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The vision of the academy is to identify young talented footballers, says U-19 RFYC asst. coach Saksham Kakkar

Published at :May 1, 2024 at 7:25 PM
Modified at :May 1, 2024 at 7:25 PM
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(Courtesy : Reliance Foundation)

Atawaris Warsi

Saksham Kakkar also mentioned the importance of playing on foreign soil.

Since their establishment in May 2015, the Reliance Foundation Young Champs (RFYC) have emerged as a pivotal force in the evolution of Indian football. Through its innovative principles and philosophies, RFYC has catalyzed the growth of the sport in the nation. 

Notably, the academy’s focus on nurturing talents, leveraging technology, and providing international exposure has been instrumental in shaping the future of Indian football. As a cornerstone for talent cultivation and skill enhancement, RFYC has played a pivotal role in elevating the standard of football in the country. 

In an exclusive interview with Khel Now, Saksham Kakkar, Assistant Coach of the U-19 RFYC team, sheds light on RFYC’s ethos and vision.

Let’s take a look at the excerpts from the discussion:

Principles and philosophies of RFYC

RFYC excels in nurturing young footballers, emphasizing holistic development, and distinguishing itself through a visionary approach to youth football. Saksham Kakkar delved deep into it and highlighted, “Mainly the vision of the academy is to identify talented young footballers and provide them with an environment of excellence, to unlock their potential both on and off the pitch.

The vision of the academy is to identify young talented footballers, says U-19 RFYC asst. coach Saksham Kakkar
Saksham Kakkar and his students. (Courtesy: Reliance Foundation)

“The main aim of the academy is to provide an environment for holistic development, not only with regards to football skills but also life lessons, values, discipline, and everything that will make them better people when they graduate from this academy.

“The key thing is they get a 360-degree approach when they are in our academy, because of everything our academy provides, in terms of education, which is the Reliance Foundation school, or in terms of the nutrition and the access they get to understanding nutrition better, the education about nutrition.”

RFYC’s multi-departmental support enhances coaching and player performance, fostering an environment conducive to continuous improvement and excellence. Saksham Kakkar added, “Of course sports, but also access through Beverly Park and school, two multiple sports and the infrastructure that exist at Reliance Corporate park and all the tournaments that we play.

“Plus, we have additional support provided by multiple departments that we have here, with our sports analyst department, performance department, sports psychology, nutrition, welfare, and video analysis, apart from the technical staff that does everything to help our players become better people before becoming a better sportsman.”

Strengths of RFYC

RFYC, backed by Reliance Foundation, provides fully funded scholarships through rigorous scouting, offers training by International coaches, and world-class facilities. “The main thing is that firstly we are supported entirely by the Reliance Foundation. Each year the academy offers fully funded scholarships to young talents from across the country after an extremely comprehensive year-long scouting process.

“The other advantage or strength is training under the tutelage of experienced International and Indian coaches apart from the access to world-class facilities, infrastructure, software, and hardware, everything that we have even from the performance and physiotherapy department, a big pillar in our academy and the other highlight is also with regards to the training that we do,” Saksham Kakkar mentioned.

He also compounded that RFYC empowers players with personalized development plans, allowing autonomy in designing training sessions focused on individual improvement, supported by coaches. “We have a personal development plan around 3-4 times a year.

“The player is given complete autonomy in designing this plan himself, in which they can make their training session depending on what are the key elements of their game that they want to improve, it can be technical, mental, physical, or tactical, and they have complete decision making power with regards to that. They sit down with us coaches and we guide them in that process. So once a week players are free to do that personal development plan for 30-40 minutes. Complete autonomy with the player,” Saksham Kakkar elucidated.

Assistance from technology and data

The vision of the academy is to identify young talented footballers, says U-19 RFYC asst. coach Saksham Kakkar
Kakkar training young kids at the academy. (Courtesy: Reliance Foundation)

RFYC utilizes technology like Spiideo and aiScout, aiding coaches in talent identification and analysis, enabling broader scouting efforts post-COVID-19. “Technology and data are really big when it comes to assisting firstly us(the coaches) in identifying talents, it also helps scouts.

“We have ‘Spiideo’, where we look at footage through our daily program and we have to play games when we are training at RCP. So, in the games itself if there is something that we revisit while watching the game, if there is a certain talent that we have spotted, firstly we have access to the video through Spiideo, but also in the last two years, RFYC has incorporated an artificial intelligence-driven application called ‘aiScout’.

“This app is also used by Premier League sides like Chelsea, and Burnley to sharpen their recruitment. The other advantage is that it helps us cast a wider net, especially with the constraints we have after COVID-19,” he replied. 

Saksham explained in detail how the video analysis department helped him and the coaches across RFYC. “Apart from aiScout we also have a robust video analysis department and each regional round of the scouting is taped and all the coaches watch the players on video before they come to Mumbai to do the final camps. We do detailed analysis on these players, but massively help our eyes get better. You just have unlimited footage when it comes to making decisions on a player before we incorporate or invite them to the final round.”

Identification and recruitment of talent

RFYC’s recruitment strategy emphasizes thoroughness over high-pressure trials, with scouts nationwide working year-round to identify talents, ensuring comprehensive evaluation. “Our recruitment and identifying young footballers in the country is a very deliberate thorough process because we have scouts across the country and they work almost throughout the year.

“We don’t like to do one high-pressure trial, where we invite a thousand players in one day or over two days. That’s counterproductive for both the players and also for the academy because you can’t see every player in two days. After all, there’s so much that you need to cater for when identifying a talent,” Saksham enlightened.

Benefits of International Exposure 

The vision of the academy is to identify young talented footballers, says U-19 RFYC asst. coach Saksham Kakkar
A snap from the Japan trip. (Courtesy: Reliance Foundation)

RFYC provides players with international exposure trips like the Sanix Cup in Japan, fostering growth and recognition in prestigious tournaments. “The academy organizes international exposure trips for the players so that they are exposed to an amazing experience, good training level, and just a better footballing education. Currently, we are in Japan for the Sanix Cup.

“We also came here last year in 2023. This time our No.9 from RFYC Alan Saji, was awarded as one of the best eleven from the tournament and this was a big deal as we had teams from Australia, Japan, China, and Malaysia. So to be awarded as one of the best eleven from that tournament is such a big achievement.”

He added, “Plus we also organized a trip to Italy for the U-15 team, where the team played against Frosinone FC, US Latina, Lazio, and also the other teams. The players also visited the Italy vs North Macedonia UEFA Euro Qualifiers match at the Stadio Olimpico and it was a great experience for the U-15. Also, we had the U-14’s in 2023 November, they traveled to Japan and played against local teams and local schools.”

“Apart from that we also had coaches from the Tottenham Hotspur foundation who visited the academy and engaged with the players from different categories. We had the U-14, and U-19, who engaged in a very insightful session with those coaches. Even the coaches from the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation were impressed with the academy and regarded it as a benchmark for football development in India. For them, the academy and the initiative were at par with global standards”, Saksham highlighted the importance of Tottenham Hotspur foundation coaches visiting the academy.

The coach spoke some words on the Next Gen tournament as well. “We also had and have taken part in Next Gen tournaments a couple of times already, the most recent one was last year when we had the likes of Everton, Wolverhampton Wanderers, and a couple of other teams that came down. One team from South Africa among others.

“Amazing experience for our boys to learn and compete with these international teams. Over the last eight years, we always had trips and learning programs, even for the coaches. They have been to England twice, to Spain thrice, to Dubai, to Malaysia. What Young Champs offers us is an amazing experience for the players but also for the coaches to get better,” Saksham said.

Additional experiences beyond matches

RFYC’s international trips offer more than competition, emphasizing cultural immersion, time management, respect, academic support, and mental training for holistic growth. “It’s not only about the competitive experience of the players, of course, that is a big learning, but we want the players to understand the culture, how these players from different nationalities from these international trips that we go to, how are they so successful and it comes from a certain way of living, whether that is being on time, whether that is you are having a lot of respect not only for your superior but for each other, the environment and the academy, etc.”

He compounded. “Apart from playing and competing, of course, we do training, we do recovery, we do video analysis, and we also let the boys carry their study material that have been given by the tutors to make use of. Plus we also have mental training sessions that the psychology experts do. Understanding the different culture and the way of living just helps the boys grow and mix with their counterparts of other countries, it gives them much added and a different flavor, a different perspective.”

Alumni of the academy

The coach also heaped praise on the alumni of the RFYC academy. He expressed, “Yeah it’s an amazing moment and a proud moment for the entire academy. We were just discussing that we saw these players come in as children at the ages of 12, and they are now young men ready to take on Indian Football as a whole to the next level. It’s a really proud feeling.

“They are also the youngest in the squad, it’s a testament to their quality and the very high ceiling they both possess in their football and their life. It’s a dream playing for the national team for any young footballer.” 

He also highlighted how Young Champs offers a clear pathway to the top of Indian football, nurturing talents for potential progression to the senior national team. “The best thing is Young Champs provides a clear pathway for anyone who happens to make it to the highest level of Indian Football.

“So, this is just the first step and hopefully, in the years to come, these guys can make the next step to the senior national team. We all at the academy do not doubt that they are capable of making it to the next step when they have already made such big steps, so it’s the one final step they need to make that will be possible. We only develop them as players, but it’s their effort, their hard work, their dedication, that is what has taken them this far, and I am sure they will go on to achieve even more,” Saksham Kakkar concluded.

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