For Anand Kumar, practicing kung fu is a form of meditation. Hailing from Kerala, he has also played kabaddi at the state-level. Due to financial reasons, he had to take up a job as a security guard in Hyderabad. The gruelling shifts didn’t leave him time for any physical activity but his passion for fitness was a burning one.
Today, he is a Fellow with CoolCoach, a social enterprise that aims to comprehensively train the sports oriented youth from under privileged backgrounds in fitness. Once the Fellows are done with the training, they are sent to schools to teach Physical Education (PE) as part of an internship. After successful completion of the internship, CoolCoach places them within the growing fitness industry.
It was founded in 2016 by Suraj Sudhakar, a computer science engineer who has also worked extensively in the social sector in India and Kenya. “For the past two years, I’ve been thinking about what kind of venture I can begin for myself in the social development space. I’ve been a sportsperson all my life and while I worked with Cognizant, I realised that I had become so unfit. That’s where my personal journey began, because at the same time, I got into the non-profit sector.”
While working on social development projects in Nairobi, Sudhakar came across the Africa Yoga Project that trained Kenyan youth in yoga which helped them tap employment opportunities in the wellness industry.“I never thought that yoga could be a vocation in this way and this applies to the world of fitness also. I did a lot of research regarding this and simultaneously, the fitness industry in India was growing rapidly. There is a huge dearth of talent in this space,” he says.
CoolCoach looks for youth who have a sports or fitness background. By early 2017, a four-month pilot project was launched, “We realised that it was too short a period to teach the Fellow inter-personal as well as professional skills. It struck us that they would learn more if they were placed in schools. It’s a model like Teach for India, where the Fellows are paid a stipend while they teach. This in turn helps children in these schools get healthier and learn more about leading a fit life. The PE situation in schools is very dismal.”
In a battle to break the gender stereotype, Sudhakar and his team decided to put a cap on finding only male Fellows. Currently, CoolCoach trains a total of 857 children by sending out two Fellows each in the five schools they’re associated with in Pune. The aim is to send one male and one female coach to each school. “The girls in schools should have a role model. We’re lucky to have connected with women athletes from SNDT college and in fact, Surabhi Date, a known name in Indian women’s rugby has also come on board.”
By 2018, CoolCoach sees itself in 50 schools that will have an equal number of male and female Fellows to comprise a 100 in total. “The main challenges is in solving the youth unemployment problem, as well as making the nation fit,” states Sudhakar.
As for Anand Kumar, he dreams of opening a sports academy that is free for everyone, “I have access to everything right now. I achieved a lot in sports but didn’t have the means to take it forward. I don’t want anyone to go through what I went through.”
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