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Conscient Football & Barca Academy: A success story in India!

When Conscient Football was set-up, the aim was to offer quality football coaching to children at the grassroots level and with a partner like Catalan giants FC Barcelona, the program has been progressing across India.

Conscient Football is a grassroots development initiative undertaken by the Conscient Group with the Heritage Schools network in Delhi-NCR; the latter being a part of its ventures in the education sector, as an extension of its wider portfolio.

Started in Gurgaon by Anupama Jain, the program has expanded to four cities with 20 centres and its now has Anupama’s daugther Kriti Jain also getting involved with the Conscient Football run Barca Academy in India.

On Thursday, January 23; while in Delhi-NCR I had the chance to visit the premises of the Barca Academy in Gurgaon’s Sector-62 and speak to Kriti Jain about the program, where it stands, what are the next steps and how they intend to promote girls in football.

Kriti, tell us a little bit about how you see the journey that Conscient Football have had with FC Barcelona, initially the FCBEscola, now the Barca Academy over the last nearly a decade.

I have always been with mom at every launch in every city. That way I have always been a part of the program. So I do know that there was this paradigm shift in Indian youth football because of us. And we are proud of it. We want to build a solid foundation and I think that will not change as I want to do it like my mom.

At the time she (mom) spoke to FC Barcelona and we got involved with the club. The values really matched! What they wanted to do with the Academy at that time, we believed in that too and we wanted to provide the best grassroots training. I think we’ve really evolved since then and come a long way with more cities, many more centres. We filled a void and are planning for more cities, more centres and to be the best there.

You mentioned four cities, for the readers to understand, which four cities and how many centres are we taking about?

So there are 24 centres. They are not evenly distributed right now. So Delhi-NCR has eight centres, Mumbai seven, Bangalore five and Pune four. We started with one, which is this one (Heritage – Gurgaon). And Pune we started directly with four, it has evolved that way. My goal would be to look at more cities, like where else can we be? And how many centres can we be in that city? We continue to grow in size, but keep the quality intact.

So that’s the big question. You started with one centre with Spanish coaches being a part of it. How is it now?

The Spaniards are the Technical Directors, who teach our local coaches. We wanted our Indian coaches to get the opportunity to learn.

Every Friday is dedicated to our coaches being trained and educated by the Spanish TDs. The coaches are the ones who coach the children, so they need to have the knowledge. We have Spanish technical directors in all cities, who stay there. They are from Spain and qualified. Above them we have a country technical director who overviews the whole program.

Where do you see the program has evolved from then to now? Where is Conscient Football now?

There are a lot of new things that we’re doing. So my whole point was not that I’ve come from outside after my studies to now try to do everything new and change everything that’s been done in the past.

I would keep our vision intact! That means we want to keep the quality. Our focus is grassroots training and to be the best at that, I will keep that as our code!

I’m not like, Oh she’s come back from the USA, now let’s open a residential academy, also let’s go and launch a club. Surely those things are always at the back of your mind, but this is what our code is. I would maintain and keep what we already have and what we’ve already done, just look to make it stronger, expand to more cities and centres.

Do more things like we have added the Asia Pacific Cup, which we did last year. It was the first time ever that the competition was hosted by India and the cup ever happened in Asia. And now in 2020 we got the opportunity to do it again. So we keep adding those elements for the international flavour and all these things that I want to do, but keep the code what it is.

Barca brings a certain set of values, you said it matched with those with Conscient Football. Now you said, you studied in the US and their approach to sports is quite different than what we do in Europe. What example could you give or maybe even more, what aspects you can bring in?

While I was studying there (USA), you get a great international perspective of things. How to interact with people from different cultures, how to work with them. And I’ve always felt that if your values sort of match, which a lot of times it did, whoever you may work with, whatever country, whatever people you do end up doing well.

Take for example the Asia Pacific Cup. Why are we doing this? Why did we want to host it so badly in the first place? Because we wanted to get children from different countries here to show them India, that we are capable of hosting this huge event at the highest standard. All those children are from different cultures, they’ll be able to learn from each other so much. They’d be able to build long lasting friendships. But then there is that common goal to come together and play football. So that is something that’s common. There are values which are common and then everyone starts together to learn together. I think that is what the biggest strength is. I really believe that you learn most from other people, whoever they may be!

But what are specific goals? What would you like to accomplish?

If I talk about very specific goals, my future aspiration would be to actually open a football school which would focus on football training, diet and more.

So you mean an elite training program?

Yes, something like that is what my vision for a new Center for Excellence would be. But also continue to work at the grassroots level and as said, go to more cities and expand our footprint in more places. But not just for the sake of being in more places, so that more children get the opportunity to experience what we offer.

So Conscient Football working together with FC Barcelona, which is one of the biggest clubs in the world, do you offer an Indianized program to cater for Indian kids? Because very often we’ve seen European clubs not only in India, but across Asia or even in the US or wherever they’ve gone that they sort of try and copy paste their model in the respective countries. Is this the reason why the Conscient Football program has been so successful and grown the way that it has?

Yes. It is the same program in terms of having the same curriculum, the same technical directors, our local coaches adopting to their methods, and like 75 minutes every child has to play. If the child is on the field, we don’t want to make them wait on benches on the side, they are all going to play a one-on-one ball ratios, so every child will have a ball. All that definitely stands!

I myself tried one training session with my friends. I wanted to see how they actually do it. You know it’s good to sit here and talk, but what do you really do in the sessions? So I noticed when you dribble, they teach you, you’re dribbling and you shoot the ball in the goal. So usually what academies do is that players stand one behind each other. One person goes, then the second one goes.

What we did in our training was all of us were standing together, all of us dribbled together and then scored. Everyone’s getting to play and it’s also at the same time slightly adding an element of competition. So it sort of incorporates a lot of things, which I don’t see elsewhere, which we are doing. And that is replicated because it’s the same thing is happening at FC Barcelona.

The same things will happen in academies across the 52 cities that the Barca Academy runs in. On one side it is a copy paste but also tailored to the Indian culture. There is a difference in the city also. What works in Mumbai, will not work in Delhi. So you really need to go understand the culture of India as a sub-continent and not a country.

Also intentionally we’ve not expanded to too many cities. We’ve gone very slowly. The technical directors who came and visited, they first went to the cities. They understood the culture, what is required in terms of football and of course the same set of curriculum is being taught, but it has been adapted to the Indian ecosystem.

When it comes about talking about expansion so far, you’ve gone to metros, tier two cities, which has the system, but talking about the Northeast. Would that be an area to go to where the football culture is more in the blood of the people than in a Delhi or Mumbai?

We know we have to go to more places, but where those places will be whether the Northeast, Kerala and Goa are doing so well, is something that we are still thinking about and we haven’t really done that much research on that, so we’re still in the process of deciding. We want to reach as many children as possible across India!

So coming to talk about the relationship with FC Barcelona, how has that been? I mentioned other partnerships, not only in India but around the world and I guess even Barcelona will have had partnerships as well, which haven’t worked out. This is a very, very long running relationship.

I was gonna say that both sides have stuck with their partner and we have grown together. We have stayed with them, they have stayed with us for this long. So I think it works that way.

We (Conscient Football) have always had a great relationship working with them. We value the inputs from the technical directors, who are very supportive. We love that culture. It’s so you get to learn so much in that front with them being here. It has been a pretty great journey together and we really want to make it stronger.

So for FC Barcelona, the grassroots part in India is sorted, but like every European club, India for them is commercially on the radar. Be it coming with the first team or looking at sponsors from India. Is that a conversation that the club actually has with you or are you just focused on talking to them about grassroots?

Yes, there are talks on sponsors as well. But our focus has been and is grassroots football in India. If we can help and support FC Barcelona, we will do it, but it isn’t something that we necessary focus on.

Coming back. What is the long-term vision or outlook then? I mean you’re talking mainly about grassroots, you’re talking about potentially having an elite program as well. Is that the road ahead, that constant footprint, and contributing even more to the Indian football ecosystem and creating the stars of the future?

I think because our grassroots foundation is so solid that no matter where the kids go after that, they will shine and do well.

Also I want to encourage more girls to play football. We want to organise events for girls and support them in their growth. Initially we wanted to try to find out why girls didn’t come out to play. But then we were surprised that 52 girls just came onto the field with one week’s notice. Also we want to have more of those sort of events and then eventually figure out what we can do for their progress.

So you aren’t doing girls football as it is the flavour of the month? The FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup will happen later this year in India and a lot of effort is being put to promote women’s football. Is the interest of girls in football something new or something which has been there all these years?

I think it’s certainly growing! It started off slowly but has gained pace and the girls are taking up football at a younger age.

But how can you keep girls interested in playing football?

So I actually interacted with a lot of parents when we were having this event because I was interested to know more. For them it’s that child, whoever it is, a girl or a boy, it’s mostly about the child. And when they’re young, there are a lot of girls who just play, the boys can just push them but they want to play. When they get older the girls just become more conscious. I don’t know if it’s because of schools, because of boys or other reasons…

How difficult is it to explain to parents that your kid is not going to end up at FC Barcelona to play at Camp Nou? Because I think there is a problem that I’ve experienced with parents that they have unrealistic dreams for their children. How difficult has that been to tell the parents your son is actually not the next Messi or the next Cristiano Ronaldo?

It is challenging, but we sort of tackle it in a way that our focus is to make your child a better child, a better human being, to provide them with the best foundation, what they do with it and what happens with it is upto them. Like in anything else we never say no, this cannot happen. We always show them the part.

Is it difficult to take unrealistic expectations out of parents? I mean, every parent wants the best for their child. Right? How difficult is that aspect from an educational standpoint to try and explain to them? How do you tackle that?

We want to grow with each other. We both learn from each other and we’ve seen a transition, we’ve seen better one’s move on.

Parents need to learn and understand that my child will not become a professional or I do understand he may not reach that level but I still want him or her to go and try it out.

Let me give you am example. There was this mother of a girl, who had come for trials and then joined us. So I went to her and asked her, how would you feel your daughter playing football? How do you think your daughter’s doing? And she’s like, she is so shy. She’s so shy inside the household so she doesn’t even open up to me and then she’s started playing with all boys in that one group and she’s shining. She’s now so confident. So just for them to see that development makes them believe in their kids.

So is it at the end of the day to see a child smile and/or get these reactions? Is that why Conscient Football was set-up?

Yes! So these are like success stories. So it’s not all success stories. It’s these little things like she was not confident and not looking at her.

So, so the values are more important than anything else?

Yes! It’s like success in any aspect and that aspect as an outcome. We focus on what you’re doing.

So the training is of course very good because it is done by the technical staff. They are all learning together the way everyone is in the FCB way. But like these are these things around it which matter.

Plus the environment they are in, we try to give them a safe environment, a secured, a clean infrastructure and environment where they safe. There is no difference in terms of gender or whatsoever. They get equal opportunities and then they are here to just have fun, enjoy the game. So it just gives us joy!

Thanks Kriti for your time for this extensive interview!

About Arunava Chaudhuri

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