Shillong, Apr 10: The introduction of the Baby League concept in Meghalaya has been a “gamechanger” and will be expanded to other districts of the state this year, the Meghalaya Football Association CEO Arki Nongrum has said.

Nongrum was quoted saying this in an All India Football Federation feature on the development of grassroots football in Meghalaya today.

“The introduction of the Meghalaya Baby League was a real gamechanger in terms of grassroots development. Having children from the age of four upwards playing in mixed teams and taking part in regular games for half the year is vital to their overall development,” Nongrum said. “The aim isn’t to get them all to be professional footballers, but to give them a sense of teamwork, camaraderie, fair play, respect for one another as well as self-respect, which is all part of a healthy lifestyle and a healthy society. We have seen tremendous support from parents and friends and family in the inaugural season and we are firm in our desire to get the Baby League into other parts of the state from this year onwards.”

The story highlights other grassroots programmes, including the U-12 Chief Minister Youth Development Scheme Football Tournament, which has seen thousands of boys and girls take part over the years and is run by the Directorate of Sports & Youth Affairs, and the Shillong Sports Association’s U-12 tournament.

The story also states that 70 grassroots centres have been established in the state under the state government’s Mission Football as well as advance centres to continue developing talented children after they cross the age of 12.

The reason the MFA was keen on the concept of the Baby League when it was put forward by the AIFF is because the SSA’s and Sports & Youth Affairs’ tournaments were of short duration. What was lacking was a tournament that gave children months-long exposure to competitive football.

Last year more than 1,000 boys and girls registered for the inaugural Meghalaya Baby League, while saw 1,300 matches played over seven months.

The MFA is planning to take the MBL across the state with the help of Tata Trusts and the AIFF this year. The MFA also plans to introduce an U-15 tournament as a stepping stone for children who graduate out of the Baby League.

The state association also intends to expand its women’s programme from the ground up. That means encouraging girls to take up football from a young age and starting football coaching programs and tournaments for girls, apart from their ongoing participation in the Baby League.

The feature concludes by saying, “With associations, clubs, schools, the government and parents on board, Meghalaya is on course to take grassroots football to all corners of the state and bringing up children in the spirit of the beautiful game.”

(Meghalaya Football Association file photo)

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