You might have seen one on a city street corner or on a video on the internet. Footballers keeping yo-yo-like control on a ball as they contort themselves in crazy ways, embarrass pedestrians or climbing lamp posts.
It’s called “freestyle football” and it’s a brand of soccer all its own with national heroes, international competitions and legions of fans. It has grown though global marketing campaigns with companies like Nike and has seen big name sponsorship from investors like Red Bull. And now, freestyle football is being used as a tool to teach orphans in India.
Tejas R, a 23 year-old former electrical engineering student, is using his acumen in street football to enrich young orphans in Bangalore, India. A lifelong footballer, Tejas is now passing along his considerable skill to the underprivileged.
Tejas’s passion sparked from seeing German powerhouse Bayern Munich defeat an Indian national squad on their home turf. The embarrassment he felt led him to begin teaching young footballers in hopes to spur his countries future successes.
Photo from Sparky Football Facebook
The journey began roughly– as he faced opposition from his family, who wanted him to pursue his education, and from local football academies, who felt he was unqualified to be a coach. After leaving school because of poor grades, he intensified his activity on the job market.
“I went to schools and academies explaining what I had to do, but yet again I was a failure with rejections,” Tejas R said in a TedX talk from 2013.
At that point, Tejas decided to hone his skills through freestyle football. He made a video, put it online and got immediate feedback. That lead to more jobs and eventually to Tejas’ development of a his own football curriculum, which he was then able to implement at several schools through workshops. He became certified as a referee, continued his coaching, and pushed his own career as a football freestyler, gaining press attention and performing in front of thousands at several stadiums. Tejas went on to win the India Fest Freestyle Football Championship in 2013.
“I was really happy. I could see my happiness throughout the failure itself. But at the end of the day, I thought, what is the purpose of my life?” Tejas said.
That’s when Tejas took it further. Later that year he started training in an orphanage. The conditions were dire. The teams didn’t have uniforms, they didn’t have training gear, they didn’t even have shoes. Tejas worried that the children might get injured, so he went to local businesses to seek out sponsorship, but was rebuked every time.
“They didn’t have anything,” Tejas said. “But I could see their hunger to learn this football.
Tejas got crafty, using the internet, the same tool that had gotten him publicity in the first place, to stretch across the globe looking for someone to help them. Even if it was just old shoes, anything would help. The results were immediate. Within a week, the students had 45 pairs of shoes. But that wasn’t it; people sent in clothing, safety gear, instructional DVDs, even food.
Since then, the orphanage has gotten more publicity, and in the world of the under-publicized and forgotten, that’s an important thing. The higher-profile and magnified-need led to even more donors wanting to help the orphanage, and not just in the football department.
“There are many hidden faces just like me who have come forward to nurture [the orphans’] talent in karate, music, craft making, all these things,” Tejas said.
Since then, Tejas has gone on to form Sparky Football, a program to instill his own principles to the young footballers of India. He lists his mission as building a number one under-19 football team from India’s underprivileged children. Some students from Sparky Football have already gone on to become coaches themselves.
Tejas cares to see more of the bigger picture. To close his Ted talk, Tejas said:
“I am on this journey with a belief that football is more than a sport. It is a human service. Because it has the capacity to experience something beautiful and every footballer is obligated to carry that beauty in themselves and spark that beauty in others, which could blossom into a new hope.”