Football

The right kick: a football coaching class with a difference

“We still do not have a girls’ football team. We have been begging our schools,” complains Tejaswini Ravikumar. “The boys used to say we will ruin the game. They would pass chauvinistic comments,” says the 14-year-old. But things are changing, she says, melting into a smile as she playfully dribbles with her football at the open ground in Lotus Colony, Nandanam. Ravikumar is one of the participants of Just for Girls, a football programme for girls started by Great Goals. She and her twin sister get to play in tournaments with boys, thanks to the initiative.

The programme began in January 2013. “We had three to four girls in the first season. The programme started in a way where kids learnt in a structured and planned environment, where the principles of professional football were taught to younger age groups,” says Priya Gopalen, co-founder and director of Great Goals. The programmes include an under-seven, under-nine and under-11 category. However, as a general rule, they noticed that girls tend to drop out once they turn eight or nine. “The number of boys is way more than girls. At that age, girls are still in the learning mode, but the boys regardless of skill level are competitive. They think the boys are too pushy.”

Boys’ numbers would go up drastically in their other coaching programmes. In a module of 25 or 30, there would be four to five girls. However, in basketball, the same proportion is reversed. So why is football not really considered a girl’s sport?

The right kick: a football coaching class with a difference
 

“While there are girls’ teams for basketball, in many schools, there isn’t a girls’ football team. So, they do not join the training sessions here as well. Their aim is to be in a school team, since that gives them a platform to shine. Very few schools have a girls’ football team,” says Gopalen.

When they first formalised the girls’ football programme, there were 10 to 15 girls in class. “Some of them loved to play in mixed groups, while some others would hold back. However, eventually we saw their confidence levels rising and they were happy to make the transition to the mixed team. The idea is to make them bold, no matter who they are playing with.”

The after-school classes cover everything — from basic dribbling skills to ball control and perfecting the passes and shoot outs. The programme also allows them an experience of a match, by holding mixed and girls’ tournaments.

“League matches are awesome. We get to keep playing. The teams are named after famous football players such as the one after The Flying Dutchman,” says Anya Viji, another participant and a self-confessed fan of Diego Maradona and Pele.

Sudarshan Srinivas Raghavan, their trainer, says there’s no difference between training techniques for boys and girls, except for the physicality factor. “We need to bust this stereotype that girls cannot play football. Given the right training atmosphere and facilities, they can come up well. Look at several other countries, especially in Europe. Even Latin American nations bring up good women’s teams. Why can’t we do the same in India?” asks the trainer, who holds a degree in Football Studies from Southampton Solent University, UK.

The right kick: a football coaching class with a difference
 

From grandmothers to teachers, there are many in the society who tell them how football is not really a girls’ game. But, these girls are not ready to buckle down. And thankfully, schools like Abacus and PSBB, are extremely encouraging. Nila Chakravarthy of Abacus Montessori School says her school makes them play the game for almost an hour everyday.

Bhaskar, technical director of Great Goals, thinks the solution is to organise more and more leagues and cups at a local level to “popularise and incentivise football among girls. It doesn’t matter if its professional or amateur. Only when more and more children play the sport can we pick good talent for grooming.”

Some kids say they do not even have a PT period in school. When they approach their teacher to be trained in football, they ask them to form a team. “I spoke to my friends; they said you will get yourself embarrassed and it’s a guy’s game,” says Ravikumar.

Football is not just a game for some, but a way of opening out to the world. As one of the participants says, “I have opened up a lot thanks to the game and made friends. I have grown more bold and overcome some of my inhibitions.”

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Printable version | Apr 23, 2021 6:56:21 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/football/the-right-kick/article22296080.ece

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