When my daughter chose to become a footballer…

Updated on Nov 24, 2018 10:16 PM IST

The mother of a young football player tells her little girl: this game is filled with life lessons… for you and for me!

Her daughter’s fascination with football has taught both mother and daughter to not be afraid to fall(Photo imaging: Parth Garg)
Her daughter’s fascination with football has taught both mother and daughter to not be afraid to fall(Photo imaging: Parth Garg)
Hindustan Times | BySathya Ramaganapathy

“Amma, I want to go for football coaching,” announced my younger daughter a few months back.

My daughter is an enthusiastic sports fan. Especially football. Her offensive and defensive skills (of the verbal kind) are legendary, honed by years of following the game with her father. She is known to expertly rub it in should Chelsea, Manchester United, or Arsenal football teams lose a match. And should her favourite team, the Liverpool Football Club falter, her defence of them is just as spirited.

My daughter is 12, an age when girls think that boys are most annoying and are meant to be annoyed in return. And football offers the perfect opportunity.

“Amma, you know I’ve figured out the best way to annoy the boys in my class,” she said one day.

“Oh, what’s that?”

“By telling them that their stockings look nice,” she guffaws. “They hate their football socks being called stockings. ”

For all her interest in the game my daughter has never shown any in putting a foot on the ball. This sudden interest in coaching is a little puzzling. It turns out that they’ve been playing league matches at school. Her skills have been sadly lacking on the field. After one too many embarrassing games of missing passes and fumbling with the ball, she’s had enough. She will learn to play.

We find three coaching classes near our home. We have no experience with coaching for team sports. We have done swimming, badminton and skating classes for our daughter in the past. We assumed team sports would necessitate separate coaching for boys and girls. But with such few girls interested in such sports, there is no separate coaching. We settle on the one closest to home.

On Saturday afternoon we land up for the first class. There are 11 kids – 10 boys and my daughter. Once the class begins, it is obvious the boys have been at it for a while. But she gets on with it. It is exhausting and yet exhilarating. The coach drives them hard.

The author with her daughter, Nidhi
The author with her daughter, Nidhi

My daughter has been hanging back a bit, not fully confident about her ability to do something with the ball. But he wants her to demand an opportunity with the ball. He yells at her again: “Come on, ask for the damn ball!” She does, and one of her team mates passes to her. She manages a decent dribble before passing it on. The boys ignore her. They do not think of her as a part of the team. That will come, with time and as she becomes better at her game. But this does not faze her.

Boys don’t exclude my daughter, But they don’t think of her as part of the team

When people around us hear about our daughter’s interest in football, their reactions range from indulgent amusement to outright amazement . There’s well-meaning advice too. One parent had a point when he said, “Where will she find a group of girls to play with?” But who says she can’t play with the boys?

It’s yet another Sunday. The kids have played a rousing game.

At the end of play time, the score is 2-2. The coach decides to hold a penalty shootout. The kids line up to take their shots.

The score moves up to 4-4.

We are down to the last player. My daughter comes up to the ball. A goal will give her team a victory. A miss will result in a draw.

Sathya Ramaganapathy’s daughter Nidhi, 12, is the only girl in her football coaching team
Sathya Ramaganapathy’s daughter Nidhi, 12, is the only girl in her football coaching team

She kicks. And misses the goal by a whisker. Her shoulders sag in disappointment. Her team mates run up to her to commiserate. “Good game,” they call out to each other before heading home.

Later that night, it feels like déjà vu when Lionel Messi takes a penalty shot in Argentina’s match against Iceland, and misses. It’s a draw. My daughter watches in disbelief. At least she is not alone.

“When people hear about our daughter’s interest in football, reactions range from amusement to amazement”

I don’t know if my daughter’s fascination with football will survive her teenage years. But she is learning to try something new. To take a shot and not be afraid to fail. To win some, lose some. To have confidence in her abilities. And most importantly, to stand up for herself in a room full of men and “ask for the damn ball!”

Cover story: Fighting societal notions, women’s football is taking off in pockets all over the country

Sathya Ramaganapathy is the author of It’s a Mom Thing: Kickass Parenting, which takes a light-hearted look at the parenting journey of a mother and her two cheeky daughters 

From HT Brunch, November 25, 2018

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