Getting a kick out of ‘leg volleyball’

India’s Y.Akash (No.3) in action against Iran during the sepaktakraw World Super Series in New Delhi.-SANDEEP SAXENA India’s Y.Akash (No.3) in action against Iran during the sepaktakraw World Super Series in New Delhi.

India’s good showing in the World Super Series is just the tonic that sepaktakraw needs to grow in the country, writes Vijay Lokapally.

The turnout at the K. D. Jadhav Hall in the Indira Gandhi Sports Complex in New Delhi was a pleasant surprise, as 1500-odd spectators provided vociferous support to the Indian team during its campaign in the International Sepaktakraw Federation (ISTAF) World Super Series. South Korea won the title, defeating Malaysia in the final while India claimed the bronze medal.

It was a creditable performance by the young Indian trio of Y. Akash, G. Jiteshor Sharma and Sandeep Sharma, who won many friends and admirers with their outstanding display in the tournament.

Akash and Jiteshor, humble and polite to a fault, hail from Manipur where sepaktakraw is immensely popular. The National Games in Imphal in 1999 was the launching pad for this exciting sport that many recognise as ‘kick volleyball’.

Coach B. A. Sharma says, “It’s popular and most refer to it as leg volleyball. It is very popular in north-east India because even the government recognises it. In Manipur and Nagaland, youngsters are offered jobs in police for their achievements in sepaktakraw. There are cash prizes in many tournaments now.”

Sepaktakraw is a sport that blends athleticism, football, gymnastics, volleyball and even martial arts. The body has to be very flexible as the player receives the ball and sets it up for his partner to either kick-smash or place it delicately out of reach of the opponents. Quite similar to volleyball in execution, sepaktakraw involves non-stop action.

The Sports Authority of India has been doing its bit for the game by allocating funds for staging camps. These funds, according to Sharma, are important because the game is yet to capture the imagination of the people. “We need sponsorship too for the players to be attracted to sepaktakraw,” he adds.

For Akash, 16, it is a platform to express his ambition. He started with football but soon began to concentrate on sepaktakraw when he learnt of a SAI scheme. “I have been training for three years and am happy I chose this sport. It teaches you to be disciplined and respectful to the opponents too. It helps you recognise the effort one makes on the field. It can be entertaining to the spectators but there is lot of hard work involved. One has to ensure the body is fit and flexible because chances of injuries are high,” he says.

Jiteshor loves sepaktakraw. “I played hockey and football, but sepaktakraw interested me more because it is more challenging. As a feeder, I can control the match and keep the supply in place. I have to train at blocking too. Like in most team sport, positional play is very important in sepaktakraw. It is a tough sport,” he observes.

Sandeep is based in Delhi. He was 11 years old when coach Hemraj spotted and encouraged him to train at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium. “He saw my height and told me it could be of great advantage if I played sepaktakraw. I was confident from day one and it helped that I learnt from Hemraj Sir. Scholarships and chances of a job have kept me going,” Sandeep says.

India’s good showing in the ISTAF sepaktakraw World Super Series is just the tonic the sport needs to grow in the country.