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community with depth: an interview with sunny goklani

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eseo sports

an interview with the founder and leader of the young active professionals (y.a.p.) group

Tell us a bit about you and why you started YAP

Professionally, I’m a civil engineer with a focus on infrastructure management. I work in the field of environmental consulting where I get to put my strategic and analytical side to good use. 

I also really enjoy being creative, coming up with ideas, including around how to build communities. 

When it comes to YAP, it comes from a place of being active and social. Our motto is “We make fitness social”. At the same time, it also builds on my beliefs, one of them being: depth is more meaningful than breadth. I’ve always found my close friendships and cherished connections to be those that have significant depth. I’d rather have three of those than a hundred on-the-surface acquaintances. I wanted to ingrain it in a community, which became YAP: we are here to build deeper and healthier connections, in a city full of distractions (1.58 Mil people).

Before social media, there used to be communities when people would actually meet in person to bond over a purpose, to share resources, or to feel connected. While we may all be connected over social media now, and arguably with way more people - there is a need for us to come together in the physical world and be a part of something that’s deeper and bigger than ourselves.

How can you cultivate good habits in your life while meeting people who you would love to call friends (instead of going to bars and pubs)? I think the answer is: physical activity. 

How does your group foster those deep connections?

It’s difficult. I don’t have the perfect answer, but my approach is evident in every single detail of how I plan the runs. At times, it may not seem like it, or even seem weird/uncomfortable, but I assure you everything is intentional and it all adds up. For example, 

  1. The words I choose are designed to motivate runners to get the best of the day, and encourage them to be themselves and seek connection. 
  2. When first-timers join us, we clap for them so they feel heard, reassured, and welcomed. I specifically ask the group to talk to new members (it takes a lot for someone to try something new for the first time), include them in their stories and introduce them to each other.
  3. We do prompts: this encourages people to talk to each other in a big circle, like a family at a dinner table. Everyone shares with everyone. That way, everyone is comfortable with and knows a bit about each other (vs only talking to one person the whole run). Now, these prompts can be fun, weird, interesting, positive, or leave you vulnerable. But that's okay. You don’t always have to be positive. That’s just fake positivity. We don’t want to swim in that. Deep connections are about showing all sides of yourself and being real.

Overall, the task is difficult because there aren’t a lot of groups like us. We all are programmed through repetition to go do the same thing, have on-the-surface conversations and avoid being real. But I’ve definitely found that we shouldn’t discount people for it. Humans are pretty adaptable. If rules of social construct change, people adapt quickly, and even discover a new side of themselves, and be proud of it.

Tell us about your approach to content creation

I’d think about it in two parts: creativity in planning events and content creation. 

Planning events: I believe creativity is a product of my boredom with things that get repetitive. I’m constantly looking for something better or seasonally apt. For e.g. This summer, we did a ‘Run2Pool’ series - where we ran, got our sweat on, and then jumped right into the pool. Pools are now closing for the summer, but even if they didn’t, by now I’d be over it and would like to try something else (fall things coming soon). But one common thing is - everything I plan, I thoroughly enjoy and would do it myself even if nobody else joined. So I definitely recommend every organizer to only do things they personally enjoy. It takes a lot of energy and work — you won’t want to fake it. 

Creating Content: We want people to walk out feeling better about their day than when they walked in (we ask this on our feedback form, and I’m proud that so far we are at a 100% Yes!) and I’m always thinking about how much value I can add to someone’s day. So I’m always asking myself: “What more can I do?” I view content as an extension of that. 

Unfortunately, there aren’t many personal problems we can solve in the lives of people who come out, but we can work together to make their day as bright as possible with aesthetics in mind and by capturing them having a great moment. For example, someone may be having a down day, but if our event made them laugh, even for a second - I’d like to capture it. There are times when they write back after us posting their picture, saying “I just realized I was so happy — I should do this again”. It makes my day. 

Also, as someone whose family isn’t local, these pictures are the way my family sees how I stay active. We want families of all who come out to be able to see their kids staying healthy and having a good time. The best ‘likes’ we get are from moms of those who come out :)

One more thing..content can be exclusive too and we should be mindful of that. We want to be inclusive and I want our content to send a clear message. I go out of my way to include first-timers by trying to put them at the front of photo decks, and include them in videos. We don’t only want to profile our regulars.

eseo + Run The Day

Who should come out to YAP events?

To start the other way..if you want to run at a set (fast) pace and don’t want to make room for social interaction (waiting for someone, sharing prompts, making water stops, etc.), this may not be the best group for you. But anyone who is looking for a community to be accountable to, while exploring the city and all it has to offer (cafes, bagelries, breweries, festivals, seasonal events), then you’ll have a great time with us. We keep it fun, light, human, and community-focused. Whatever we do, it’s a part of the game.  

Also, we’re not just about running, we’re about being active - in all forms. Actually, many who come out to run with us, have never run before. We have people cross-pollinating different ways of staying active. For e.g. people become friends with someone while playing tennis, ask them what they’re up to the next Sunday, and show up to the run to invest in that friendship. 2 months down, you find out they signed up for Broad Street Run! It’s funny how that goes.

What other sports do you do?

Tennis and running are our main sports. We do them every single week. Other sports aren’t always on a set routine, but we announce each event on Instagram. We swim, we bike, we do yoga, we play volleyball, pickleball, ultimate frisbee, among other things. We’re also open to other avenues like hiking, camping, and outings. 

If you’re a part of the group and you want to do something, leave us a suggestion, and chances are we will try it. It’d just help if you’re also willing to help us organize it. 

What does the future of YAP look like?

At this point, I want to stay focused on the mission. Even in Philly, our job is not done. We are forming a community that has depth and that stays active. I'm focused on quality over quantity, and I want to make sure we establish that essence. There’s no point in having an event of 120 runners where no one feels connected. That was never the point.

Don’t get me wrong — it’ll be great to have more people who want to be a part of what we’re doing, but the growth I’m interested in is the growth that keeps our values intact. Another reason it will be great to have more people is so that anyone in the group will be able to find people anytime to play different sports with - but it still has to be social, fun, and real. 

Also, I feel it should be natural to grow (and I should rather stay focused on channeling the mission) as Philly is a big city (~522,000 people in their 20s & 30s, per 2020 Census), and I’m sure there are a lot of them looking for a community. They do however have to somehow hear about us though and hence getting the word out is important — I value eseo’s help as you are already promoting our message and we’re excited to do the same for you. 

I also feel like I and other regulars are traveling cheerleaders (word of mouth is the best way to grow). We ‘make fitness social’, participate in various other running groups in the city, and spread the word naturally. It is easy to do because it is authentic. When I tell someone to bring their friend, it’s not because we need more runners, it’s because I genuinely think that person could benefit. In that way, spreading our message is not a growth plan, it’s a duty.

Is there anything else you would like to mention?

Two things. One - For people who want to come out but think they can’t run: let me say this - I used to hate running. I didn’t start running really until I was 30. You just have to find what you like about it. For me, that’s being social and exploring the city. At that point, running becomes an outlet. Take away: If you’re in doubt, just come out. Don’t limit yourself. 

Two - For community builders, there’s a really great book called The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker. It talks about how you should be bold and intentional in your gatherings. At times you may fear if people would go along with what you plan or feel “who am I to tell them to do x”, but if you're a leader forming a niche, you have to stand for something, and stick with it. 

It’s scary to do so, but I believe once you set a strong intention, you will find your tribe. That’s the only way.


You can follow YAP on Instagram for updates on group runs, tennis meet-ups, and other events. 

At eseo, we’re dedicated to creating a thriving community of athletes in Philadelphia. From hikers to spikers, golfers to goalies—if you can move, you’re an athlete. Download the app to become a part of our team!

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an interview with the founder and leader of the young active professionals (y.a.p.) group