Saturday, December 15, 2012

Learning life lessons from a 16 year old superstar

Over the past month, I’ve learned some important life lessons from arguably the best 16 year old footballer in India, Uttam Rai.  I never expected this to happen, but certainly appreciate existence, Libero Sports and Uttam for making it possible. 

Uttam is a U16 national team player from the state of Sikkim who has been on the AIFF radar since he was 13 years of age.  Many people have praised him including former India captain Baichung Bhutia who at one point actually called him “the next Baichung.”  My company also recognized his talents and, more importantly, his potential and signed him as one of our first domestic players we represented with the intention to help him find playing opportunities abroad.

Thanks to our relationship with Rush Soccer in Colorado, the world’s largest youth soccer club, we were able to secure a spot for him on Rush’s U18 US Development Academy team.  A long term trip to the US means travel costs and visas. The travel costs were generously taken care of by Coca-Cola India who has had a major role in Uttam’s development as he was first discovered many years ago while playing in the Coca-Cola Mir Iqbal Hussain Trophy.  The next step was securing a US visa for Uttam which unfortunately took longer than we expected, but fortunately allowed me to spend more time with this special young man.
Uttam’s family lives in Sikkim so while the PR events and visa process was going on he stayed with us at our office in Gurgaon.  It was such a treat having him around as we all felt that Uttam was the little brother which none of us had ever had. And, surprisingly, after weeks of spending time with Uttam, I realized that he was silently looking out for me much more than I was looking out for him.
Uttam with Libero Sports MD & Coca-Cola India CEO Mr. Atul Singh
Former India Captain Baichung Bhutia handing over a boot to Uttam at a Nike PR event
Uttam reminded me about the word simplicity. Sometimes as we get older, we have a tendency to complicate life; try to do everything and be everything to everyone.  Uttam keeps his life simple: He loves to play football, is genuine to everyone he meets and enjoys eating food with rice. That’s it. When it comes to all of the other drama in life, he chooses not to indulge and only focuses on what makes him happy.  Watching this over a period of time slowed me down and had me reconnect with the magic found inside of living a simple life.

I remember being sad and a bit worried when saying goodbye to Uttam as he rushed to the airport to catch his flight to the US. Many questions arose in my mind: Will he be okay? Will he get lonely? Will he like the US? Will the US like him? etc… But that all vanished quickly as I realized that he will have every opportunity to play football, be genuine to people and eat rice when he is in Colorado meaning that he will be right at home. I wish Uttam well and will never forget him for helping me remember one of life’s most important lessons: less is more.    

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