Every weekend at 4:00 PM, nearly 30 children get ready for their football coaching session with their jerseys on, shoelaces tied and water bottles filled. But instead of trooping out on to the football field, the children gather in their own living rooms and log in to a Microsoft Teams meeting. Complying with social distancing norms amid COVID-19 has kicked off a new way of playing for children.
The virtual football classes are the brainchild of Sanjeet Sen, who dons the jersey of an All India Football Federation (AIFF) certified football coach over weekends. On weekdays, he evangelizes Open Source on Azure at Microsoft India.
Having grown up playing the game, Sen started coaching two teams of under-11 and under-16 boys and girls in his apartment complex in Gurguram two years ago. What started as a weekend project soon became a commitment and he took it to the next level by pursuing a D-level coach certification from the AIFF.
The weekend football classes were a high point for these children, till the lockdown confined everyone to their homes. Not one to be watching from the side-lines, Sen hit upon the idea of using Teams for continuing his coaching remotely just as he did while working from home.
But coaching football virtually was never going to be as simple as presenting PowerPoint slides during his workday. There were several challenges. Unlike being on the field, he had to devise warm-up exercises that could be done in confined spaces and monitor children to ensure they were doing them right. He also had to figure out the proper format of the class that makes it interesting for the children without being too different from their regular classes on the field.
A meticulous planner, Sen divided the class into four sections, starting with an orientation session where he plays videos related to the theme of the class. He follows that up with a round of warm-up exercises, a session on theoretical aspects of the game, and concludes it with a quiz or a competition.
“We had to improvise a lot with warm-up exercises. For ball mastery movements like toe-taps, pendulum moves and dribbling, the kids use objects that are easily available at home like bottles and shoes instead of cones and markers,” Sen says.
The kids point their smartphone cameras to their feet for their coach to be able to see them doing their routines properly.
For the theory session, Sen uses the virtual whiteboard feature on Teams to demonstrate different formations and movements, just like he’d do in his regular class using a physical whiteboard.
While the lockdown has limited the scope of his classes, they have also enabled Sen to bring experiences that he couldn’t even dream of earlier. For instance, he has been able to invite guest speakers like Vaibhav Joshi, the team manager for the U-17 Women’s National team, and Geoff Wilson, a sports strategist, who has consulted organizations like FIFA, UEFA, FIBA, and Barca Innovation Hub, to inspire his students.
“Listening to the experiences and learnings of noted footballers creates a lasting impression on their young minds. I hope this will inspire them to improve their techniques when they play matches on field again,” he says.
Parents of children attending Sen’s classes are also impressed with his efforts.
“Playing a physical team sport alone is not easy. But the classes are engaging and there’s some light-hearted competition as well. Practice continuity is what matters most now,” says Subhadip Saha, a parent. The virtual classes have given his 10-year-old son a reason to look forward to weekends. “He gets to meet all his friends in one place. So much is still the same: birthday celebrations continue – and there are penalties for latecomers here as well,” he adds.
Starting his football coaching classes on Teams has enabled Sen to go beyond the gated walls of his apartment complex and reach out to more children. Thanks to his students talking about their classes with their friends and families, he now has children joining from other cities like Kolkata, Mumbai, and Bengaluru.
“I decided to begin virtual football coaching classes to keep the kids engaged in these difficult times, but the response I have received is phenomenal,” says Sen. “When normalcy is restored, I might even consider opening a virtual football academy alongside a physical one in the future. Who knows?” Sen exclaims.
Top Photo: Sanjeet Sen coaching his troop of students in the field before COVID-19 restrictions came into play.