Nupur and Richard’s The Art of Sport is empowering girls through sports


How a couple is using team sports to instil confidence in young girls and build their personality. 

In India, sports is not considered even half as important as academics and when it comes to girls, it is probably the last thing that they are encouraged to indulge in.

Who wants to cook aloo gobhi when you can bend a ball like Beckham? Remember this from Gurinder Chadha’s movie which aptly captured how for an Indian mother it was more important that her daughter learns to make round chapattis (wheat bread) and aloo gobi (potato cauliflower dish) than go around playing football in shorts.

All the biases and discouragement notwithstanding, a handful of women created waves last year at the Olympics and did the country proud. However, sports is about so much more than just competition. Taking this theory forward, a couple has taken a small step to change the narrative for women in sports through their venture The Art of Sport.

A drill session in progress.

The Art of Sport

Started by Nupur Dhingra Paiva and Richard Paiva in July 2016, The Art of Sport is a startup focused on the overall development of young girls from the age of five to 12 through sports and group therapy. The couple aims to build and enhance the physical, mental, and emotional capabilities of girls by engaging them in group activities designed to bring out their confidence.

The duo believes that the opportunities given to girls for playing an outdoor group sport are generally fewer when compared to boys. “The concept of both genders playing together at this early age usually results in most girls being sidelined given the more boisterous manner in which boys play. Therefore, it was important to organise a ‘girls only’ atmosphere so that they not only develop the basic skills of a given sport, but also persist with it, begin to understand team dynamics, and find their voice.”

The duo is consciously not encouraging competition and competitiveness.

“One of our core mottoes which we unflinchingly adhere to are ‘collaboration, not competition’ and ‘play for joy’. At this stage, children (not only girls) need to understand the basics of any sport, understand their bodies and minds in a non-competitive atmosphere. Most importantly, they need to learn to not give up on physical activity.”

Getting started

The Art of Sport is associated with Sanskriti School since the couple’s two daughters study there. Presently, they operate from three venues in Delhi and NCR (Chanakyapuri, Shanti Niketan, and Gurgaon), and organise two sessions a week. Each session is approximately one hour and 45 minutes with 16-18 girls per session. “The aim with all our other venues is to keep it neutral as this would allow parents from the vicinity to enrol their daughters in our programme.”

After a girl registers for the programme, she is inducted into the group and once she feels welcome and relaxed, “we slowly build on the playing component for her,” says Richard.

Nupur putting the girls through their paces.

Both basketball and football are team sports which teach the players to put the team ahead of themselves. The Art of Sports considers it important to teach this to the girls. “Often, we need to learn to get along with people we don’t really like; at times, we need to put a team ahead of an individual; frequently, we must accept failure or defeat, and hard work enhances the joy of a victory. Skills like leadership, camaraderie, empathy for teammates—all takes place simultaneously. There is no better way than a team sport to make these young girls understand such important values that will help them for the rest of their lives.”

The girls go through a drill, and the focus is on core conditioning, stamina, reaction drills, agility, team-building, listening and communication drills, collaboration, etc. Each session is led by a certified All India Football Federation (AIFF) D licence coach for grassroots training and a psychologist. While the coach leads the drills, the psychologist observes each girl's performance and interaction with others and accordingly engages with that girl to better understand her motivation or state of mind.

“We also have a high engagement with the parents. By interacting with them, we get to understand the girls better—which, in turn, helps us in creating more appropriate playing drills and team-building activities,” shares Richard. Having started with just a few girls, they now have more than 30 girls and they hope to double the number by the end of the year.

A small and strong team

Richard (37) has worked in sales and marketing division in the hotel industry. An alumnus of St George’s College, Mussoorie and St Stephen’s College, Delhi, he holds an MBA in hospitality marketing from Les Roches School of Hotel Management, Switzerland. Richard has also been a passionate sports player and played competitive sports at the college, district, and national level. With his love for sports, he decided to do something more meaningful in life.

Nupur and Richard:

Nupur (39) is a clinical psychologist, trained in Delhi and London. Having worked with the National Health Service for 10 years before moving back to Delhi, Nupur found herself unfulfilled by private practice alone. Sitting in a consulting room was no longer enough as a career path/future.

While Nupur looks into the emotional and mental progress of each girl, Richard looks at the physical development. Both bring experiences from their past roles into their current ones. Richard points out,

“In sales, I learnt very early in my career that one should put their ego on a hanger before stepping into office every day. This helped us in our meetings with schools when we used to pitch our concept to them (we were turned down by several schools before Sanskriti School finally agreed).”

They have a lean six-member team that includes the founders, a female coach with a certified AIFF D licence, two assistant psychologists, and an admin and logistics person.

Based on the subscription model, their first month of operation was in red. “Since then we have consistently been in the black month on month. Given our business model, our investment was light so we didn't put ourselves in a pressurised business environment as we began. From July 2016 to present we have had a revenue generation of close to Rs 20 lakh. We see this number increase as the market becomes more receptive to what we are offering.”

An encouraging response

“The response from girls has been highly rewarding. At the start of the programme, some couldn’t even run properly, let alone kick a football. Today, they can dribble with a football across a field—sometimes, non-stop two rounds!” says Richard.

One such story that he shares is about 10-year-old Rhea (name changed) “who had her arms folded across her chest. With her brow frowning, lower jaw jutting out, she was the epitome of the grumpy, adamant child. Rhea had already decided that she would not enjoy our class. She said ‘I hate running’ and that would have seemed the end. But after 45 minutes, she was running, smiling, and cheering for her team-mates. That was day one. Rhea went on to be one of the pillars of the team, encouraging her peers, shaking them out of sulks, running, cheering, and getting her friends to join her at football.”

Reticent parents too, after six to seven months of the girls being on the programme, have now become good brand ambassadors. “Sanskriti School was also apprehensive at first. But when the number of enrolments went high, they were very pleased,” adds Richard.

Breaking stereotypes

Breaking stereotypes that hold women back from sports has been one of the biggest achievements of Art of Sport. Its approach includes having a female coach who makes a good role model and getting fathers share childhood stories and mothers join their daughters for the drill.

A father sharing his childhood stories with his daughter during one of the Art of Sport sessions

The road forward

In this year and the next, Richard and Nupur plan to keep focusing on their methods of training. They also want to establish an indoor location where they can continue with drills and group work regardless of rain, heat, mosquito-borne diseases, or smog.

“This indoor space will be our flagship bringing together our expertise. The USP is to be easy to access—we want to be able to run this program in local parks or community centres of residential colonies so the girls in that area can access our group, get an opportunity to play locally so that parents don’t have to worry about logistics.”

Girls playing football.

They also plan to make their presence felt in cities like Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Pune in the coming year.

“We have picked these cities after much due diligence. We will spend considerable time in each of these cities, speaking to various people in order to hire persons with the right profiles. We pay individual attention to each girl and have to be very mindful of who we want to be a part of our growing team. But one thing that we will not do is franchising this model.”

Here’s hoping that we will see more women emerge as not just competitive sports players but also future leaders, CEOs, and role models.


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