Nisha Millet – Swimmer
Nisha Millet – The Student
As a child, I have travelled all over India during my school days. I was born in Chennai, did my nursery and kindergarten in Bangalore. Then, we moved to Hyderabad for my primary school. So, you see, I have had quite a colourful childhood.
Before long, when we moved back to Chennai, I was there for about 3 years – that is when I picked up swimming. I started getting very good at it and so, when I was in Std 8, Bangalore being the hub of swimming in India, my folks decided to move back to Bangalore. I was in Bangalore from my Std 9 to my college years.
Nisha Millet – The Swimmer in the Making
I was widely encouraged when it came to sports. When I was in Chennai, I was interested in Badminton and Gymnastics. Honestly, swimming happened like a stroke of surprise during a summer camp. In those days, schools didn’t have their own pool. So, I had to learn swimming outside of school hours.
I did get a lot of support from my schools too to take my swimming seriously. I moved to Bangalore in the middle of my 8th grade. And, you know how tough it is when you need to get admitted mid-term. To top it, I had done the matriculation system in Chennai; whereas, in Bangalore, I had to move into either ICSE or SSLC.
My Principal at Sophia High School was a great source of enlightenment. She queried what I proposed to do in college. When I said that I looked forward to doing Psychology, she suggested taking up SSLC. So, that is what I did and it really helped me focus on my swimming as well. In fact, when ICSE children slogged out at home the whole year, I was actually away for three months in America participating in a swimming training program. I was quite young when I got sponsored to be part of that programme. I did that, came back and managed to give my Board exams too because the State Board is less stressing on children.
True to what my Principal advised, ultimately I went to the same college as the others. I went to Mount Carmel College where my friends from ICSE also joined. So, that piece of advice and support went a long way.
Then, there was the time when I went for the World Swimming Championship during my Std. IX days. To support me, the school had to permit me to write my exams about 3-4 weeks before the rest of the school wrote their exams. I know such things are huge tasks for teacher – setting up separate papers for me, getting me into a classroom so that I could write my exams on my own, to slot out that time and effort –to this day, I am really obliged.
Having said all that, the responsibility on your shoulder is that though you are not expected to come first in class, you are also not expected to take advantage of the freedom, leeway and support you are given. You can’t fool around. It is up to me to maintain that balance and make good use of the support that was being shouldered.
I managed to get first class and never aimed at being an academic topper. I managed to balance it all out. My mother was particular about my academics and my father was focused on my sports. That also helped balance it out. I think that kind of balance needs to exist in every family.
Teachers – A Blessing!
I remember having many good teachers. In Chennai, I had a teacher called Mrs Soans whom I still meet whenever I go to Chennai. She is an English teacher who made me fall in love with English. She put in every effort possible to make the class animated. She used to close out the windows and we made sounds of the wind and chirped like birds, etc. to live the stories we learnt. To this day, these are fond memories. She is my favourite teacher.
Then, I had Mrs Belliappa at Sophia, who was amazing. She used to teach History. The convent schools at Bangalore, in those days, were known for its teachers. We had great rapport with our teachers and they were extremely supportive. I think I only struggled with Hindi because I don’t speak too much of Hindi. But, still I managed it.
My Parents – My Pillars
My father was the main influencer to make me take my swimming seriously. He was my first swimming teacher.
I had a near drowning incident at the age of 5, when I fell into a pond. The water was only till about my head level but it was a struggle. By the time, my father yanked me out, I had already drunk up some water and it was a very panicky situation. As a result, I had a huge water fear. I turned hydrophobic.
When I was 9 and in Chennai, we wondered what to do in summer holidays and it was so hot over there. My father suggested that we walk with him to the swimming pool. So, I went and there was a horrible teacher who was not at all empathetic towards me. He used to push me into the water without teaching me any skills. Finally, I was too upset to continue.
That is when my father offered to teach me. He made me have fun in water, taught me to first stand in water and gradually move my hands and legs. I am here today only because he took up that responsibility. Then I started enjoying it and mastering it. That is how my swimming journey started.
My father was no professional swimmer but was born and brought up in Chennai near the beach. So, he was very much at home with water. He wanted his daughter to do well in some sport. He imagined me being a tennis player like Steffi Graf and brought me a tennis racket. Honestly, until recently, I never played tennis.
My parents were extremely supportive. My father sold his house in Chennai and put the money into my swimming. It was one of the huge reasons that helped shape me into what I am today. Also, the amount of time and effort they put in was immense. In those days, you don’t get a lot of external help. My mother was my dietician and manager. My father drove us – my sister and I – up and down and ensured I acquired all the knowledge on swimming as possible.
Parental influence is a prime factor to shape you into what you are!
Swimming – A Team Effort
We, as family, had a tough schedule. We used to wake up at about 4:30 a.m., start classes at about 5:30 a.m. to about 7:30 a.m. We would then have the breakfast my mother would pack, in the car, on the way to school. We had the permission to reach school about half an hour to 45 mins late.
On my part, I made sure homework is done during lunch break. Post school hours, we used to get home only to change and then get back to the pool and be there for another 2-2.5 hours.
It would be about 8 p.m. by the time we got home, giving us only time to watch a little TV during dinner and sleep off. This was our 6-day schedule for almost 12-15 years – a much disciplined life. It helped as the family was doing it together.
Yes, we missed out on things like parties, etc. But, when you bring charm to your country, it all pays off. Although swimming is an individual sport, there is a lot of team effort required.
We swim alone on the D-day but the training all along is a team effort.My entire family was dedicated.
I am happy I did my State Board and I know that my ICSE friends really struggled. Looking back, I wish I could spend more time with my school friends.
At a very young age I never understood why I needed to be away so much. I used to miss my friends’ birthdays. My very close friends understood but many of them would get upset that I was never there for parties, outings, movies etc. I did feel lonely that way.
I had a couple of sports friends in my class. But, if you are an odd person out and away for long, when you come back you feel lost when you get back because so much would have happened and you would have missed out on all that. I miss that a little bit. But at the same time, I had friends at the pool also. So, all is well.
Nisha Millet – The Teacher
Today, as a teacher, I see so many talented swimmers and children who have calibre in sports. They are very talented but their parents don’t support them enough. There is this resistance to develop in sports versus getting into some professional course like Engineering etc. Children are extremely talented but the mind-set that sports is not a career that can fetch you a good income, gets people to pull their children out of their sports sessions to make way for academics.
When I think of how my parents supported this dream, I see that tides have changed now. People don’t even shell out time to come see their kids competing or performing. I feel when parents do that, children do feel extremely demotivated. When my children perform, I make sure one of our family members is always there. They need to feel motivated and it starts with family.
In addition to the support I got, my parents were very particular about giving me the freedom too. The freedom to quit when I cease enjoying what I was doing! They were all for no stress. I feel they had a lot of balance between the two of them.
Parents can get over ambitious to make childdrn an all-rounder. They aim at children being number 1 at academics and sports. That is damaging and near impossible. It is a lot of pressure on children. I see parents of children in upper KG getting all tensed about their children’s studies. I think parents should sit back and think through a bit.
My parents’ assurance that I could quit when I wanted to, gave me a sense of security, relaxation and did wonders to keep me going.
Schools Then and Nowadays
At Sophia School, I found that when I strived to make it big in swimming, they were very supportive. But, otherwise they were not very much into extracurricular activities. I remember that there was a nice basketball field which was hardly used and now they have an auditorium there. These are a few small things that upset me and that children nowadays are stuck to their homes, phones and computers more than ever.
They need to get some outdoor space. I take my children with me to the stadium so that they can run with me. We didn’t have to bother about outdoors much earlier, because children used to get a lot of it in school.
When I was looking for a school for my children, I went with Frank Anthony Public School. They have kept up a very good tradition in sports. They had a girl called Aditi Ashok competing for the Olympics representing India in golf. They supported to balance academics and golf at the same time. They have children doing almost everything – karate, hockey, football, cricket, basketball, etc. and their teams are quite nice – girls and boys alike. I have always wanted such a school for my children. It is a little more of the old school of thought rather than a school with a modern outlook like an International school with IB syllabus. But, that was not my only criteria.
Of course, our proximity to the school is a good distance. They function in such a way that children get to do a lot of activities other than academics. For instance, children until grade 2 are in school only from 8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. and children from grade 2 to grade 10 are in school only till 2:00 – 2:30.Hence, they are not stuck in school all the time and they get plenty of time to do other things. My children enjoy school. They are not loaded with a lot of homework. I believe this homework and tuition are too much of a killer. Of course, things will change as they grow up. But, schools nowadays, I hear, are trying to go with minimum homework and trying to go easy on the load of books children carry to school everyday.
I know of many wonderful schools in the outskirts of Bangalore with amazing sports facilities but it doesn’t work for me. Also, I would like my children disciplined as well. I believe some international schools tend to have a very relaxed attitude where children have way too much freedom. I think we need to have a fine balance between the old school of thought and the new one.
The Balance Tipping Towards Academics
One thing is that children should have a say in this and they have to be consistent and persistent for parents to take that plunge.
A big part is also played by the coaches. We keep counselling parents. I also have a competitive swim team that trains with me. We have about 30-40 swimmers who train at a State level and they manage school as well. We have a lot of talks and team meetings talking about how we managed it. Sometimes, we call in psychologists who help parents see how much more their child is doing than an average child. As a result, they tend to get a little more tired and they may want to have some time which doesn’t deal with swimming or school. As a family, they should have alternate conversations and do other things.
We should keep having conversations with parents when we see high calibre children unless the child shows no interest in that field. Some parents are very adamant that a sport is not what they want for their children. In such cases, we try and get the children to speak out. But, ultimately it is the family’s decision. As a coach or someone running an academy you can only try and facilitate these initiatives. Ultimately, the parents have to take a call.
Nowadays, we have examples like P V Sindhu or Mary Kom to explain how well they are doing versus a Deepika Padukone or engineers. Whether it is money, career satisfaction or the life they lead – they seem to do it quite well.
When I started teaching, people suggested taking up a government job, etc. But that is not what I wanted. I wanted to do things my way. I do see a gradual mindset shift among parents. You can’t blame them; they also have a lot of juggle if their children want a career like this.
Nisha Millet’s Swimming Academy
After the 2000 Sydney Olympics, I was down with a back issue which couldn’t be diagnosed. Two years later, they found out that there is a benign tumour in my back. With my back issue, I couldn’t do much swimming. My parents had done so much financially to support my career, so I decided to teach swimming and support them a bit.
With this in mind, I approached the local club where I used to go and they were open to me conducting swimming classes. We started with a small batch and my family was also supportive. My mother used to love teaching beginners. My sister also helped out. It started off like that. Then, I met my now husband and he too started taking interest in swimming. He took classes and was interested in knowing how to teach. That is how my academy started.
Initially, I didn’t have any business knowledge. Gradually we grew and needed more helping hands which finally reached a point when we needed a swimming academy. In 2005, we started operations in a small way. We started adding locations and teachers. We approached hotels and clubs and requested 1 or 2 hours of their pool. That is how it started when our overheads were quite low. Now it has mushroomed to almost 10-12 swim centres. We have it in Bangalore and Navi Mumbai.
Today, we have over 40 employees, coaches, and office staff as well. It is great to see a business grow. We start from something called parent-toddler classes wherein we take children of the age group 1-4 and we have these fun interactive classes with nursery rhymes, songs and toys. We introduce children to water in a fun way. During these classes, parents get in with their children and have a half an hour fun class.
After toddler classes, they can advance to beginner class and then advanced and competitive.
We are really branching out now. We are trying to get more permanent centres where we can manage our facilities better. We interact with some schools as well, wherein we put school programmes.
We target on making swimming compulsory at least once a week wherein everyone swims. We would like it to be a lifesaving skill. If you start swimming when you are in grade 1 or 2, you get pretty professional by the time you reach grade 10. They should be able to swim in a lake, river etc. That is my goal behind school programmes.
We are truly proud of her achievements and her life story and insights are most inspiring and thought provoking. We wish Nisha Millet all the very best in all her current activities and all future plans.