The privilege of taking part in the Olympic Games is something that every athlete is quick to mention when talking about their life in elite sport. Another thing many are keen to emphasise is their desire to give something back to their sport which has given them so much throughout their life. Olympic Day, which takes place on 23 June of each year, is the perfect opportunity for Olympians to put something back into their sport and Rehan Poncha, an Olympian from India, intends to do just that.
The 30 year-old swimmer knows how important Olympic Day is and he will use this year’s celebrations to spread the joy of the Games to the next generation, as well as highlight to young athletes the benefits that sport can bring.
Poncha is a five-time Indian swimming champion who competed in the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 but since his retirement from competitive swimming four years ago, he has poured his heart and soul into inspiring the next generation of Indian swimmers.
On Olympic Day this year, the Olympian will conduct a swimming workshop at Otters Club in Bombay. He is mentoring and coaching young athletes as they prepare for their national championships and Poncha admits that working with these aspiring athletes in his home country is a real passion of his.
My advice to them is to always make friends with the water and it will give you back tenfold.
“Even though I do not swim competitively anymore, I love to stay in touch with the sport and give back in any way I can,” the former Indian record-holder says. “Working with swimmers and helping them realise their dreams gives me tremendous happiness. My advice to them is to always make friends with the water and it will give you back tenfold. I ask them to enjoy what they do whilst in pursuit of their goals.”
Elite sport can be a tough environment but invariably, it teaches each individual many skills that are helpful not only in the sporting sphere but also in life in general and Poncha certainly believes that his years as an athlete taught him a number of useful life skills.
“The lessons I have learnt from my lifetime in sport are priceless,” he says. “Character traits such as discipline, self-inquiry and resilience have been built in me through my swimming. I think the great lesson swimming taught me is to always keep trying, no matter how many times you fail at achieving your goals. It also taught me that success is never final - and the learning never ends! Swimming and my achievements in the pool continue to benefit me in my work life today and the children see this when I work with them. They therefore realise the value that sport gives me and wish to emulate it in their own way.”
One of the most valuable aspects of sport is that it gives individuals a focus in life and it provides motivation day in, day out. This, believes the Indian coach, is invaluable. “I feel it's extremely important for a child to be taught the art of self-searching and truly finding something he or she loves to do with passion,” he says. “It could be any sport or art but what's most valuable here is that sport becomes a child's identity, a goal, that he or she can call his or her own with conviction. This in turn gives them a huge sense of balance in their lives and I see this value every single day of my work with budding athletes.”
I think the great lesson swimming taught me is to always keep trying, no matter how many times you fail at achieving your goals. It also taught me that success is never final - and the learning never ends!
Another reason Poncha believes that sport is so valuable in people’s lives is that even though he has retired from competitive sport, he still uses sport as a tool to improve himself. Now a competitive golfer, he uses the lessons he learnt as a swimmer in his new pursuit and he also believes that the young swimmers he mentors and coaches teach him new lessons daily.
“I feel alive when I work with Indian swimmers who want to reach goals that I did in the pool,” he says. “They inspire me to be a better golfer today and I feel like I never stopped swimming but just continued being an athlete and now a mentor or coach. I look forward to every swim session I coach at for the value that it brings me in so many ways!”