A large part of the revenue of sports sector comes from fitness and recreational activities. Whether it’s in the form of fitness centers, sports clubs, sports start-ups, fitness trainers or educationalists. Fitness is a critical ingredient for the growth of sportspersons and also it plays a major role in today’s lifestyle. It is necessary for people of all age groups to be physically active and fit to be able to balance body health requirements with the changing environment and hectic lifestyle.
The culture of gym, increasing awareness towards fitness, recreational sports events, and corporate sports events are growing with an increasing pace from the last 6 years. Which is making fitness a necessity of urban lifestyle that is a good sign of development towards fitness and sport. But when we segment the targeted group into the above services, the segment that includes kids and youngsters is not uniformly managed.
It’s necessary to inculcate fitness as a habit in kids so they can pursue it throughout their lifetime. There are layers of daily regimes in fitness which are required to make a kid healthy and also furnishes his/her sporting skills during the procedure.
Mr. Sujit Panigrahi, Founder, and CEO Fitness365 – India’s first Fitness and Sports Assessment, Intervention and Monitoring (AIM) Program for school children. Mr. Panigrahi was heading the technology department in 2010 Commonwealth Games when he realized his instinct to work in the sports field.
Here are some excerpts of the conversation with Mr. Sujit Panigrahi on his new venture and its scope in fitness industry :
What was the vision behind starting this venture Fitness 365?
When commonwealth games ended I wanted to work in the area of sports. So one of the things I looked at was basically the Chinese model. In China, you get about 12 years before you start Olympics. So what China did was they did not invest on the older athletes but invested on the younger athletes between 3 to 6 years of age. So within 12 years time, all these athletes from different schools are trained (roughly about 25 lakh athletes). So when China invested on fitness and sports of these young athletes, they went on to become the number one in Olympics, so that was one data point which was there. A second data point which was there was that when I was looking at cricket, which is very popular in India, there are no statistics around fielding but there are only statistics around batsman and bowlers and wicket keepers. When you look at football also you have statistics around the goalkeeper and the number of goals that you score. So, I was trying to figure out how do you find out who is the best fielder in the world or who is the best footballer when it comes to midfield? There are only statistics around the players who score. These two data point, i.e. Chinese model as well as cricket, wicket or football and statistics around players. When you dig deep down you figure out that there’s a lot of investment that you need to do around fitness and you can actually identify with different fitness components like speed, agility, balance, coordination and all that you can find out how good is a player. Different positions within sports need different fitness components. So this was the trigger for starting this thing. So what we did was we designed a program which specifically for school children and defined a curriculum from nursery up to class 12th age wise and gender wise. For every age and gender, we created a curriculum that actually helps one in improving the fitness level of the school. The second thing is the children who have sports fit children or athletic children they are the ones who can excel in sports. But between sports and fitness, we saw that need for fitness is higher than the need for sports. If we have a number of fit children they can anyway play sports. So instead of focusing on the top 10 percent children or top 5 percent children who would excel in sports it was important to improve the fitness level of children in the entire school. So that’s why we launched the pan India program in Fitness365. Fitness for all, one sport for life and delight sports are the three core objectives of Fitness365.
In a country where sports struggle in most of the places of management and operations, how did you convince the whole idea to the people?
When we started, the first thing that we did was for almost 2000+ children we actually did different fitness camps and fitness tests. So, the three components of our program it’s called assessment, intervention, and monitor. These are the three components of aim for our fitness. So when you look at assessment that gives an idea how to fit the child is on two different indicators, one is the fitness indicator the other one is the health indicator. As a part of the fitness indicator, we find out if the child is at a lower level of fitness or at a higher level of fitness. A Higher level of fitness would mean athletic or fit children and lower level of fitness may need medical attention. Similarly, in health indicator, you have obese children, underweight children, and normal children. So when we did all these camps we figured out 60 percent children in India are not on the right level of fitness, then we figured out that 25 percent of children are either obese or overweight, 40 percent of the children are underweight, underweight is as a big as a problem as overweight. So when we went to the school we gave them these statistics that are very alarming. They also understand that it’s very important for schools to be active. So the proposal to the schools is to build an active ecosystem where you have active children, active school as well as active parents. That is the key differentiator.
Working with kids and working with kids is a different task altogether, Have you ever found it difficult.
A lot of people asks me that you are in fitness so why don’t you get into corporates. I said dealing with children is very different from dealing with corporates. The most exciting thing for children is the physical education period, if you look at the school timetable, every child waits for the day when there is a physical education period. So from a children point of view, I don’t think it is a challenge because children want to have good sports programs, they want to have a good physical education program, they want to play interesting fun games. So it’s not so much of challenge for convincing children to play, so you give them the opportunity to go out and play they want to go out and play they don’t want to be inside the classrooms. The challenge comes when we deal with parents. Parents don’t really let their children go out; instead, they give them video games to play. So it’s about convincing parents and school authorities. I think that’s the bigger challenge than convincing children as children everyone wants to play.
What is the response of parents on the systematic approach towards sports and fitness?
If we all go back to our school days we used to get a football and play or you get a cricket bat, but there was no structuring – it was all free play. Instead of that, we created a curriculum which is very structured and school loved it because now children can go back and say that today we played football or we did motor fitness activity and can go back and say that we did a specific activity. We have a portal where every parent can log in and actually see what is the activity for the children conducted in the class like you have for any other subject. We have created transparency in this segment called sports and fitness; the program is called Sports Health And Physical Education or SHAPE. So Shape365 is the program we have at the school and parents actually love that because now there is a structure in terms of fitness. There are 5 different axis that program runs on athletics, gymnastics, multiple sports, health and nutrition and motor and physical fitness activities. It is like any other curriculum of a subject like math, physics or social studies. And it’s very important to have a curriculum for sports and structuring of this thing. We give two kinds of report cards, one for fitness and one for sports compatibility. If a child is playing 3 sports it is important to find out what sports is he good at and what position within the sport is the child good at. So in football when he goes back home he should be able to say I did in kick or out-kick, what strategy he learned today and that also becomes the part of the reporting process. Also, from a larger perspective, we help the school analyze whether the child is at the topmost in the school, in a particular class or, PAN INDIA. So what we have done is along with FICCI we have created a national fitness index. The national fitness index is the national benchmark for fitness in India and any school we deal with they are always benchmarks against the national fitness index it’s with FICCI and All India council for physical education.
If any kid is good in a particular sport then what is the take of Fitness365 towards his development into that particular sport.
We have three programs, the first one is Shape, which is fully structured sports health, and physical education program, the second program is the national fitness index or the national fitness program where the idea is to identify that identification of talent is important. So the national fitness program helps in terms of identifying the top talent. Fit children and athletic children are the two categories that we find out the top 10 percent. And the third program that we have that is called TOP Sports Talent, we ourselves have actually built centers of excellence around gymnastics and badminton but for other sports, we tell children that after the school hours they should be pursuing the sport which they are identified for from the talent point.
Is there any fitness plan of low-cost workshops for economically weaker students of government schools?
That is very interesting. We don’t talk about it. But 25 percent of the children we deal with are all free. So 25 percent of the children we don’t charge a single penny. So that’s our contribution to the entire thing. But it is still a challenge for rural India because there are no sustainable models for rural India as of now. And the reason we have not been able to crack that piece is because we have not taken any government support. But going forward it is possible that we may take a CSR route to address the rural population.
Have you noticed any difference in the level of fitness of kids from urban and rural area?
Yes absolutely. I think I will just give you some examples, even in the fitness tests there are some fitness tests where we were quite shocked, to give you an example the balance and flexibility are the two things that we figure out that in rural children are much higher than the children in urban India, but nutrition is one thing in which urban India is better. If we look at fitness it has two components, one is physical activity and the other one is nutrition so in urban India the nutrition part is better because you find a lot of underweight children in rural India but in urban India most of the students are obese or overweight, so obesity as well as underweight both are problem areas when you look at it as urban versus rural but from fitness component also there is a difference.
Do you think Indian schools are somewhere lagging behind in developing fitness level of kids as compared to foreign countries with dynamic fitness regime?
Absolutely, when you look at lot of foreign countries; European countries, they have public schools or when you look at Australia you find lot of the schools they have figured see there are 3 things, one thing is that you need good infrastructure second thing you need a strong curriculum third thing that you need is administrator or the sports coaches or physical education teachers. In India, all the three things are problem areas and that’s where we come in. We fix the middle part that is the structured curriculum. Infrastructure is an issue, rural India doesn’t have infrastructure issue as such because there are a lot of playgrounds and in urban India, we have to work with whatever is available in terms of space. Sometimes we help schools in terms of setting up infrastructure at rooftop sometimes in the basement. So all the available space that we find in schools we have to replace either for multiple sports. The third part is the sports coaches or physical education teacher, in India the problem is that physical education teachers are not trained to do sports; similarly, sports coaches are not trained to teach children in schools. Now that’s the challenge, so what we need to do is to have strong training programs in place where physical educations are taught to administer sports in a structured fashion in a particular structured way and also teach them specific sports lessons in terms of how it is to be taught. A lot of them knows how to play but to teach is a very different thing. So like as an example when someone joins here one of the first things we actually ask them to do is build a curriculum to see how good is he in terms of the structuring of information, like a volleyball coach has to make a plan for 2 years. Though we have a curriculum ourselves but that’s a test that we take, similarly, we get them on the ground to perform activities to check. So that’s a challenge between foreign and India, I think all the three things but the middle part is getting resolved by organizations like us. And physical education teachers and sports coaches are also getting trained I think in some time that will also happen with Sports Sector council.
What is the current scenario of Indian fitness industry and how it should be enhanced?
I think it’s pretty exciting to see a lot of organizations coming in the area of fitness. They recognize needs for fitness that’s why you go to Gurgaon you see lots of cycling, lot of walking, running, marathons all of that happening on that ground. In schools too, the curriculums are getting structured. Also, in terms of sports technology you see a lot of aggregators who are building hotels where you can find a gym nearby, you can find a fitness center nearby, you want to play you can book a space also but here’s the problem and how can you find a space. So both on technology side as well as on the ground there are a lot of things that are happening likewise it is actually identified as and especially part of the sport sector skill Council there is a lot of investment happening in terms of training of fitness trainers and physical education teachers, sports persons or physiotherapist and all the occupations related to fitness there is a lot of focus in terms of developing that.
What is the motivation that makes fitness365 improve every year?
The motivation is to see one of the promise we do to the school is to improve fitness by at least 5 percent for the entire school, so that’s a huge challenge for us to do that and if you look at it the way we started out and the way we are today, we started with the structured curriculum now we have made centers of excellence. We are getting into the training of physical activity teachers, sports coaches and fitness trainers as sports missioners. So we, as a company, are also evolving apart from teaching children to become fitter, we are building active schools, active communities, and we are also building our ecosystem where there are trained manpower to make a larger impact in India. So we have kept ourselves as a very agile and flexible organization to be constantly looking at all this and also other things. And me, being a part of the governing council at FICCI Sports Sector Skill council, is also trying to bring in contribution as an organization as much as the evolvement of this sector.
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