Vinay Singh On The Sporting Habit He’ll Never Kick

IIITH-ians have learned not to bat an eyelid at the sight of Vinay Singh scorching the campus roads at 12 in the night. For this 24-year-old captain of the football club, it is a way of unwinding. In a free-wheeling conversation he tells us how sports is therapeutic and hopes physical activity is given a priority in higher educational institutions.

What do active recreational clubs have to do with a student’s choice of technical institute? Everything, according to final year MS by Research student, Vinay Singh. It’s a known fact that a large part of student life on campus is what goes on outside the classroom rather than inside. For the sporting enthusiasts at IIIT-H, there are clubs for cricket, basketball, volleyball and football. Football has a decent ground for playing the sport and is steadily active all year through.

While speaking about the football club and his own captaincy, Vinay traces his childhood which was far from sedentary. As a child, he always enjoyed running especially the sprinting events. In high school, he got into the Regional track events twice and represented UP in the KV (Kendriya Vidyalaya) National-level events once in the long jump, 400 m hurdles and pole vault (Under-17) categories. Luckily for the sport-inclined Vinay, he didn’t have to make a choice between work and play. He attributes it to his supportive parents, especially his Army dad who had only one condition: “So long as it didn’t affect my scholastic grades, I was encouraged to participate in sports,” says Vinay. He evinced a keen interest in following in his father’s footsteps and wanted to join the NDA. However he was dissuaded by his dad who sought a more civilian life for his own son. Inspired by a cousin who was then studying in one of the IITs, Vinay then chose the academic path too. “I was just average in academics”, he laughs, adding, “But I always liked Science and Math”.

Having A Ball

Football has always been Vinay’s first love and he was happy to get back to it at IIIT-H. “In KV, there were fewer resources for football. Plus more number of students played cricket versus football”, he says. Unlike in cricket, in the case of football, one needs to be active the entire time on the field. The football club on campus participates in competitive matches with inter-state engineering colleges such as JNTU, BITS, St. Martin’s, Mahindra Ecole, and so on. Friendly matches are also held with JNTU and BHEL, typically in the evenings. Every academic year, the club plays at least 4-5 tournaments.

Explaining the various positions he’s assumed on the field over the years on campus, Vinay says, “I started playing first as a defender (right-back or left-back). Later, I went to centre-back which is where the main defenders are. I stayed there for 4 years. I always wanted to play in the mid because I knew I have good stamina and speed. As I’m about to graduate and leave the college, I want to mould the other juniors into the various positions. Hence I quit centre-back and have assumed the position of a striker.”

Game Plan

It is the seniors who assume the mantle of mentors and direct the juniors to play in a particular way – either defensively, offensively or mid-field. Expressing the lacuna felt by the absence of a coach, Vinay says, “There are plenty of good football players but all we need is a good coach to strategize and orchestrate the game for us”. Currently the seniors themselves pick players depending on which student is good at sprinting or who has a bulky build and hence would be great at tackling and so on. Faculty members who are on the Sports Committee help out in various ways. “We share a great relationship with Prof. Kamalakar sir who is the Head of the Physical Education Centre (PEC). He even used to play with us in the evenings but has stopped after he injured his knee,” says Vinay. He goes on to share fond memories of the early years on campus when Prof. Kamalakar used to ferry the players to tournaments in his own car. Prof. Suresh Purini is another affable faculty member on the Sports Committee who the team is fond of. Trying to sync all players’ availability has been a bit of a challenge. Morning sessions are tough with first, second and third year students having morning classes. But Vinay evinces hope that soon the entire football ground will be fenced and artificial lighting will be provided. “We are eagerly awaiting that because currently we are restricted to daylight practice and it’s own accompanying challenges”.

Striking A Balance

Finding the middle ground between academics and sports, especially in a specialised technical institute is difficult. However Vinay insists that if you love the game, you will find time for it. He talks of really good players in the past who drifted away from the sport perhaps because their priorities changed. But what of the academic pressure? Contrary to popular perception, Vinay again maintains that students have plenty of time. “They actually waste a lot of it blaming academics for it. If you want to find excuses, you’ll find plenty of that too.”

Fun With Fitness

As a captain, keeping players fit is a priority and hence Vinay incorporates sprints and stretches as part of the regular drills. Admitting that there is a new trend among students lately of hitting the gym, for Vinay himself, playing the sport everyday is a must. “During the day if I don’t go for a run or play something, I don’t feel good at the end of it. When I feel down, I go for a run. It’s an instant pick-me-up. Most others watch Netflix or some such to unwind; for me it’s a physical activity.”

On The Bench And Off

When asked about his most memorable match played till date, Vinay mentions the first tournament he went for. “In my first year, for the entire first tournament, I was on the bench. There were 3 others with me on the bench. But everyone played except me! And in the finals, we lost with the home team. There was a skirmish on the field and the entire home crowd surrounded us. Prof. Kamlakar sir had to intervene and cool passions down.” He also fondly recalls the matches played as a junior, when the college team went till the finals of all the matches played. “We either won all the tournaments or were runners-up in them.”

Off The Field, In The Lab

Apart from all the sporting accomplishments, this spunky youngster is a research assistant under Dr. Manish Srivastava as well as a teaching assistant for the course on Introduction to Sanskrit taught by Dr. Peter Scharf. His research work is on informal social media text in the Indian subcontinent. One of his papers on information extraction and social media scientific analysis on code mixed text, such as Hinglish was published and presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics (ACL) in Australia in 2018. Another paper on detecting the level of aggression on social media texts such as FB posts and comments was presented in Belgium at the 2018 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing.

 Kicking Off A Career

The field of research continues to enamour Vinay and he plans on sticking with it. He has been placed with Samsung Research where he will continue working in related areas of speech and text-related research. He says that his entire HR round of interviews revolved around him being a sportsperson. “I want juniors to participate and play football because it teaches team spirit. A sense of sportsmanship is so important. Even if you lose one game, you have to continue and play the next game and so on. Similarly in academics, if you are not doing as well as you expected to, you have another chance in the next semester to make up for it. Sports has personally helped me by keeping my mood and overall sense of being positive”. With one of his college seniors who Vinay calls, “the best striker of those times” also working with Samsung currently, he says excitedly, ”I’m looking forward to joining the corporate team there and playing with an old friend again!”

Sarita Chebbi has been a stay-at-home mom of two for the longest time. When she’s not painstakingly documenting heirloom recipes from her mom into a tattered diary, she can be found on the yoga mat, trying to impress her family with her pretzel poses. She also likes to nit-pick on the written word.

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