Probable-ity: How Sports Contingent Selections Happen in a Pandemic

Edited by Neha Cherian

Design by Prashanth

Contingent selection season is one of the most exciting and talked-about events in a freshie year at IIT Madras. The tracks are readied, the scouts for sporting clubs are out and about looking for talent, and the stars of the show – the wide-eyed freshies – are eager to join this new dimension of college life.  Some simply wish to continue their sporting journeys, while others try to pick up the threads after an interruption –  or even start completely afresh. The honour of getting into the contingent and representing IIT Madras at Inter-IITs and other meets is a highly esteemed, much-coveted  privilege. And yet again, even in a pandemic year, there was an incredible amount of buzz surrounding selections.

The honour of getting into the contingent and representing IIT Madras at Inter-IITs and other meets is a highly esteemed, much-coveted  privilege.

After a disappointing delayed start to the opening term, hope was kindled as the first wave subsided. There were rumours that trials would soon be underway, in April or May – but all this was said in the blissful innocence that we basked in after the first wave. The pandemic continued to play spoilsport (no pun intended) and the institute team captains decided that something could be done after all, even in the online scenario. In April 2021, the first freshie induction program, “Know Your Contingent” (KYC), was announced to raucous, enthusiastic participation.

While the second wave of the pandemic was gathering steam, sports clubs at IIT Madras were busy gauging enthusiasm and talent-hunting. Drafted by the individual captains of each team, multi-layered initiation programs were carried out, with interested candidates (beginners, intermediates and pros) all hoping to be “probables” – holding interactions with heads about the lifestyles, achievements, training schedules and expectations related to sporting life at IIT Madras. But the second wave was gathering force, and when it reached its terrifying crest, the program had to be halted.

Part Two of the program was announced recently in July 2021, and participation and enthusiasm for the same burgeoned once more. This time, in addition to the interactions of Know Your Contingent,  plans of action have been drawn up for each sport – from daily workouts, to drilling techniques and conditioning. Maintaining fitness levels through the pandemic is of utmost importance to performance, and the program caters to that. It endeavours to take into account everyone from beginners to seasoned players, with different plans arranged for each tier. From the footwork drills formulated for  table tennis to the team sessions and screening-analysis of past matches for volleyball, the sporting community of IIT Madras is making the best of the pandemic. 

The contingent induction program is an integral part of contingent selection. Fitness levels attained through the workout drills, dedication to betterment, and interaction with heads are carefully scrutinised. Scoring well in any one or all of these metrics will definitely give a potential player an edge in the trials slated to be held once on-ground selections are possible. Ultimately, all that can be done in lockdown conditions is the selection of “probables” from a pool of potential players. These probables will undergo further trials on campus, in tandem with the plans drafted by individual captains under the induction program. 

It is easy to be skeptical of this program, especially considering the online fatigue that we’re all too familiar with. Sustaining interest and enthusiasm is no mean task. The program has been unveiled in the holidays, but once the semester starts in full swing, new schedules are bound to create conflicts – for both the organisers as well as the participants. Even if sufficient zeal remains, the limits of the online sphere kick into gear – to what extent can team-building be achieved over Zoom Calls? To what extent can sporting skill and fitness be cultivated? Finally, there is also the question of drafting a transition plan in terms of fitness and performance when the players are finally allowed back on campus. It remains to be seen whether sheer enthusiasm and willpower can best these challenges if, or rather when they rear their ugly heads. However, even as the program risks being too idealistic, the germ of the plan is cause for optimism.

Even if sufficient zeal remains, the limits of the online sphere kick into gear-to what extent can team-building be achieved over Zoom Calls?

Sheer love of the game can carry people to great heights, and a well-drafted plan working in tandem with this thirsty spirit can work wonders. Even though we are all miles away from the centre that unites us, IIT Madras’ sporting flag is holding its own through the gales of the pandemic. There is much more to a team than raw individual talent – and the captains of all the teams have recognised this through the contingent induction program – honing and improving that which they can in these times.


Yatin Satish

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