Guest Blog Post: How Football Changed Me by Sahil Bhagat

How Football Changed Me - Sahil Bhagat - Saad Bhamla

Ah, I’ve had a busy week and haven’t had much time to blog. Being in a relationship takes more time than I imagined. Although, if it was too easy, it probably wouldn’t be worth it either. Anyhoo, it’s time for another guest post and this time we have Sahil Bhagat, who is a grad student in the Management Science & Engineering (MS&E) – which, by the way, is a new and pretty amazing program at Stanford. Sahil is one of the most happy go-lucky people I know and one of the few people who came to Stanford directly after graduating from D. J. Sanghvi in Mumbai. IMO, that’s pretty badass because it is insanely difficult to make it to a top US school without an IIT or a BITS tag. You should keep an eye out on his blog because he plans to publish the story of his journey from Mumbai University to Stanford University – and boy, having heard it first-hand over a late night of gupshup, I can tell you it is pretty inspiring. In this post, he talks about one of his passions – football – and how it completely changed his life.. 

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I still remember Rocky’s knockout punch that led to that historic victory over Apollo or getting inspired by coach Herman’s pep talk that led to a famous victory for the underdogs in the movie Remember the Titans. Hell, even Forrest Gump’s non-stop run made me believe, believe that anything is possible. Growing up watching a number of such inspiring sports movies, I secretly hoped to experience the joy of winning something while being touted as a long shot. Because everyone knows that there is no better feeling than shutting up your critics by defying the odds. Unfortunately, I did not win any competition or become a superstar in any sport. But what I did achieve was something far more than what I had ever hoped for. Through the game of football, I did shut some of my critics that lay inside me. I also managed to defy the odds that were products of my own mind. And for that I am forever grateful to this beautiful game. This is the story of how football changed me.

Since childhood I always thought of myself as a timid and meek guy. I would be averse to leaving my comfort zone, partly because I lacked the confidence to cope with any changes. But it was all about to change when I started playing football at the age of 18, which was pretty late to be honest. After just two months of playing football I decided to go for my college team trials. Needless to say, I failed. I went again next year and failed again. It was hard to take because for me failure had never been an option. But it taught me an important life lesson, which has become a valuable survival tool for me here at Stanford. I learnt that no matter how good you are, there will always be someone better than you and as you grow up in this world, you are bound to fail repeatedly. But it is not about how much you fail, it is about fast you get up and keep trying. Something that has been echoed by Rocky Balboa, my movie hero, who once told his son:

“The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get it and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”

For some time now I had been playing with a bunch of experienced players, some of whom had been playing football for their entire lives. Needless to say, I could not match up to their expectations. Finding it difficult to cope up with their game and style, I was often sidelined and made to ‘sit on the bench’. More importantly, I had made a bad impression on not only them but also a lot of my college mates. This made my learning curve even steeper because improving a bad first impression is always a difficult task. But that helped develop a mindset that proved to be useful in all walks of my life, a mindset that focused on being dedicated towards your goal, no matter what.

Football is a very physical sport, and initially lacking the stamina and strength required to play top level football didn’t help my cause. Playing against players far fitter and stronger than me, I learnt how important it is to play to one’s strengths rather than other’s weaknesses. And if you have that killer instinct in you, no goal is insurmountable as displayed by David’s improbable victory over Goliath. But then football helped me in a way I never expected. How you ask? Being forced to play in a team with random strangers initially, I learnt how to get out of my zone and speak up which improved my communication skills. And being a team sport, the importance of team spirit quickly became evident to me. And all this wasn’t limited to the game of football, as I realized how I had positively changed in other aspects of my life.

My topsy-turvy journey with football didn’t end there. During my undergrad I was inflicted with ankle ligament injuries three years in a row. The cumulative effect of that was a year out on the sidelines. And to make matters worse, it took time to regain the strength and mental will required to play properly again. My dad, being a doctor, obviously hated this and condemned my association with the game. Constant injuries and parental pressure did not help my cause and I felt being dragged back time and again from my goal. However I learnt firsthand, how hurdles in life will pull you back no matter what. Learning how to be resilient in overcoming them and even using them to your advantage is a life skill worth fighting for.

All these injuries, rejections and external perceptions made my journey tough and demanding. But this only made me discover my passion for the game and what I got in return in the end was far more valuable. By the end of the second year, I was mighty pleased with my growth as a footballer. Buoyed and encouraged by my progress I gave the college trials another shot in my third year, only to fail miserably again. But by then football had instilled in me the never say die attitude. Coupled with my own stubborn nature to never let go, I took up the challenge and promised myself to prove not only others but also the critic within me wrong. Finally, the joy of self satisfaction that engulfed me when I got selected in my final year was worth all the pain I had gone through those four years. I was also not the same person that I was when I started playing this game.

To summarize, I have never been a very good football player as evidenced by me not getting into the college team till the final year. But now that I look at my journey in hindsight, I realize that it isn’t the end goal that matters. What matters more is what you make of your journey and how you let it shape you. So if you have a passion, go follow it. It might just change you in ways you never imagined.

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If you’re new here, this is the fourth awesome post in the series of guest blog posts. This experiment has been successful so far because of people like you. If you have a story to share, I’d love to hear from you. You’re welcome to write about anything under the sun. The more, the merrier. Drop me a line, and I’ll get back to you.

I remember when Sahil, ZM and me were sitting that night, we started at about 8pm and the next time I looked at my watch, it was already 2 am. It’d been a long time since I did that – just sit and chat and reminisce about IIT days and Mumbai. If anything, I learnt two things from him – one that indeed, cracking Mumbai University exams was just a matter of looking at old papers and figuring out the probability of which question would be repeated. And the second, that there are two indian tiffin services on Stanford campus – Rotivan and TiffinDinner. Both offer meals for less than 10$, delivered to your apartment. Awesome!

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3 Responses to “Guest Blog Post: How Football Changed Me by Sahil Bhagat”

  1. -A March 5, 2012 at 9:51 am #

    wow! i have the SAME story, except replace football with UNO. 😛 i became the fastest player in TWO days. learning to play from scratch. the ‘slowest player’ tag is still mine though, in sarcasm. 😉

    • Saad Bhamla March 5, 2012 at 9:52 am #

      haha . I haven’t played UNO in ages 🙂

  2. peter pan March 6, 2012 at 1:23 am #

    saad, reading inspiring guest post is amazing !  wonderful idea sir jee 🙂