A unique ability of sports is to transcend barriers and serve as a platform for inclusion of people spanning across different genders, thoughts, cultures, beliefs, geographies, generations & disabilities. It’s truly said that playing sports often makes you forget your own disability and helps you highlight & strengthen your skills, abilities and attitude. We didn’t know that we would have a first-hand experience of this so soon!
IWTT – Indian Wheelchair Tennis Tour is an organization that uses the power of sports to creatively bring about personal transformation & social inclusion for players with disabilities. These are players who have represented India at National & International level. IWTT specifically promotes wheelchair tennis – a thriving Paralympic sport to create a vibrant, accessible & competitive environment for players, allowing them to maximize their potential.
Our engagement as SAP volunteers started with IWTT, when we found out that some talented bunch of players needed help to improve one of the basic, yet the most important skill for players. It was to develop their communication skills in English. The CSR Team, along with a team of talented & diverse set of SAP volunteers joined hands and quickly got into the initial discussions with the IWTT team to understand the full background of the players – their current English speaking ability, their goals in life, their native languages & many more such crucial data points to help the SAP team of volunteers design & come up with a concrete action plan.
It was clear that English was an important skill to have especially if you are in athletics, even if you don’t live in an English-speaking country. Considering how often they are required to travel for sports events and competitions, watch, read & listen to news & articles it is immensely helpful to know a common language that allows them to communicate with others from different cultures & geographies.
We quickly got the work started & designed a pilot program to mentor each of these players on building important aspects of communication skills with specific learning targets. The pilot was planned for around 2 weeks with 1 hr. of learning session every day, covering various topics. This involved about 6 players as participants – Arul, Yash, Alex, Sudha, Prema, Ruth and Shilpashree.
Our objective was to engage with them through a two-way communication channel & make them enjoy the entire process of learning English in form of role plays, videos, games, table activities, etc.
We started our first session with an introduction of the entire program and each of the players & mentors. We also helped them get accustomed to a virtual zoom call and all its do’s & don’ts. On the first day, most of the participants hesitated to talk in English. They requested to talk in their own regional language.
Once players became comfortable with virtual training methodology on Day 1, we executed the following agenda from Day 2 onwards:
- Developing Listening skills – how to listen to interviews and passages & comprehend and summarize the content.
- Reading Skills – how to become a good reader, learn & use magic words, read excerpts on different topics, build sports vocabulary.
- Speaking Skills – how to give interviews, how to speak in English without anyone’s support, learn basics of grammar like Tense, Articles & prepositions.
- Writing Skills – how to write a simple e-mail.
Every day, after each session we answered their queries and collected their feedback to make improvements in our subsequent sessions. As days went by, the constant encouragement from their peers & mentors helped a lot & most importantly their belief that they can learn English solidified.
On the last day, in order to evaluate the program & learn how much impact it had, we decided to play a game of table topics with all the participants. Each of the players had to choose a favorite topic and talk about it for a minute. All of them chose topics that they liked and spoke for a complete minute. Their happiness & enthusiasm was evident. The improvement was clearly seen, not just in the way they listened, read, spoke & wrote English but most importantly their confidence improved by many folds. In fact, one of them chose to talk for a minute involving usage of all the topics that were listed. The other participant shared that she had not spoken a single word in English in the last few months because she didn’t know where to start. Our program gave a direction to her. All the players just couldn’t stop thanking us.
And, we as mentors were totally high on emotions & felt extremely ecstatic, to see the impact of our efforts clearly in front of us. We were so proud of each one of them. The learnings we got from each of these incredibly talented players from different parts of the country had no bounds – their humility, strong belief, contentment, will, honesty & their love & respect.
It was the best experience ever, etched forever in our heart & minds!
We know that this is just the beginning & the future will be BEST!! Hope to make more impact through our efforts & touch the lives of people through SAP Together!