Your game plan

In India, except in the cases of cricketers and those who reach the highest levels in other disciplines, a career in sport doesn't guarantee a comfortable life afterwards.  

Unlike the accountant or the engineer, the distance runner or the weightlifter does not have the guarantee of a job in his middle age. The human body can deliver peak athletic performance only for so long, and an active career in most sports does not typically extend beyond the early thirties. It therefore becomes imperative for those keen on a career in sports to secure their livelihoods beyond their playing days.

Where finding employment may not have been enormously difficult in days gone by, it is not that straightforward anymore (except at perhaps the highest levels). “It is a very tough situation for sportspersons,” says Mohammed Ilyas, Physical Director, Al Ameen College. “Ten years ago, PSUs and nationalised banks recruited many. They still do but the numbers have come down; in any case only those who do well at the national level are hired. My students now look for private jobs where they will compete with the rest.”

It is for this reason that young sportspersons stepping out of pre-university finds themselves at a crossroad and realise that the time has come for painful decisions. Time away from training can set athletes back a long way — for those involved in individual sports like tennis or swimming, it may even mean the end of career — while at the same time, the demands of academics, particularly in professional courses, ensure that nothing less than complete attention will do. This has come to mean that success in sport at a serious level and academic excellence, in college, are often mutually exclusive.

Career options

In India, except in the cases of cricketers and those who reach the highest levels in other disciplines, a career in sport doesn't guarantee a comfortable life afterwards. Yet, those really keen on pursuing a career in sports will find that they can put their sporting experience to good use at the end of their playing days.

While a flourishing academic career may not be a practical expectation, they may choose from several occupations in physical education and sports instruction. A large number of universities abroad offer courses for sportspersons in physical education, coaching, physiotherapy, sports management, sports medicine, sports business administration, sports marketing, sports journalism and fitness training.

“All these are fields that are largely neglected,” says L.R. Vaidyanathan, former Dean, Faculty of Physical Education, Bangalore University, and former Chairman of the Expert Committee on Physical Education and Sports, Government of Karnataka. In India, though, outside a handful of universities, few such courses are on offer. “Sports and PE courses are not a priority for the government. Though there is a lot of scope in these areas, we don't produce enough quality professionals,” Prof. Vaidyanathan says.


Well known in the country, however, are the Sports Authority of India's (SAI) affiliate institutes – NIS Patiala (, LNUPE (Lakshmibai National University for Physical Education, ) Gwalior, and LNCPE (Lakshmibai National College for Physical Education, ) Thiruvananthapuram. The National Institute of Sport in Patiala is the main academic centre of the SAI and produces perhaps the largest number of coaches in India.

NIS offers a diploma in coaching (in an array of sports), an M.Sc in Sports Coaching, and a postgraduate diploma in Sports Medicine, among other courses. LNUPE and LNCPE teach bachelor's and master's courses in Physical Education, with the latter also offering a postgraduate diploma in Health and Fitness Management.

Admission criteria include previous participation and accomplishment in meets of a certain standard, and the process includes physical and written tests and an interview. All three institutes, like the SAI itself, fall under the aegis of the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports.

Completing these courses opens up the possibility of working as coaches, physical instructors, and later managers of sporting academies or physical directors of colleges and universities. “Those who complete the diplomas are hired as coaches, usually in government sports institutes,” explains G. Kishore, Director, LNCPE, Thiruvananthapuram. “Those who complete the bachelor's course in P.E. may join schools while those who complete the master's course are hired by universities. The recruitment is almost immediate.”

If you are interested in a sports career…

“Sport is not conceived as an extra-curricular activity anymore. It's a science,” says the Director of Lakshmibai National College for Physical Education (LNCPE), Thiruvananthapuram, G. Kishore. The institute has tied up with universities in China and Cuba, and sends its pupils abroad for further training. LNCPE has 192 students on its rolls this term, with the demand for an increased intake steadily growing. “It is tremendous,” says Mr. Kishore.

On the other hand, L.R. Vaidyanathan, former Dean, Faculty of Physical Education, Bangalore University, argues that merely producing coaches is not enough. “We need training in sports administration, policy-making and management. People today become administrators by default. The Tamil Nadu Physical Education and Sports University ( > is making a beginning with all this, but there is nothing worthwhile in the rest of the country.”

Those, however, who wish to continue their sports careers but not move away from mainstream education may seek admission in colleges that have a culture of promoting sports. Scholarships (though not on the same scale as American universities) are offered, attendance regulations relaxed, and sometimes even other expenses taken care of. Bangalore's Jain University has begun to build a reputation for itself in this aspect. The university contributed 10 competitors to India's contingent at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, and boasts five players featuring in the IPL as its existing students or alumni.

The university has a generous sports scholarship policy, with the total outlay for the previous academic year close to Rs.1.25 crore, according to U.V. Shankar, Physical Director. Students are charged nominal fees, and provided other assistance. Besides, agreements with companies in the private sector mean recruitments for the approximately 200 sportspersons on its rolls will be straightforward.

“We identify those who are good and pick them up after ascertaining how serious they are,” says Mr. Shankar. “Once they join, we set regular targets for them, and support them in whatever way possible.”

Bangalore's Al Ameen College is another that has a history of sporting success. The college has dominated athletics, football, volleyball and hockey at the Bangalore University-level. Hockey veteran Arjun Halappa and former international Sabu Varkey are among its products, as is football international N.S. Manju. “We don't charge our sportspersons any fees. If we find they cannot afford it, we even help them with tracksuits, training gear and the like,” says Mohammad Ilyas, Physical Director. In the last academic year, 15 sportspersons, out of the 80 or so on its rolls, have joined PSUs such as BSNL, South-Western Railways, and Karnataka State Police.

Reigning over the State's junior athletics scene for a while now has been Alva's Education Foundation of Moodbidri, in coastal Karnataka. The institute offers high school, undergraduate, and postgraduate programmes — the last two in a variety of disciplines — with close to 300 sportspersons (for whom education is free) on its rolls. Alva's conducts yearly trials to select them. Those who excel in major competitions are offered monthly ‘pocket expenses' as an incentive.

Although the path may not be easy, students need not wave their sporting ambitions goodbye. Making a career out of it may not promise huge financial benefits, but for those in love with their sport, it can be immensely satisfying.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2021 6:51:37 AM |

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