Gymnastics temple of North India

- May 7, 2024
| By : Mohd Shehwaaz Khan |

Dhoolsiras village in South West Delhi has become a hub of gymnastics for aspirants from NCR and neighbouring states; encouraged by the response, the owners are eyeing a foreign coach

SHARING ADVICE: Praveen Sharma, a former national-level gymnast, giving instructions to budding athletes as the foreign coach Gerard Speerstra looks on in the background

The South West Delhi village called Dhoolsiras, dominated by the Jat community whose major source of income comes through renting of warehouses, has become a temple of learning for gymnasts in the region.

Roughly a 15-minute drive from the Indira Gandhi International Airport, the village is flocked by more than 150 aspiring young girls and boys from Delhi as well as neighbouring states like Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, wanting to polish their skills.

‘The Gymnastics Academy’ set up in January 2018 by like-minded people at a rented warehouse currently attracts gymnasts in different age groups ranging from two to 3-year-old toddlers to senior players aiming for excellence at the international level.

Sanjay Sharma, a former state level gymnast and key person in setting up ‘The Gymnastics Academy’, a first of its kind private set-up by a group of enthusiastic entrepreneurs in the area, said that the main goal was to give back something to the community.

“When I was an active player, there weren’t good facilities,” Sharma explained. “I have enough resources and a circle of friends now to support my passion.

“Investing in gymnastics is like a fixed deposit that offers less interest in the long run. But still many people do it because they have the passion for sport which is one of the disciplines that features at the Olympic Games,” Sharma added.

Products from the stable

Delhi’s 22-year-old Shayan Sharma has benefitted hugely from the academy that has modern equipment and a good coaching system. Shayan, who has won several medals in age group category, excelled at the Goa National Games held in 2023. He won gold on horizontal bars.

His performance also enabled him to get a job in the Railways through sports quota. To further improve his performance, Shayan has rented an accommodation close to the academy as he has to practice for long hours and it is practical to travel back home.

“I’ve to make some sacrifices and once in a month go back home to meet my parents,” Shayan Sharma said.

According to the promising gymnast, patience pays. He has been practicing for more than a decade but didn’t have any sponsorship to fuel his passion.

BUILDING DREAMS: The Gymnastics Academy at Doolsiras village attracts aspirants from NCR and parts of UP and Rajasthan

“There were lots of challenges in formative years of training. But I knew one day I will be successful,” the National Games gold medalist said.

Shayan said there is no financial support in the formative years but only when an athlete reaches a very good level do people come forward to support. “It depends on how a person is able to financially sustain efforts to achieve excellence,” the national level player said.

Coaching system

Rahul Sharma, a former national gymnast and Head Coach at the academy said that the 150 gymnasts at the academy are divided into different batches.

“The children in the age group of two to three-and-a-half years are clubbed in the toddler section and practice basic exercises three to four days a week,” said the coach. “Those above the age group of four years are in the beginners’ section and practice 4-6 days a week.”

Gymnastics is known as the mother of all sports because fundamental gymnastics exercises are the basics of several other sporting disciplines and greatly contribute to coordination and muscle memory, the Head Coach added.

The academy, he said, has good modern gymnastics equipment to learn the fundamentals of the sport.

“The right way of body movements on the floor and other equipment is an essential part of coaching in formative years,” added Rahul Sharma.

Senior players generally practice twice a day for seven to eight hours and are grouped in ‘advance section’.

“There are seven coaches, including the Head Coach at the academy to oversee training of the players,” Rahul Sharma explained.

According to Sanjay Sharma, the 18 months during the Covid pandemic was very challenging as the academy had to pay rent from its own reserves and no player came for practice.

“We had to pay for coaches. But through hard work we have come out of that difficult phase. We are hopeful that our efforts will be more fruitful in the development of gymnastics in the region as well as the country,” he added.

Foreign expert

The academy is planning to rope in a foreign expert from Netherlands. Preliminary discussions have already taken place between the Dutch 52 years old gymnastics expert Gerard Speerstra and the academy officials, Sanjay Sharma said.

“He (Gerard Speerstra) has 32 years of coaching experience. He is also familiar with the Indian system as he has been visiting India since 2011 and was associated with gymnastics activities in Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh,” he added.

Besides India, the Dutch expert has had coaching stints with gymnasts from Belgium and Iran.

Last weekend he visited the academy and also interacted with the players.

“I’m here for 3-4 days in Delhi. If things work according to my plan, I will join the academy,” said the foreign coach.

“India is six to seven times bigger than Europe in area. If European nations can do it, I am sure those associated with gymnastics in India can also make efforts to reach a good level,” the foreign expert from Heerenveen in the Netherlands told Patriot.

According to the Dutch expert, each region has some potential in a certain age category.

“The main problem is how to scout talent. There has to be some investment in the system to nurture potential players,” Speerstra said.

“There should be more academies in India having good coaching systems to achieve good results at the international level.”

Praveen Sharma, a former national level gymnast, voluntarily contributes to the coaching system. “I share my experience with the budding players,” he explained.