SPORTS AND FITNESS FOR A NEW WORLD 31 Jan 2021

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Dr Rajat Chauhan (Dr RC) in conversation with  Sandy Hooda, Co-Founder, Vega Schools (S). Here are some excerpts.

S: Dr Chauhan you have an MBBS, MSc (Nottingham, UK in Sports Exercise Medicine, Musculo-Skeletal Medicine, London, UK). You are a prolific author and newspaper columnist with the Hindustan Times and many other major news papers. You?ve been an Advisor to Adidas, a long distance runner who organised marathons for many companies, Airtel, Wipro amongst them. And you were the Founder Director of Sports at Ashoka University...the list goes on and on. We are also honored to have you as a member of the Vega Schools Leadership Board.  

We wish you a very warm welcome to our series ?Educating for a New World?. And today we want to talk about Sports and fitness for a New World. You are a visionary and someone who has questioned and reimagined some of the major assumptions underlying sports and fitness. 

Inculcating habits of lifelong fitness in children

S: Moving a little beyond resilience, we have a programme at Vega Schools called SPEED where we lay a lot of emphasis on biomechanics, and on lifelong sports and fitness. The reason we started this programme was that we observed that a lot of children just play sports in school and once they graduate and they start working they don?t develop habits of lifelong fitness. You wrote in your column in the HT that promotion of sports should not only be for medals but also to encourage a healthy lifestyle. And you also wrote that over 50% of today?s deaths are premature. Many children who play sports are generally physically fit and the problem of course is why perhaps there are so many premature deaths is because people are not focusing on lifelong fitness. So my question to you is- What can schools and parents do to inculcate habits of lifelong fitness in children?

Dr RC: I think the culture of physical activity and playing sports for participation rather than for medals. Because, what medals also does is that they have a negative effect on children. If I am not getting there, then why do it? If I am not in the top three, if I am not the winner,  then why do it? And that is a very negative outlook and approach. So participation should be appreciated as much as winning. So for example, there are ?Houses? in the school. Like in my own school, there is a point that is being allocated to my House if I am participating in the sport. So the House Captain would get you on the field, just for participation sake, because there is a point to it, leading to the decision which house would win the Trophy at the end of the year. I think that?s a very simple one.

But, the one that I have a major problem with, which is in almost all schools and institutions for that matter; we take the kids to a particular level and then we leave them in the middle of nowhere. I mean, if you are going to school, what does the child or parent want after that? It is to get into a good college and after that what is needed, or what they are aspiring to is to have a good career, get into a good corporate or own their own business etc. I think that connection needs to be made. I think that companies already value people who are sporty. You know, if I am sitting across a table and talking to someone, and if that boy or girl plays a particular sport then there is a higher chance that I would hire that person. And that is true for most top corporates today. Because, they are looking for a holistic individual. But the problem is that colleges are not valuing that enough and then schools are not valuing that enough. I am working on this book called ?Movement Medicine? and we have been interviewing doctors who are active now. But, when we look at their history, they stopped playing sports in 9th or 11th standard, for obvious reasons, for the Board exams. And I think that's the most important part of  that age, if you think about it. Because, if you are missing out then, then you are gone for the next two or three decades and then you pick it up again in the mid-40s or something. So, I think it needs to be integrated with further education, about valuing that you played sports- participation being as important as medals. Because, even if people are talking about sports, they are only talking about winning and medals- I represented the school, or I represented the district, etc. If not, there is no point...they don?t value it at all. So I think that connection, between the school-college- career, is something that we need to do, from our side.

From a school angle, if we are to talk about Vega, or my own school, making that connection and guiding our students that ?Hey, these are the colleges that value it by the way?, is important. For instance, my son is in the US and I made sure of it. The school did not help me, well they helped me to a point but not all the way. But I made sure to find out where it would be valued, that he is a half marathon runner as a 17 year old guy. And he loves writing and is good at debating... where is that going to be valued along with what he did academically? But most of us don?t do that. Parents don?t do that and teachers don?t do that. Kids are left in between.

S: So what you are saying is that, generally the umbilical cord with sports gets snapped around Board exam time and many children don?t go back to sports and fitness. So parents and educators should make sure that, that doesn?t happen. More so because now many colleges are actually valuing sports and so are recruiters and job providers, they value sports and fitness. And the cherry on the cake of course, the most important piece, is that if you are healthy and fit and if you are playing a sport or delving in fitness, you yourself will live longer and healthier. I get it, I think that is a very important point you've made, doc!

Integrating academics and sports

S: Now for the most important question, the education system is designed to segregate studies and sports...you have a studies period, and you have a sports period. This is in some ways becoming even more pronounced during the pandemic because there is only so much physical activity that you can do online. We do a lot of integration at Vega Schools, in fact ?We are Gurgaon? rated us as the Best school in Gurugram for these reasons. For example, for very young children, we launched the ?Bookworm Yoga? programme where they read and they do yoga. They do it in a very creative way where for each chapter, a pose is symbolic of what they are learning and they love it. They love learning, and they love yoga. So my question is- What are your thoughts on the need to integrate academics and sports?

Dr. RC: I think it is important...SUPER important. And I think that was exactly what my role was at Ashoka University. Creating infrastructure is not a problem, any vendor would tell you how to create infrastructure for sports, it is not a big deal. But in my head, my role was to integrate the word education with sporting/physical activity, medals, participation all of that...medals to the highest level, but participation for everyone (100%). That was my target there. It was a big challenge, because I had these students from all across and the faculty from all backgrounds like PhDs etc. And it was exactly what you were saying, to them a college was meant to be about academics and nothing else. So it was a very big challenge but I am a firm believer that it needed to be integrated.  

So when it comes to integrating, I think it should be done and it can be done. It should be a definite one. It?s not even a choice, why should it be? And with sports, we can combine any subject and integrate it well, whether it is Geography or History etc. There was a study that was done, I think it was about a decade ago, where students were asked, ?Who are your role models?? and I was fascinated by the response by children, who people usually say are immature or silly. The children were saying ?Our role models are our parents, rather than a Salman Khan, Tendulkar or Virat Kholi. So most children said parents. Now if parents wear their shoes in the morning and go for a sport- tennis, squash, running, swimming or whatever it may be- without having to say anything to the child, we could instill the correct habits. Usually, they want to do whatever parents do. So I think that if we, as parents, teachers, principals lead by example, even without saying anything, that is half the battle won right there. The problem is we are not doing enough of that. Even if we are, we are not speaking enough about it. So I think that is a very crucial part that we need to be doing. The second step to it is, when you go out on vacations or when you are going out on a Sunday for example, Why are we not going as a family to parks?, Why are we not playing frisbee with each other?...I mean that is what we guys did. All that has been forgotten.

S: Instead of going to malls.

Dr RC: Yes. So we complain about technology, we complain about the gadgets in children?s hands, but really who is the culprit? Who gave it to them and why are ?we? always on them anyways? You know, one, we are not having dinner together, which should be the rule. You know dinner and lunch should happen together as a family. But, can all the smart gadgets be kept aside? Because parents are as responsible because they have a screen in front of them, always. So I think it is a very simple rule we should be working with and we need to come up with these simple ones because that is when the magic happens. You know we can have a very complicated solution but it will never work. Something that can be repeated on a regular basis and becomes a habit, I think we should be going after those.

S: Yes. So it is great to know that you are a big votary of not segregating academics or studies and sports and find a way to blend them. Also, the fact that ultimately if we want to develop lifelong fitness and sports habits  in our children, then WE have to lead by example as educators, as parents, as employers. And we know that there is the ?mirror neuron? which means that the children will do what they see the elder doing and I completely agree with your point on role models, because when I interview people for jobs at Vega Schools, one of my favourite questions is ?Who are your role models?? And you are absolutely right, nine out of ten people have said that their parents are their role models. So it is really important for parents to get up and and start embracing habits of lifelong fitness because guess what, lo behold, our children will be fitter if we are fitter. That is a very powerful point. That is a very important connection that you have just made, doc. Thank you for that! 

Safeguards to be free of this neck and back pain, and other body pains, as a result of devices

S: My last question, and perhaps it is a very practical question, because we have moved to virtual work and virtual learning and every other day I talk to a colleague who says ?Oh, I have a little bit of a cervical issue or a little bit of a back ache?. So any very basic, quick tips for parents and for children, as to what safeguards they could apply so that they are free of this neck and back pain and other body pains, as a result of devices?  

Dr RC: So the book we are writing is called ?Movemint Medicine? (visit the link for a clear and detailed explanation behind the name. Mint standing for ?minty and fun?.) and the word ?move? is followed by the word ?mint? not ?ment?. What we are saying is that when you talk about ethical medicine, I think we doctors have lost the plot, somewhere. We are asking for too many investigations and procedures when they are not needed when we can simply get our patient to be moving around a lot more...simply moving. And what we have realised is that, a lot of research is also showing that today, if you just do that bit...just move around, not even play sports, just be physically active and move around you are addressing a lot of these medical issues and concerns that are happening. The problem is that our faculty or fraternity is called Healthcare Industry...but there is barely any health or care that we talk about, it is all about excessive capitalism. That is what it has become, sadly. Because, ?Industry? is what it is now and ?health? and ?care? are not there.

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