A year before Gagan Narang won a bronze medal at London 2012, he was preparing for something that was as important to him as the Olympics. He was setting the ball in motion to establish an ambitious project to nurture budding sportsperson looking to excel on the national and international stage.
The Gagan Narang Sports Promotion Foundation was founded with the money he received as cash rewards for his 2010 Commonwealth Games medal in 2011 and the Gun for Glory shooting academy was launched in partnership with Pawan Singh, who is now the joint secretary of National Rifle Association of India and an elected member of International Shooting Sport Federation’s Judge Committee. Gun for Glory.
The contribution of the GNSPF was officially recognised when it was awarded the Khel Purotsahan Puraskar at the National Sports Day ceremony on August 29, 2019.
But even before the national honour, the foundation that started GFG has been building a robust platform for young Indian shooters. One of their biggest projects has been, Project Leap, which was initiated in 2017 and has already seen the rise of junior shooters such as Elavenil Valarivan, who won her first senior ISSF World Cup gold medal on Wednesday. Trainees from the project have also bagged 49 junior international medals and 42 national medals with as many as eight shooters representing India in the last two years.
“The seed to open a shooting academy was planted around 2010 when parents started approaching me to get their children trained. The plan-to-materialisation stage did not take much time as we were connected with the right resources. Our idea was to implement a curriculum and remove entry-level barriers which we knew existed in the system through our own experience,” Narang told Scroll.in.
The 36-year-old knew the kind of resources he would need to put the ambitious project into motion. Years ago, his father had to sell his house to get him a rifle.
“The process to bring together all things under one umbrella was very challenging. By that time I had already spent a decade in the sport, it was a combined effort of Pawan Singh and me,” he explained. GFG also had the backing of Lakshya, an NGO that helped them with an initial investment.
As for the selection of coaches and other personnel, there was no set process available. “It was more of an experience and reaching out to people, a trial and error with respect to delivery of effective and measurable programs that laid the base for the academy,” Narang said.
The academy was initially only in Pune but now has over 15 branches, some of which are supported by the government. To be part of the system, one has to go through a selection process.
“The selection starts at the very basic level through talent search conducted at the academy and school/colleges level. We use various parameters for selection using a combination of neuro-cognitive, meta-cognitive and physical attributes of students to identify natural adaptability towards the sport. Each year we cater to approximately 1400 shooters across our centres,” he explained.
“The fee structure varies in accordance to the program and stakeholder involved. For example, a centre like Ahmedabad is supported by the state government and no fees is charged. However, a privately-managed centre would charge fees in accordance to the operational expenses incurred.”
But the biggest challenge was awareness about the sport at the local level.
“One of the major obstacles was awareness about the sport and the hitch to hold the gun to pursue the sport. Gradually the mind-set of the society changed as people started understanding that this is another way to bring glory for the country,” he said.
To offset this hesitance, they reached out to schools and colleges which led to participation from students.
“Thereafter, we mobilised all our resources to develop a first of its kind curriculum and standardised the delivery. Apparently this led to lowering the entry barrier in the sport and the sport reaching out to both urban and rural areas of the country,” Narang explained.
So what sets a private-run academy apart? “There can be a list of things that I can mention in the way operations differ at GFG academy compared to anyone, broadly the decision making is quick, continuous innovation, the team behind players, mobilisation of resources.”
The increase in specialised academies run by former shooters has played a big role in helping the sport spread. However, the Olympic medallists dismisses the chicken-egg question in Indian shooting: what came first, the talent or the grooming they got to get the results?
“I see it differently, it is more about bridging the gap between talented students and the sports infrastructure.”
Bridging the gap is an apt way to describe the scenario as India’s shooting stars get younger and achieve bigger things.