Namakuzhy, a sleepy hamlet near the border of Ernakulam and Kottayam districts in Kerala, once famous for its women volleyball players. At a time when girls dreaded to step out of their homes and did so only to attend school, a bunch of girls played volleyball which was quite unusual.
The Physical education teacher of the Namakuzhy School, George Varghese, and his bunch of talented girls took Kerala by storm in the 60s and 70s. Kerala’s first woman Arjuna Awardee, K.C. Elamma, P. C. Eliyamma, P. K. Eliyamma, V. K. Saramma, V. V. Annakutty, V. K. Leela, M. N. Ammini became household names in the state. They came to be known as the “Namakuzhy Sisters” and set the trend that inspired many young girls to play volleyball.
Times have changed and the popularity of volleyball faded and Namakuzhy, too, stepped out of public memory. Jomon Jacob, the physical education teacher of Kunjiraman Memorial High School (KMHS) in Mevelloor, Kottayam, who is also the young brother of Eliyamma and Saramma was determined to bring back the glory days of Namakuzhy. He started the Roller Sports Academy of India (RSAI), which conducted a summer coaching camp in athletics and volleyball and used to attract a lot of youngsters.
The success of this camp led Jomon to coach underprivileged young girls from the neighbouring communities in football and hockey. In the village, which lacks facilities and not even a good ground, the success of training children is immense. Kottayam district won the first senior school state championship held in Kerala with players only trained under Jomon Jacob. Jomon, a former footballer, had won four state championships in Kerala and runners-up, including the Oorja Cup, and has scored many goals at national championships.
The academy has produced two national campers, 24 national-level footballers, and 10 inter-university players which earned them the approval of Sports Authority of India (SAI) that named it among its SAI extension centres. Jomon’s students – four girl national players is now providing free football training to over 100 school and college-level students n Namakuzhy. Akshara K.A., a national camp player and national-university level player, Sreevidya Varrier – National inter-university player, Sreedevi Varrier – Inter-university player and Kavya Manoj – National inter-university player – has been undertaking the nearly 12-km early morning trip from their homes at Velloor grama panchayat to the Namakuzhy Government Higher Secondary School where the two-and-a-half-hour-long coaching gets underway at 7.30 a.m. Interestingly, except for a handful, the majority of their ‘disciples are boys.
They aim to provide coaching for free so that youngsters in the community can make a name for themselves in sports. Afterall, not all children can afford to pay for learning the game they love.
All four are currently pursuing degree courses in different batches from Mahatma Gandhi University (MGU). Akshara has been selected to the national camp of the Indian women’s football team for the Asian football championship. Meanwhile, Sreedevi and Sreevidya play for the MGU football team. They were part of many football matches in which the university team had championed. Kavya, a multi-faceted sportswoman, had also played hockey at national levels despite being a football player.
Hill run football – The new way forward
At the same time, Jomon and his students introduced roller football in India, which is quite popular in foreign countries. Hill run with football is a new form of training that they have introduced. Hill running has a strengthening effect as well as boosting your athlete’s power and is ideal for those athletes who depend on high running speeds, which play a pivotal role in football. To reduce the possibility of injury hill training should be conducted once the athlete has a good solid base of strength and endurance.
In hill running, the athlete uses their body weight as a resistance to push against, so the driving muscles from which their leg power is derived have to work harder. The technique to aim for is a “bouncy” style where the athlete has a good knee lift and maximum range of movement in the ankle. This stretches the calf muscles upwards and downwards as much as possible and applies resistance, which will improve their power and elasticity over time. The athlete should look straight ahead, as they run (not at their feet) and ensure their neck, shoulders and arms are free of tension. Many experts believe that the “bouncy” action is more important than the speed at which the athlete runs up the hills.
Hill training offers the following benefits:
- helps develop power and muscle elasticity
- improves stride frequency and length
- develops coordination, encouraging the proper use of arm action during the driving phase and feet in the support phase
- develops control and stabilisation as well as improved speed (downhill running)
- promotes strength endurance
- develops maximum speed and strength (short hills)
- improves lactate tolerance (mixed hills)
Jacob has been invited to Wesley Chapel soccer club in USA to undergo training sessions in football coaching.