Nurturing girls’ dreams to play

The Sports Excel Women’s Football Club, Pune
Nurturing girls’ dreams to play
The Sports Excel Women's Football Team, PuneNaomi Vase

A germ of an idea that three girls (Khushi Kavatekar, Keziah Vase and I) had, grew slowly over two years to finally become the Sports Excel Women’s Football Club in the year 2018. The Club focused on grassroots training with a dominance of female coaches, but with a determination to not only bring up great male players, but also great female players.

As coaches, we began training the U-14 and U-17 Vidya Bhavan Girls’ teams the very same year and were shocked at all the great potential there was. We trained them every single day and they got better with each tournament. What we realized is that no matter how much we train, it was of no use unless we were tested in a competitive setting regularly. At the school level, there are only two major tournaments for girls and we always felt that to be unfair, especially in comparison to the boys. We wanted to give our girls an opportunity to play and we realized one way was to start a football club for women.

Having a professional football club meant that we would get more tournaments and our girls would be exposed to the next level of football, but we were also at a disadvantage as we would now be participating in open age football tournaments with girls who were between the ages of 12-15. So, we decided to round up a bunch of senior players (namely, Vaishnavi Joshi, Sakshi Holkar, Prachi Gole, Shivanjali Pandit, Khushnam Marker) who had played at the district, state, and the national level, to play along with our girls. These senior players included us three coaches.

Posing for a team photograph
Posing for a team photographNaomi Vase

Even though we now had a team, of juniors mixed with seniors, it was a complete uphill struggle of bringing it all together. Our senior players were all from different colleges and working in different areas with different timings and schedules. Our school girls were flooded with tuitions, exams, and transport issues. Organizing even one practice session with everyone was somewhat of a miracle.

Behind the scene arose another issue of searching for sponsors for our jerseys and kit. No one wanted to take a chance on a newly formed women’s football team, especially one with such young players. The very first tournament that we went for, we went without jerseys and had practiced only a few times. When the referees saw us, a new team, in bibs over mismatched blue shirts, they dismissed us as non-threatening and ticked us off. While we wanted to reason that it was a lack of funds that had kept us from getting our jerseys, we kept quiet and let our game speak for itself. We went on to defeat the best women’s team in Pune and won the runner's up trophy, in our very first tournament. That's when we realized that we have to fight our circumstances to get what we need, whether that was practice time or funding.

Runners' Up Trophy
Runners' Up Trophy Naomi Vase

Everyone was forced to make sacrifices - our senior players showed up all the way from across town, from where their colleges were, for practice sessions. Our juniors stayed back in school waiting for practice to begin. Their school would get over at 3 pm and our practice would start at 5.30 pm. Most of our girls live quite far away from school and hence couldn't go back home and come back to school for the team practice. After a lot of discussion with their parents, they agreed to let their children stay behind for the session and during the one-and-a-half hour which they had free, their parents entrusted us with the responsibility of taking up their studies and making sure that they invested the same dedication to their education as they did to football, which we agreed to do more than willingly because we believe that their education can't be compromised on, no matter what. The dedication of our girls was inspiring, after the grueling practice sessions, they would travel back home 10 km by public bus (the service of which is known to be bad), and not once did they complain. This determination is what shone through as we went on to win our second runner's up trophy in our second tournament.

Winners' smiles - the effort is worth it!
Winners' smiles - the effort is worth it!Naomi Vase

Three years ago when I saw these girls play for the very first time, I knew that they had the talent, and with the right support and environment they would excel. However, we are invested in their football as well as their education. We believe that one cannot do without the other and it is essential to strike a balance between the two because the lessons learnt in the classroom are just as important as the ones learnt on the field.

As advocates for the growth and development of women’s football, especially at the local level, we want to provide every girl, who has a dream of playing football, with a platform. We want her to know that no matter her circumstances, we will be with her to push and support her to achieve the best possible future for her. We want to help these girls with their football, and with their future – this probably sets us apart! We may be their seniors, but we are a family and we protect our family no matter what. We are investing our time in them so that their tomorrow is better than their today.

This is what the Sports Excel Women’s Football Club stands for and we are eternally grateful for any support that’s given to us to help us further our mission.

The Sports Excel Women's Football Club's 'Lockdown Challenge'. Don't miss the bucket goal at the end!

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