TSS needs to be scaled up across the country to create a vibrant sports culture and a sense of pride among the nation’s youth population. As India’s first integrated school for sports and academics, TSS is a potential winner model balancing between the needs of budding athletes to excel at their chosen sport and the kind of academic pursuits they also prefer. For an athlete in this rapidly modernizing and high-tech world where artificial intelligence is slowly creeping into our daily lives, they must have a sound grounding in academics as well.

“I am very proud to say that we are the first such institution in the country which provides a holistic sporting program, while also balancing the educational needs of the student-athlete. I do dream that India will soon become a dominant force in the field of sports and that athletes from The Sports School will make India proud,” Nadig says.

(The writer, a Chicago-based Kellogg School of Management alumnus, is a sports entrepreneur who is on a mission to make sports accessible to everyone. The views expressed are personal.)

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