It has been over 13 years of struggle and perseverance for Nadiya Nighat in Indian administered Kashmir to become a footballer and now a coach.
She puts the cones together, places a jump rope, checkered balls and small goals to prepare for a workout, which she often does to coach many young girls and boys in the area.
But it has never been easy for Nighat, a young coach, to go this far, leaving behind her first struggles and taunts.
The 25-year-old has had to challenge perceptions and gender inequalities since she started playing football.
– Snubbed, berated but never gave up
In early 2007, 11-year-old Nighat was playing cricket with local boys at his home in Srinagar, the capital of Indian-administered Kashmir.
She was berated by many around her for being friends with boys, but Nighat swore to prove them wrong one day.
âAt that time, people around me were making unnecessary comments asking my mom why she didn’t stop me from playing with the boys. To be honest, I only had boys as friends, and I was very comfortable playing with them despite being a girl, âshe told Anadolu agency.
She remembers that every time she came home her mother’s angry looks scared her, but she still played with the boys.
One beautiful summer morning in 2007, Nighat went out to play as usual. But this time, his friends told him that they were going to practice football at a nearby playground at Amar Singh College and asked him to accompany them.
She didn’t know much about football other than being an avid fan of Cristiano Ronaldo, a Portuguese professional footballer who plays as a striker for Serie A club Juventus and captain of the Portugal national team. .
When Nighat saw some boys training with the ball, she got curious and started to do the same. It was a local football coach who spotted Nighat and asked him to train.
âI think it was luck that turned the tide for me and I met Mohammad Abdullah, the first coach who later trained me with 47 boys in his academy,â she said.
She has been playing football ever since. But her first game as a professional footballer came in 2010, when she was selected for the National Under-19 team, and there has been no turning back.
Recently, she played in an Indian league for Bengaluru-based Parikrma Football Club as a striker.
Raised in a middle class family, Nighat’s inclusion in the sport initially infuriated her family and loved ones, but more after what she achieved.
“The insults, taunts and family pressure almost brought me down, but I never gave up hope to at least keep trying, and today I have reached a point where my parents are proud of me and these people who taunted me ask me to train their children â Itâs successful if you could change a mindset, âsaid Nighat.
– The life of a coach
Nighat is now determined to help the young women of the region pursue their dreams with a little support and professionalism.
She is currently working as a head coach for women and an assistant coach for senior boys at a regional football club, Lone Star FC.
She says she wants everyone to chase their dreams, be it a girl or a boy, after becoming the first young female football coach in the troubled Himalayan region, who often becomes a flashpoint for Indian and Pakistani nuclear rivals.
She completed her first coaching course with the Jammu and Kashmir Football Association (JKFA) in 2015 and quickly trained over 40 children of different age groups.
In 2016, she formed the boys’ team of JJ7 football club, which finished second to IFC Nowgam in the 32-Khelo Kashmir tournament.
This has helped her gain recognition in male-dominated sport while also gaining her praise for coaching advice.
She continues to coach hundreds of boys and girls even though the coronavirus pandemic has restricted her to online demonstrations for her players.
“I want to train the aspiring players in the region so that they can try their hand at the international level,” said Nighat. “What I missed I don’t want these budding players to miss.”