Reaching for the hoops: The story of Indian women’s basketball captain

Akanksha Singh embodies the phrase “small town girl, big time dreams”. In fact she’s better than that because she has lived up to her dreams of representing India and wears the captain’s band.

Growing up in Banaras (Varanasi), Akanksha led a normal, typical Indian kid’s life. Wake up, go to school, go home, play for a while, homework and then off to bed. The complete drill. All this changed in sixth grade when one fine morning her coach walked into her classroom. The teacher asked Akanksha to pack her bags and leave for home.

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Being let off from school early is the best things a kid experiences. Akanksha had more in store for her though. Her coach informed her that she would be playing in the senior basketball team henceforth and they were to leave Banaras to play an important match the very next day.

Since that day basketball has been a serious pursuit of Akanksha. Following in her sister’s footsteps, today Akanksha represents India on the international stage. She says her proudest moment was when she held the Indian jersey in her hands and realized what an incredible privilege it was.

When asked about her role models, Akanksha looks no further than her family. First, she names her mother, a diminutive soft spoken woman who has been the pillar of strength behind her daughters’ unbelievable journey in the world of sports. Akanksha also mentioned her sister Divya as an idol she looks up to. Divya Singh was the first girl to represent India from UP.

She graduated from St. Stephen’s college, Delhi and describes how it was a radical change from her small town life. Though her friends bombarded her with invitations to the movie theaters and malls, she had to say no every time just so that she could attend practice sessions. While giving up the simple pleasures in life is not easy, the returns have been more than amazing.

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She has been playing for the country since 2004, has had an international career for 11 years, was voted one of the Best 4 players in India, most valuable player in MBPL, best player in DU and so much more that the mind boggles.

The road to this was not easy, though. Her mom was frequently questioned by neighbors as to why she allowed her daughters to play with boys, that too while wearing shorts. All this disgruntled her father but her mother stood firm. She always shooed away nosey aunties with “if nothing, at least the kids will be healthy.”

Her diet is strictly monitored and she has very few cheat days. Juice, omelette, cornflakes, beans salads, protein shake figure in this diet. Every day the team has a morning and evening session, gym training every 3 days while Sundays are off. The nutritionist takes care of the diet. Off season they play football, tennis and shoot baskets regularly.

Akanksha wants to play in leagues abroad. She wants India to do much better and play in the Olympics. She hopes basketball in India will see a better future. More visibility will make basketball the next big thing, she says confidently.

Akanksha sees her sport as meditation and strives to excel in it always. She trains according to the plan her coach has set down and then does more, just so that she can be better than others. She asks girls to believe in what they love and then things will fall into place by themselves.

Her parting words were “we have 24 hours in a day and we should set aside at least an hour towards physical well being. After all you perform better when you’re fit”.

 

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