Jul 07, 2020
Over the past few weeks, we have been exploring the several ways in which alternative education is changing the incumbent system for the better. As these have mostly been from the experts’ perspectives, we were curious about those of learners themselves. In this post, we spoke to Tara Naveen and Abhay Menon, alumni of Beyond 8 on finding balance between their passion for sport and pursuit of academics. Excerpts below:
Tara and Abhay, thank you for speaking with us. Tara, what was the a-aha moment when you realized your love for sport?
Tara: I started basketball more as an activity to keep fit as I was not getting adequate exercise during that time. But over the years, I have come to love the sport, and all aspects of it. Like the feeling I get when I win a really hard match that everyone had expected me to lose, or when I enter the court and the stands erupt in cheers, or when I score the winning shot in the last few seconds. These small but significant things propel me forward every day and give me reason to play.
I think at one point in time, I just realised that this was something I wanted to pursue and continue for as long as I could because I loved it with my whole heart and never got tired of it. I'm always open to learning new things when it comes to basketball, because I'm always trying to find out ways to become better, faster, and stronger.
Abhay, moving on to you: what was the most challenging part of high school as a young learner who wanted to pursue basketball professionally?
Right after my IGCSE exams, I was flooded with questions from everywhere about my plans to continue coaching. At that time, my brain could not process why these were questions were coming up in the first place. The way I saw it, it was clear that I will not give up on my passions just because I got one grade older. I was determined to have it all. So, initially, the challenge was to go against the common stereotype that at crossroads, learners need to give up one passion to pursue the other.
Tara, what does a typical day look like in the life of a young basketball player navigating high school?
Tara: A usual day for me begins an early morning practice session at 6:30 AM. I always make it a point to get to the court earlier than everyone else so that I can get some extra work in. After training for two hours, I head to my classes between 9 AM to 2 PM. After school, I revise the lessons I have learnt during the course of the day. Then, I go for a second round of basketball training between 4:00 PM to 6:30 PM, after which I am quite exhausted. But I still try to pack in another hour of study to make sure I am not lagging on the academic front, before I finally retire for the day.
What role do you think an education system has on helping young learners pursue their sporting careers?
Tara: On the face of it, it looks possible to manage both sports and academics and it is. But believe me, it is a lot of hard work to keep pushing yourself to excel at both. On one hand, there were my friends and their parents who prioritize academic achievement over sport and on the other, there were my progressive parents who had faith in my talent and supported me in pursuing basketball over academics. There was always that push-and-pull dynamic.
I remember a time in my 9th grade when I had to miss almost seven months of classes because of playing in multiple basketball tournaments in and around Tamil Nadu. Although I had gained from these tournaments in many ways, I still had to catch up with the classes I had missed. I believe the flexibility I was provided by my school combined with my ability to perform best in a crunch time was what drove me to make use of every single opportunity that came my way. Even if a small pocket of time is freed up, I would seize it and ensure that I was using it in the most productive way possible.
Abhay: I always got good grades in school and so, it was a natural expectation that those will continue. I am glad I happened to be in the good hands of my teachers at Beyond 8 around the same time. While I began to set my own pace through AS and A levels, my teachers ensured that I got the space that worked for me. Gradually, I made the best use of the 24 hours that I had every single day – decoupling it the way it worked for me. Learning became fun and enjoyable when I did not ‘have’ to conform to the tried and tested 9 to 3 PM school days.
My learning was my own responsibility and was not limited to school or classrooms. I was doing what I liked the most – it made me feel alive! I was excited to wake up every day as there was never a dull moment for me. I focused on basketball during the tournament season. I was the captain of school and district teams and trained hard for middle distance running and won several laurels for myself and my coaches. It was because of this sense of flexibility that I could ensure that academics got due attention when it mattered the most.
When the journey is enjoyable, one doesn’t realize how tough the path is. I was encouraged not just during the days I achieved my medals or trophies, but even on my training days in preparation for my upcoming events. I developed a deeper sense of self-awareness and a resolve to be a better version of myself.
All my hard work paid off eventually - I was able to secure admission to the University that was my first choice through the Early Application process. I got my acceptance letter with a 100% scholarship to New York University, Abu Dhabi. I’m currently in my first year of college and majoring in Bio-Engineering. This was largely a result of my overall profile, which, in turn, was possible due to the flexibility and customized approach. I continue to be in my University Basketball team, and recently also won Bronze during a national Inter University Athletic Meet.
If both of you had one learning to share with young sportspersons like yourselves, what would it be?
Tara: I believe that to obtain a true sense of balance, one must find out what works for them. They must also have a goal in mind and pursue it wholeheartedly. And the benefits they reap will be ones they sought themselves.
I think the most important part of balancing sports with academics is to make use of every single opportunity you get. Especially if the sport is important to you, and takes up most of your time, you have to use even that one hour of time effectively for studying without any distractions whatsoever. In summary, I would like to paraphrase Bethany Hamilton: I don’t need easy. I need possible.
Abhay: Do not adjust your sails – but be willing to navigate around reefs and storms, always pointed toward the shore. While this may sound rather a typical thing for a teenager to say, this motto continues to work for me even to this day.
Tara finds her passion in basketball and would love to pursue her career in the same. Abhay continues to be a fervent basketball player. He is currently pursuing an undergraduate degree in NYU Abu Dhabi.
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