IndianFootball.Com - Sanjeev Parmar



IndianFootball.Com Interview

SANJEEV PARMAR

It is not often that you come across a person of Indian origin that manages to achieve several firsts related to football in North America. Sanjeev Parmar, stands out as an exception and role model in that regard.

From being a football player on his provincial team as a teen, inducted into the National Training Centre in Canada, obtaining a soccer scholarship to a college in the US, playing for the Charlotte Eagles in the United Soccer Leagues (USL), coaching kids in Africa, setting up his own football academy in Ottawa (http://www.parmarsportstraining.com) and becoming the youngest coach in Canada to obtain the A licence – Sanjeev has done it all before turning 30 years old.

IndianFootball.Com's Harmit Singh Kamboe caught-up with Sanjeev...
We hope you find this interview as enjoyable one to read!

THE INTERVIEW

IndianFootball.Com - Sanjeev ParmarHarmit: Please tell us about yourself? Where and when were you born and how big a part was sports, especially football in your childhood?

Sanjeev: I was born in Campbell River, British Columbia on May 28, 1978. In 1982 as an under age four year old player my parents registered me with the Campbell River Youth Soccer Association into the under 6 league. Apparently I was pretty good and made a name for myself through my ability to dribble and take players on. At the age of eight, after the 1986 World Cup final between Argentina and West Germany, I jumped on the soccer bandwagon and decided that I was going to be the best soccer player in the world like Diego Maradona. From that day onwards, soccer become my true passion in life and I dedicated my whole life to becoming the next Maradona or Pele (my idols as a young player).

Harmit: What attracted you to football over other more North American sports like hockey, basketball, etc.?

Sanjeev: I always participated in the various sports offered in elementary school such as basketball, volleyball and track and field. However, they were just fun things for me to do so I could play with my friends and try to be better than them. However, I had my mind set on playing for Canada in the World Cup and lifting the trophy in front of the world. My whole life was dedicated to the game and my daily schedule revolved around playing soccer. Every day at school during recess, I would challenge my friends to a match by playing myself versus who ever wanted to play against me. At lunch time, I would try to get in on a pick up game with the older kids and try to dribble through everyone. After school, I would run home to eat a quick snack and head back to the field with my bag of soccer balls, so I could work on mastering the ball. Once or twice a week, I was able to convince one of my friends to come along and we would have crossing and finishing competitions to see who could score the most goals.

I would say the most important factor in helping me get a passion for the game was my mom and dad. They always supported my desire to play soccer by playing with me in the backyard or going to the park with me when ever I asked them to. My dad never missed any of my games and was always providing me with encouragement to reach for the stars, but never pushed me beyond what I was wanting for myself. He would constantly remind me that he was supporting me fully, and this was enough to inspire me to make him proud of me.

Harmit: Were there other South Asian children on the provincial team of British Columbia when you were there? What was the experience and the learning like for youngsters like you on the Provincial team?

Sanjeev: There were two players of Indian origin who were selected on the BC provincial team. I was selected to the first team and my friend was selected to the second team in our first year with the team. However, for the next couple of years we were both on the first team and ended up winning two national gold medals in back to back years.
The experience of playing on the provincial team was extraordinary for me because I was the only player from Vancouver Island and had to travel 5 hours each weekend to get to a training session. I learned to be independent and many life skills because I was travelling by myself each weekend on bus for 3 hours and then by ferry for 2 hours to get across the ocean before getting picked up by one of my teammates.

I was a very dedicated player and realize now that I was by far the most serious player in the program. For me, being on the provincial team was a very important accomplishment and was my stepping stone to get to the national team. I worked very hard in training and always realized that I had to be a little bit better than the other players if I wanted to remain on the squad due to the fact that I wasn’t from the lower mainland and was unable to attend week day practises.

Playing at the provincial level taught me to work hard and leave everything on the field each training session because there was always a possibility of being released from the program.

IndianFootball.Com - Sanjeev ParmarHarmit: Please describe the soccer scholarships that you received for your college education?

Sanjeev: I was fortunate enough to have many offers to various schools around North America in my grade 12 year as I was training at the National Training Centre. In the end I accepted a scholarship to Houghton College, in New York State. My main reason for attending the school was because I thought that the coach Dwight Hornibrook, who was with the 1994 Canadian National Men’s Team staff would be the right person to help me develop my game to become a professional player. I also recognized that Houghton College would provide me with exceptional education. Attending Houghton College ended up being an excellent choice for me because I was the star player over my four year career and was voted as an All American All Star in my 1st, 2nd and 3rd years.

Harmit: Was there a big difference in quality when you moved from the Toronto Lynx to the Charlotte Eagles? What was it like to win the USL D3 National Championships?

Sanjeev: In my senior year at university, I was in frequent contact with the Toronto Lynx coach because he had let me know that he would be drafting me in the USL A league draft.

I was very excited about getting the opportunity to play in the A league and had decided that would be my first choice, however, I was invited by the Charlotte Eagles for a tryout on the same day that I was being drafted. I was approached immediately after the first training session by the manager and told that the Eagles were going to put together a contract for me. I made it clear to them that I my first choice would be the Toronto Lynx because they played at a higher level, however, I was so impressed by the Charlotte Eagles organization during my stay, that I had a tough decision at hand once I got back to Houghton. After speaking to Toronto and finding out that they were unable to pay me very much, I made the decision to sign with Charlotte.

My first year at Charlotte was a very humbling year as I expected to make a major impact in the league immediately; however, I received very little playing time and was faced with the task of winning a spot in the midfield from our captain who had been an All Star in the league. As a 21 year old player, it was very hard for me to understand why I wasn’t getting playing time because the coach would always explain that he was happy with my performance in training. I look back now and realize that every coach looks for different things in a player and needs each player to fit into the system that best suits the team.

Winning the USL D3 Championship in front of our home crowd was an amazing feeling and a nice personal accomplishment for me because it was my third national title (2 in Canada and 1 in the US).

Harmit: What was it like to work with the children and players in Africa when you visited them with the Charlotte Eagles?

Sanjeev: We travelled to Rwanda, Ethiopia and Kenya with the Charlotte Eagles on our pre-season trip for 2001 and turned out to be a life changing experience for me. We played in front of 40 000 fans in the Rwandan National Stadium (the same stadium where people got picked up in helicopters during the Rwandan Genocide in 1994). To see the Rwandan army rolling into the stadium with drums and chanting songs while we were warming up is a experience I can never forget. I can still remember how excited I was to be able to perform in front of such a huge crowd.

Having the opportunity to work with street children was by far the best part of my three month stay. I developed an amazing relationship with the kids in Ethiopia as we spent most of our time in Addis Ababa (capital city). I would go out to the streets each afternoon with a piece of paper and pen and educate the street children by teaching them the English alphabet. I would write the alphabet on a piece of paper for each child and tell them they would have to keep it with them at all times. When ever I ran into them, I would ask them to rehearse the ABC’s back to me. Over time, the kids began to learn a bit of English and I began to learn quite a bit of Amharic (Ethiopia’s national language).

Eventually, I was able to convince the SIM shelter home that we were staying at to provide us with a little room where I could bring the kids in to and teach them. By the end of our three month stay, we were able to develop a school where kids learned math, English, crafts etc.

I received a nice letter from the school about 4 years ago to let me know that the kids were attending school regularly and had gone through two whole years of schooling. It brought total joy to my heart to know that we were able to help make an impact to the lives of those precious children who had no hope. This was all made possible through the soccer.

IndianFootball.Com - Sanjeev ParmarHarmit: Please describe the circumstances under which you trained with the Newcastle youth squad? What impressed you most about the Newcastle training stint?

Sanjeev: I had an opportunity to play against the Newcastle United under 19s in an exhibition match with the Canadian Military National Team (I was involved with the team for a year). It was quite the experience as they beat us 8-0 and showed us how real football should be played. At the end of the game, Alan Beardsley the coach of the Newcastle team asked me if I would be interested in joining them for a training session the following day and obviously I agreed.

The training session was a short high intensity session that involved a bit of technical work at the beginning, with a progression on a few simple small sided games into finishing at the end. What impressed me most was the pace that they could execute everything at. The decision making of each player was much faster than anything I had experienced in Canada. The players always knew what they wanted to do with the ball before they would receive it. Their technical ability was no better than mine, but they were just much faster in their decision making.

At the end of the session, we finished with a nice and easy finishing drill which impressed me quite a bit. The one thing that I noticed was that the players very rarely would miss the net and typically scored on most shots on goal.

Harmit: You are one of the youngest coaches in Canada to achieve the “A” licence? What made you switch to coaching at such a young age? And why did you decide to focus specifically on youth coaching?

Sanjeev: I have been involved in coaching since I was 15 years old because I love being on the field. However, I didn’t get involved seriously until I was playing with the Ottawa Wizards. I ended up getting a very serious head injury during my second year with the team which forced me to take the majority of the summer off. This allowed me to participate in a coaching licence that was being held in Ottawa. After taking the licence, I felt like I learned quite a bit and was very interested in pursuing more coaching education and over the next four or five years was able to quickly go through all the various licences that are offered in Canada.

When I moved back to Canada from the States, I recognized a real technical weakness in the Canadian game and realized that the problem starts at the grassroots level. I therefore, began to concentrate most of my energy on coaching 8 – 13 years old and over the past five years have seen a huge improvement in the technical ability of the players that we at Parmar Sports Training have been working with. I feel that my knowledge, ability and energy levels are best suited for developing young children as I am very good with providing children a fun and challenging environment to learn in.

IndianFootball.Com - Sanjeev ParmarHarmit: How is Parmar Sports Training different from other football clinics and academies? When was the academy formed and how many children attend the academy at any given time?

Sanjeev: Our whole training philosophy is based around the long term athlete development model and provides our players with the proper training that is required at each stage of their careers. Our staff is very aware of the fact that children love to have fun, therefore everything we do is wild and exciting. All of our training sessions are geared towards mastering the ABC’s (agility, balance and coordination) and the ball. We feel that an athlete who has control of their body and the ball is able to learn simple tactics when they get to 11 and 12 years of age, hence the reason we focus solely on technical skills (receiving, running with the ball, retaining the ball, and releasing the ball)

I formed my company at the end of 2003 after being inspired by my friend who suggested that I should run evening training sessions as a part time job. I took his inspirational challenge and decided that I would give up my playing career to start up a full time academy and called it Parmar Sports Training Inc. Since the inception of the company, it has grown from a few individual players into a little over 500 kids a week. We presently run development programs throughout Ottawa and are going to be expanding into Montreal this winter.

Our programs include under 5/6 skills development, ball mastery, small sided games, position specific programs, elite programs, SAQ (speed, agility, and quickness), summer camps and team training.

Harmit: Have there been any children from your academy that have gone on to do noticeably well in soccer in Canada and beyond from your academy?

Sanjeev: Presently I have quite a few kids who are playing at high levels in North America. I have two 12 year old players who have presently been selected to the Danone Cup National Team who are in the final round of tryouts to represent Canada at the Nations Cup Tournament in France. Over the past three or four years we have produced almost fifty percent of the players who have gone on to represent the Eastern Ontario Region at the under 13 level. Presently we have three Ontario Provincial team players as well as the under 17 Canadian National Team Captain who had a successful tryout with a Brazilian club earlier this year. For the past three years I’ve sent a player on to my alma mater at Houghton College on a soccer scholarship as well as other universities in America and Canada.

Harmit: Have you had much chance to see Indian football? What are your thoughts on the standard of football in India?

Sanjeev: I was able to watch the Indian national team play in New Delhi last year and have been fortunate to catch a few National Football League matches on television. I have to say, as a soccer enthusiast, it was extremely difficult for me to keep my attention glued to the television as the standard of play was very poor. I found the technical ability of the players to be at an unsatisfactory level which lead to very sloppy football.

Harmit: What kind of things do you think would make the most dramatic impact on Indian football?

Sanjeev: It is very obvious that the greatest injustice that is being done to the Indian footballer is the lack of grassroots programs that exist in the nation. Young children need to have a football at their foot from the age of 5 so that they are able to get a feel for the ball and manipulate it to do what they want. Kids need to be mastering the basic techniques during the golden years of learning between the ages of 10 – 12. If kids haven’t had exposure to the ball and 1v1 /2v2 situations by the time they are 10, they are way behind most kids around the world.

I feel that it is very important to be able to develop the knowledge of coaches in India because there is such a huge difference in working with kids at the various stages of development. Coaches have a much more valuable role to play than just being good soccer instructors who can demonstrate proper technique to their players. Coaches are role models to the players and each Instructor needs to understand their responsibility as a teacher, leader and counselor.

IndianFootball.Com - Sanjeev ParmarHarmit: Your thoughts on how South Asian children are faring in soccer in Canada, please. Do you see any breakthrough players that will change the perception of Indians not being good football players (in Canada at least).

Sanjeev: Over the past 15 years, I feel that the Indian community has continued to develop a number of very talented players, however, I have seen a growing trend amongst most young athletes. Majority of the young talented Indian players end up ruining their soccer careers in their mid-teenage years as they get involved in drinking alcohol, doing drugs and other mischief. I saw much of this happen to the Indian players who I grew up with in British Columbia.

I would love to see some young Indian players come through the system who could wear the maple leaf with pride and honour, but feel that we as a community have to do a much better job in raising our kids and making sure they are guided properly in their teenage years.

Harmit: Many, many thanks for taking the time to speak to us and share your thoughts and ideas.

the interview was conducted by Harmit Singh Kamboe (July 2008)

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