Friday, May 19, 2017

Grassroots Football Weekend: Reconnecting me with my Soul, Raising my Spirits & Making me Aware of the Impact of my Emotions

Those of you that have been reading this blog for the past few years would know that every once in awhile I veer slightly away from pure sport to share some insights and learnings from my spiritual practice.  My practice currently involves (almost) daily meditation, attending spiritual retreats from time to time and reading texts written by enlightened masters.  This journey started during my first retreat to Dharamsala back in 2011 and, since then, my practice has had an extraordinary impact in every area of my life.

I was recently having a conversation with one of my spiritual mentors about a topic that I enjoy discussing: following one’s heart when it comes to career choices.  This is something that I’ve spoken about hundreds of times to individuals, to classrooms full of students and at conferences as I have somehow managed to follow my heart throughout my entire career which has filled my life with an abundance of job fulfillment, good friends, financial security and adventures across the world.    

I’ve always felt that I was an expert in this topic but, during the conversation, my mentor took this a bit deeper which had a profound impact on my understanding of the concept.  Then this past weekend I lived exactly what he was speaking about.    

I’ll make best efforts to summarise what he shared.  Basically, written into our soul is our mission, our purpose in this lifetime.  For me development through football has clearly been my mission as from the age of 4 all I ever did was play football. Then as soon as I had to choose my career path, my heart screamed loudly that my contribution to the world would be to leverage football as a platform to create partnerships and programmes to positively impact individuals, communities, cities, states, countries, continents, etc… Throughout my 14-year career in sport management, this is what comes most natural to me, what I’m good at doing and what brings me the most fulfillment.  Even the few times that I tried to explore career options outside of football development the Universe ensured that I didn’t get too far.

After soul, comes spirit.  Our spirit is the energy that fuels our efforts, enthusiasm and curiosity around our soul’s mission.  This is what allows someone to work for hours on a project without getting tired or continue researching a particular topic just out of pure curiosity regardless of whether or not it leads to job advancement or what has someone wake up genuinely excited to go to work for no reason at all. 

Finally, there are emotions.  Emotions are temporary and can either have a positive or negative impact on the intensity of one’s spirit.  If things are going our way and we are happy with ourselves and others then the chances are likely that our spirit will be high.  If things are falling apart and we are disappointed or disconnected with the people around us then chances are likely that our spirit will be low.  The trick is to be aware of this chain reaction. 

In a broad sense, it is my soul that had me leave my life behind in the United States in 2009 to move to India in order to serve as a catalyst for the creation of a thriving football ecosystem in this country.  And it’s been my spirit that has kept me fully involved, engaged and enthused in this mission for the past 7+ years first as a consultant and now as CEO of a professional club.  However, in spite of all this, my emotions can easily work against me to decrease the spirit in which I pursue my mission. 

I’ll share an example.  This past Friday our senior team was playing its final group stage match in the Federation Cup against Shillong Lajong.  A draw or win would pretty much assure us a place in the Semi-finals which would have been a big achievement for our club.  The score was 2-2, Shillong was down to 10 men, we were pressing for win and then in injury time we let up a goal due to a silly mistake.  It was heart-breaking especially since this was probably the 8th time we let up a goal in the dying minutes of a match to lose points.  Our season was over. 

Immediately after the match ended a major wind storm hit Pune and our entire operations set up for the next day’s open trials was destroyed.  Not only did this mean that we would lose money to replace the equipment, it meant that most of my staff would have to stay up all night setting everything up again.  At that moment, I can comfortably say that my spirit was very low. I was angry at football, at my club, at myself, at the weather, etc… I just wanted to cancel the trials and the planned Grassroots Day and spend the weekend sulking at home.  But of course “the show must go on” and we all pulled together to ensure we were prepared for the next 48 hours of football programming taking place at the campus.  Even though I was in action, my spirit remained low all through the night.

After only a few hours of sleep which were mostly filled with replays in my mind of the 3rd goal, I managed to get out of bed at 5:30am and lead our 6:15am operations meeting.  Still in my sulking state, I communicated to the staff to open the security gates and let the trialists in for the 7:00am registration.  What I witnessed next blew me away, 600+ players were eagerly trotting towards the registration desk with their boots in their hands and dreams of one day playing for our Academy in their hearts.  The next 12 hours were a blur of interactions with hundreds of parents hungry to have their sons join the programme, conversations with our coaches about talented players and presentations on life at our Academy.  Neither the 3 hours of sleep nor the 45 degree blistering heat slowed me down, even by the end of the day I returned home feeling high on life.

I woke up early the next day excited to get back to the campus and interact with my staff, the trialists and their parents.  Negative thoughts of the loss to Shillong or lack of sleep no longer troubled me.  The day went by successfully and the cherry on top was an extraordinary Grassroots Festival organised by our coaches for a group of underprivileged youth as well as individuals that were deaf, blind or without parents that came to us through a Pune based NGO.

I literally smiled the entire 3 hours of the festival.  Just a ball, some committed coaches, a group of underprivileged youth and an inspiring bunch from an NGO created a magical environment full of love, laughter, play and togetherness.  Anyone involved in the event was impacted by its power – the whole pitch was just one big smile.  Thankfully, I brought my wife Avantika to join in the festivities as a volunteer as there was no way that I could have properly explained the experience to her.

When I finally got home late Sunday night I felt drunk, just babbling on and on about how incredible the trials and grassroots festival were and how blessed I feel to be involved with this sport.  It was during that time when I realized that thanks to the positive response, interactions and experiences I had over the weekend my spirit completely did a 180 degree turnaround.  I not only couldn’t wait to get to work the next day, I was already planning personal trips to the NGO for my wife and I so we could teach them football, thinking about ways to ensure we make grassroots festivals a regular part of our club’s programming next year and exploring partnerships to expand our trials into new territories.  Even now as I write this post, my heart is still smiling from the incredible experiences I had interacting with over a thousand footballers from across India as well as all those that participated in the festival. 

So the point of this long winded story is that although it is inevitable (unless you are enlightened) that external circumstances will affect your emotions which will then impact your spirit, it is critical that no matter how severe the impact, you do not run away from your soul’s mission.  As just around the corner is a weekend full of activities and interactions which will surely touch, move and inspire you, raise your spirits and re-align yourself with the enthusiasm and curiosity surrounding your soul’s purpose in this lifetime. 

I've included some pictures from the weekend below...

This picture was taken at 7am when 600+ youth showed up for trials

Our Liverpool FC coach Mike Rice speaking with the boys before the trial






Happy footballers



Me thanking the group for the gift they gave us by blessing us with their presence and smiles

My beautiful wife Avantika before the ladies match



Game created so the blind participants could get into the action

Group shot after the Grassroots Festival

1 comment: