Champ for Life (CFL) is a sports academy that provides comprehensive education and training for young athletes. The academy was founded by 5-time PGA winner and co-founder, Indrajit Bhalotia, and aims to empower athletes through its innovative curriculum. The program includes traditional education, specialized sports training, and life skills to address the diverse needs of athletes.
CFL's mission is to support and prepare young athletes for both their sports careers and life after sports. The academy offers National Open School or IGNOU courses tailored to optimize time and effort, as well as training in life skills to develop necessary skills for success. With its unique approach combining education and specialized training, CFL is dedicated to helping young athletes achieve their full potential.
In this episode, we join Indrajit Bhalotia as he guides us through the process of how Champ for Life nurtures and amplifies passion in individuals, and how he transforms that passion into an obsession for success. He also delves into the evolving landscape of education and the increasing importance of digital and virtual learning.
I'd like to start off by asking you about Champ for Life but before that, if you could just give a brief introduction about the person you are and, you know, anything that I'd like to, you'd like to share about yourself will be great. Personal, professional-everything.
Well I'm a professional golfer and I've been playing professional golf from the age of 17. I'm 50 now, so 33 years. At one point of time I was India number one also, and I won some of the biggest tournaments in India. My identity is more of a professional golfer. And for the last 14, 15 years I've been also one of the national coaches at the National Golf Academy. I've been certifying teachers from across India and Asia. So more of playing, a bit of teaching. That is basically my identity, it is of an athlete.
When did Champ for Life start off and what was the idea behind that?
It's quite interesting actually. Because I think when I just passed class 10, that's in 1989 and I decided to turn professional and I come from a very conservative family of professionals. My mother was a lawyer and all her sisters were doctors. To play a sport professionally wasn't very acceptable. It was unheard of that a boy from a family where everyone is educated actually wants to play a sport. And for that I had to drop out of regular school and do something, where I could focus more on my playing. At that point of time I was looking at open schooling for my class 12 and then my graduation and things were very, very haphazard. Of course, there was no internet at that time. But even otherwise, getting books from the national open schools, tuition, everything was very, very difficult. Somehow I managed to go through, because that was a condition for me, especially my mother, to at least finish my studies.
About seven or eight years ago when my son was about 16 and he was in class 10 and he wanted to turn professional, we started looking at options of how he could complete his studies. I realized that from 1989 to say 2014 - 15, in that 30 years or so, nothing has changed in the Indian education system. And, there was nowhere a kid who wanted to do something in the field, or rather there was no way he could do both. Either he had to choose education or he had to choose between either education or sport which resulted in dropping out or forgetting your sporting dream. That went for not only athletes and sports people, but also for a musician or a dancer or a singer or anyone who wants to do something, which is a little offbeat. Then I said, why not do something which I actually would've loved to have at my time and 30 years down the line, my son also doesn't have it. That's when the Champ for Life concept came into my mind.
Furthermore, I started looking at companies like Uber and companies like OYO and, all these companies which didn't own a taxi, didn't own a hotel, but they were huge companies. I thought, education will also have to go that way. Because there will be a day where you won't need to buy acres of land. You won't need to have a building where you'll teach people there. This was the future. And that's when I felt, okay, let's create an education platform, which helps kids realize their dream.
I kind of use the motto, passion to obsession. That was my motto because I realized that passion wasn't enough for anyone to succeed in life. You have to be obsessive. If you look at whether it's a Tendulkar or any, any top athlete, anyone who's been extremely successful in life has had to be obsessive about what they're doing. Passion. Everyone is passionate. We have millions of people who are passionate about football. But for someone to go out there and actually play, you have to be obsessive. So kind of that being said, we thought let's find a way where we can give education to kids who don't want to get 90%. Even today, if you look at all these tuitions, portals, they all look at excellence. Whether you're looking at Byjus or you're looking at everybody, everyone is looking at excellence. Everyone is looking at helping you win the rat race, getting 90%, getting 95%. So I said, we will create something where the kid is not interested in getting 90%. He wants to pass. He needs that degree. He's happy with 50%. We don't need to give him that kind of tuition. I'm going to give him 10% of his curriculum. It'll be a bit of a risk, but at least he can focus on his future. That was the whole concept of Champ for Life.
We called it Champ for Life because we said that, you're gonna be a champion for life. That's what every parent wants. Even if you can't make it in sport, you have something to fall back on. So, that was one path we were going. The second path we were going was, I had known so many athletes who are brilliant players, but once their career is over, they don't know how to handle themselves. Not only that, there are some top cricketers today who made a mess of their social media and their interviews and they suffered. Really, really badly. We are going to resolve this by giving people a finishing school where they learn how to manage their brand, how to handle basic finances, how to speak, how to conduct yourself, how to behave, how to handle your social media. Like a finishing school, but more specific for people who don't go to regular school. So those are the two lines we started going on. This journey started eight years back and we started working on content, content, content. Because everything had to be done from scratch. Because we were concising all the textbooks to 10%. All you have to study is 10% to get 50% and not look to get 90%. That's how it came about. And Covid was a big disaster to mankind, but it gave us a huge boost because online education was accepted and, and Covid showed the world that what we are doing is actually the way forward. So that's how we came about.
You said one of the main two things, one was your past, at which point you were at a crossroads and then, your mother had certain minimum conditions that you had to meet for you to pursue your sports dreams. And then fast forward a few years later, your son found himself to be in the same position and that's when Champ for Life also came into picture, you know, has its link. So how did you solve this problem for your son? Is he one of the first students of Champ for life?
No,not really. So he continued with his education because by the time we launched. He was well into his college and, but we've had a few kids, a few of my students who have gone through class 10 and class 12 already. So these were all the testing phases and now we are in a situation where we can offer it very comfortably to people because I didn't want to do something where we fail, because it's a career, it's a child's career in life. And we can't be experimenting with that. So we were very, very cautious with our launch and only when we were sure. There were a couple of students of mine who were already doing the offbeat studies, they were doing the open schooling. So we took them on and we gave them the tuition just to see how they perform. And once they went through, we realized that yeah, this is the platform.
This journey started eight years ago. Eight years back you said it was more about content and then a lot of work was going on in the background. So, how long did it take for you to have a product and then launch? And how many years was the pre-production work?
It was a bit of trial and error. It took us close to three to four years, I think, before we were actually ready to launch. And TeachEdison just came by chance because one of our partners at that time knew Neeraj and he connected us. It made our work a lot easier because I was looking at starting from scratch and I was looking at not the content part of it, but the platform part of it. I was very apprehensive about going onto another platform and to something that was ready. But, we gave TeachEdison a shot and they pretty much answered 90% of what we were looking for. It made our work a lot easier, otherwise we would've had to create a platform from scratch.
It took four years for you to put together the product and then launch finally. Before the whole Champ for Life thing happened, you were a professional golfer, you played the sport, but then you also taught a little bit you were into the teaching or coaching side of things. So did you start off with your golf students as the first.
Yes. We did that, we did start off with our golf students and spend into other sports. We actually also run one of the largest golf academies in India, in Kolkata with over 250 children and out of that about 5-7 of the kids, actually generally, if you have a hundred kids, you'll have 2-3 who are looking at making a career out of that sport. Whichever sport you play. So, these 2-3 kids, we actually took them on and we gave them the support, online support, and we gave them a little extra with mentors being there. And then we kind of got comfortable with what we created and the kids passed. They went through the class 10 and 12 and that gave us the confidence to actually put this product out there.
Since golf is not a very popular sport in India for various reasons or I don't know, instead of using the word popular, maybe not a lot of people are aware of the intricacies of golf, and I didn't expect kids as young as 10th standard. So what is the usual starting age of kids that join in the academy?
A kid can start at the age of three. It's a misconception that golf is an old man's game. Golf is a game which an old man can play. That is what allows a 90 year old man to play golf. But you hit a golf ball, which can fly up to 300, 320 meters. If you look at a six or Chris Gayle hitting a six is about 75 meters. So imagine he hits a six where the ball drops outside the fence and goes and hits another six where that ball drops, he goes and hits another one, and then he goes and hits another one. So he's four sixes where the golf ball drops now.The golf ball is more aerodynamic and stuff like that, but still the ball is flying 320 meters. So you do need that power. To play a sport like golf, you need very good speed. You need, lot of timing and a lot of power. It's like a fast bowler, you can't really produce a fast bowler, fast bowlers are literally born. Hitting a golf ball takes a lot of effort, a lot of power, a lot of technique, and it's actually not an old man's game. So to start young at the age of four, five, I mean as young as three, actually has a huge advantage.
So at what age, are the kids looking at probably focusing full-time on golf and opting for open schooling so that they could focus more?
So it's not only golf. See, you have to understand the Indian mentality, the Indian society, if you look at all our top athletes, you know, medalists, boxers, wrestlers, hockey players, any sport, you'll rarely find athletes coming from middle class backgrounds. There are many reasons for that. One is that people who come from middle class backgrounds already have a lifestyle. They have a standard of living, which has to be maintained. Most of them come from jobs and they want their children to be stable. They're the ones who don't take a risk. You either see Arjun Atwal, or Abhinav Bindra , one of these guys who are super rich. They come from families where the next five generations don't need to worry about making a living. Or they come from backgrounds where the father is an autorickshaw driver or you know, someone who has nothing to lose in life.
Whatever they do is a plus because the kind of background they're coming from is very, very difficult. So, 99% of successful athletes in India are coming from either a very affluent background or from a very, very tough background. Middle class doesn't really give you that opportunity. And the reason why I touched upon this is because we come down to education. So today, a middle class kid will never drop out of school to pursue a sport. And I feel that if we do this right, and if we can market this product right, it'll be a game changer for India because it gives that huge middle class children an opportunity to follow their dream and cut down the risks. You know that if you don't make it in the sport, at least you have some kind of a degree and hence you can take that chance. Because today it's virtually impossible. So post class 8, if you see athletes, any sport in India, go to a cricket academy, go to a tennis academy, post class 8, 90% of the kids drop out. And that's a trend everywhere because when you go into class 9, you have got to make a choice. You have got to decide whether you're gonna do arts, you're gonna do science, you're gonna do commerce. And that is where the sport takes a backseat. Superbly talented kids actually give a play. By the time he's done with class 12 or so and he is going into college and he has again some time it's too late. Where does he have a chance? And no parent, or a family which earns 40,000 - 50,000 rupees a month will ever risk their children to drop out of a school and be in a position where you'll have to probably drive a car or, you'll have to do some kind of a clerical, not even a clerical job.
So that is my dream. I mean when I started and I still see that, so many talents are getting wasted. Because you cannot risk following your dream. And that is where we will try to bridge the gap.
When you said most of the top sports people in India at least are either from affluent backgrounds or they're from the toughest backgrounds, they have nothing to lose right. Now, as you said, the middle class cannot do either of these because they have a certain lifestyle to maintain and they've got a lot to lose and they're on an upward journey. I think this model that you're talking about is tailor made for them, where this model of yours allows them to not leave education completely. But at the same time, if there is a supremely talented person from the middle class, I think you give them a chance basically. I think now I kind of completed the entire purpose perspective about Champ for Life.
So you said you started off with golf Indrajit. So have you moved on to other sports? Have you started including other sports as well?
No, we never started with golf. We just tried with the kids because they were kids who I knew. But we are looking at other sports. Golf is going to be a very small part of our clientele. We're looking at track and field, we're looking at hockey players and footballers. Sports that are more played in India and followed by cricketers. So that's a target for children, we are not looking at golf at all. Golf would be a very, very small part. Maybe 0.1% of our effort. But I just wanted to add a completely different angle to Champ for Life, which you're not aware of maybe is when the lockdown happened. I run a couple of NGOs where we help, we feed a lot of young children. We feed 350 children every day. So, when the lockdown happened, all these NGO schools that are run all shut down because they didn't have a means of giving online education, the kids were not going to school for almost a year. Within the first month, what we decided was we already had a platform. We took about five NGO schools and about 500 children. We said that we are going to give you online tuition through the lockdown.
We had the platform running anyway. We opened up our gates and it helped Champ for Life also evolve because it helped us understand how to do tuition, how kids react and things like that. Once the lockdown got over and the kids went back to regular school, all these NGO schools still want us to do the classes because of the kind of platform that we provided the children and the standard of teaching, the standard of tuition teachers, none of these NGO schools can afford.
Today, out of our student base, about 500 children are from underprivileged backgrounds who don't pay a single rupee. And being completely supported by Champ For Life.
Yeah. This is something that I definitely wasn't aware of Indrajit, what started off as a makeshift arrangement during the pandemic has now become a regular thing as part of Champ for Life. Amazing stuff!
This content is brought to you by EdisonOS, a no code EdTech platform to operate an online education business. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.