- 30 Aug 2021
Radhika Kanitkar, international tennis player, former Fed Cup player and the official tennis coach of the Indian National Women’s and Junior teams explains the importance of sports in early childhood education. A physical routine in today's generation is a lifestyle adopted by many. Most people assume that the benefits of sports for children are limited to physical well-being. While many subjects at school are taught primarily in the classroom, physical education is an important aspect of childhood education because it helps children become all-rounders. From providing opportunities to head outside and explore to improving a child’s ability to focus, physical activity is vital to the holistic development of children.
Maintaining a balance between academics and sports is tough, but not impossible. An amazing example lies amongst us. She has made our nation proud on multiple occasions and believes that her involvement in sports helped her achieve all-round success. Young girls look up to her determination and courage to stand strong against all odds. She is not just a daughter, wife, and mother. She is a mentor, and one of the best qualified women coaches in India. This is the story of Radhika Kanitkar - a former Fed Cup Player and official Coach of Indian Women’s and Junior Teams along with General Manager at the Adar Poonawalla Maharashtra Tennis Academy. A national champion at every level from U-14 to women’s, in singles and doubles, Radhika has won an ITF women’s doubles with Sania Mirza in Manila, 2002. Mastering her art in the game, she chose to become a mentor to many and is now making her contribution to the game as a tennis coach.
Inspired by her father and brother, Radhika has been practicing tennis since she was 8 years old. She would often miss school while traveling for tournaments, but her family supported her passion for the sport. “My mother insisted I take a year-long break from studies after tenth grade to focus on tennis. Parents these days are not open to that kind of a suggestion, which makes me realize how supportive my parents have been throughout.”
As a tennis coach, Radhika enjoys interacting with children who practice with her as freshers, “tiny tots” she calls them. Our education system is gradually promoting the importance of physical education for children alongside academics, as they are both equally valuable assets that a child can benefit from. Sports play a vital role in increasing stamina, building levels of concentration, and developing the ability to multitask. “Speaking from experience, playing really helped build focus. I realized that I could study well after an hour or two of practicing. My fellow players had the same feedback on levels of concentration. I remember my mom asking me to take breaks while studying because I would go on for hours at a stretch”, she said.
An important life lesson Radhika learnt from tennis is to accept defeat. She believes that sports create balance in the mind of a child and help him/her lead a disciplined life. “Losing a match one day and showing up on court to practice next morning teaches a child an important lesson: ups and downs are part of life, and they must be accepted with grace.” She also believes that sports teach children the value of hard work. Radhika is often seen mentoring young girls along with her daughter, Anika.
“There are not many lady coaches in India today. I have always had male coaches, and since I started playing early, I got the opportunity to coach a group of boys who were not much younger than I was at the time. At first, they would not listen to me when I coached them but would go easy on the male coaches who coached alongside me. And that was frustrating, because my coaching advice was no different than that of my fellow coaches. So, I had to play a set (match) with these boys, and I had to win, I made sure I won because that got them to listen to me. I had to establish an authority, prove my capabilities and myself to get them to work with me. Overall, this has a lot to do with the limited number of female coaches, in India and worldwide.”
Taking up sports as a career is a choice made for the long haul. Once you are in the game, there is no turning back. Sports, when played from the heart, can take you places that your mind could never wander.
“Women go through so many stages of growth in life. Sports, I believe, really helps young girls pick their priorities and make those important life decisions. As far as tennis is concerned, the opportunities for girls are endless. Tennis has helped a lot of girls obtain US scholarships as undergraduates. Their involvement in sports has helped them ace at academics, and the US is vast, like an ocean of opportunities for them.”
Giving for Good Foundation celebrates coaches, mentors, and amazing people like Radhika Kanitkar, who go out of their way to empower children, and help them achieve great success in life. Her advice to this generation is one that she gives her daughter: “Explore outdoor activities as much as you like. If you take up a sport and give it your best, success is yours, and if you choose a different career altogether, try to include a sport as a hobby. It will help you in more ways than you can imagine!”
Sakshi dreams of writing a gripping murder mystery – unless she’s creating content and building the Giving for Good brand. She’s a tennis player, a swimmer, a crime fiction enthusiast, and a twenty-something-year-old who enjoys volunteer work.