Can a female football coach impact this Pune boys’ team to victory?

Naomi Vase a goalkeeper, who has represented Maharashtra and FC Pune City, is rewriting the rules at the Loyola boys’ high school in the city

pune Updated: Feb 19, 2018 17:58 IST
Pranav Shahaney
Pranav Shahaney
Hindustan Times, Pune
female football coach,Subroto Cup,Maharashtra under-19
Naomi Vase. (Sanket Wankhade/HT PHOTO)

There is the glass ceiling that seems to reappear no matter how many women shatter it. There is the #MeToo campaign, that every week, unearths women who bravely take on their tormentors, past and present. Then, there is the sports field.

By all accounts, if there is one place the male-female divide is clearly marked, it is on the sports field.

A Pune girl is now challenging that divide; not by power, or by right, but by talent, passion, ambition and that one factor that does not recognise sex of an individual - hard work.

Every morning at 7 am, Naomi Vase stalks the football ground at Loyola High School in Pashan. Yes, that is right, Loyola High School for boys.

Naomi has been at Loyola’s for the last eight months and can claim to be Pune’s first female football coach in charge of a boy’s team; not just any local team, but a school team with much history, tradition and track record on the Pune sports circuit, until now, all male of course.

This 23-year-old St Mary’s girls school and Fergusson College ex-student has done her time in the trenches.

As the under-12 and under-14 teams line-up for the warm-ups, Naomi’s whole persona seems to undergo a dramatic change. A calm, focused air imbues her movement and commands as she guides the male footballing talent from drill to drill.

The boys do not seem fazed or troubled by the fact that they have a lady coach.

The Loyola school management is not too worried about having a female football coach either.

Vice-principal Father Francis D’Souza, in fact, speaks in glowing terms about her.

He says: “She is working extremely hard with the goalkeepers and the exposure she brings is certainly going to help them become better in the future.

“She brings a certain organisation to the team, which in turn, sees players progress faster and the results on the field also drastically improve because of it.”

Naomi, in fact, is already a popular figure among the coaching staff at Loyola’s.

First on the training pitch and the last one off it, Naomi says, “It feels great to be the first female football coach for boys in the city. I’m loving the challenge in front of me and every day is a learning experience.

“The satisfaction you get from seeing players grow is extremely rewarding. Also, I hope this sends out a message to other women to chase their dreams and do what makes them happy.”

She explains: “Every morning we begin training at 7 am and we have at least a 100 boys over three age groups. The boys understand the importance of carrying forward the legacy of the school and I’m extremely happy working with such a dedicated bunch.”

Coming from a sporting family - her father, Christanand Vase, was a top state-level hockey and handball player and then coached Loyola’s arch rivals, St Vincent’s High School for several years - football runs through her veins and it wasn’t long before she decided to convert a hobby into a profession.

“When I took up the job here, I did not expect any of the players to respect me. Eventually, after seeing my training methods were reaping huge dividends, the entire team accepted me as a coach,” she adds.

Those training methods came from years of experience playing women’s football at the top national level and her time spent at the Sports Authority of India in Kolkata, training to be a football coach.

Naomi herself is a goalkeeper, having represented Maharashtra under-19, Pune university, Diego Juniors football club and eventually, FC Pune City.

Under-14 goalkeepers Neel Kadam and Kabir Kadam, who train under her at the school, believe she has played a great role in helping them become better keepers.

Kabir says: “Before she trained us, we had no idea what D-top marking was, but no,w due to her influence, we find ourselves in better positions during the game which helps us concede fewer goals and facilitates our ability to make saves.”

Naomi’s under-12 and under-14 teams have not won everything in sight, yet. Victory in a tournament at Bishop’s High School toward the end of last year is the highlight so far.

“I know the rich footballing history of the school. I believe they are headed in the right direction to once again be the crème de la crème (the best of the best) of footballing schools in the city,” is how Naomi sees it.

Naomi’s dad, Christanand, an education and sports consultant with a pan-India clientele, believes Naomi has grabbed the opportunity to stand up and be noticed.

Christanand, who in fact operates as the head coach of Loyola’s football teams, says Naomi got the job by coaching the teams for a week when he was unable to.

“I wasn’t here for a week, so I asked her to take up the coaching for the first team. When I came back, I was surprised at their gameplay as she had worked on their one-touch passing and made them play at a higher tempo.

“She explained to me that she worked on their psyche and asked them to think as to what went wrong after every mistake they made,” says the proud dad.

Regarding her future, Naomi still has aspirations of coaching a girls’ football team.

In fact, as news of her football prowess spreads, other schools are sounding the whistle. Talk is now of taking over the girls’ team at Vidya Bhavan. Right now, for Naomi Vase, it is all about exposure; and then winning the Subroto Cup with the Loyola’s boys.

First Published: Feb 19, 2018 16:39 IST