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20 Jan 2020

Girls' Football Team finish as runners-up in district tournament

‘Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.' - Pele

Absolute joy was spread over their faces as they lifted the trophy - they were runners-up in the competition, but to them it felt as though they had lifted the FIFA World Cup.

A girls' football team from Seva Mandir's Youth programme have finished as runners-up in a district-wide football tournament, hosted by Zinc Football in Udaipur.

Just over a year ago, these girls were leading a typical life that most 14-year-old rural girls lead: some were working on farms, some were tending to their family's household and looking after younger siblings, some lucky ones were going to school. Most had not even heard of football, let alone thought about playing it.

Seva Mandir began its football initiative at the end of 2018, providing professional training to young girls and boys from rural and tribal communities. The aim of this is to help the young people develop sporting skills, self-confidence, trust, social network- and team-building skills. They are also linked to Seva Mandir's Youth Resource Centres (YRC) which provide, amongst other benefits, social and vocational training to young people.

Initially, it took a lot of persuasion for families to allow their daughters to come to the training but, through the dedication of Seva Mandir's staff, the families eventually agreed.

Soon, the girls were training every day in their new sports kits in the dusty, dry and grassless fields of their villages.

Some inter-village tournaments had been organised in the past between different Seva Mandir YRCs. At these games, whole villages turned out to support their children - girls and boys - cheering them on from the sidelines.

Zinc Football (created by Hindustan Zinc) hosted a 7-a-side tournament for Under-15s in collaboration with the Rajasthan Football Association, and Seva Mandir was asked to send a team for the Udaipur district tournament.

The coaches of Seva Mandir's football initiative rushed to tell their teams of the good news. Although it was an incredible opportunity, most of these girls had never left their villages before, and the idea of travelling to and staying in Udaipur for more than a week seemed daunting. However, the parents recognised the importance of this opportunity for their daughters and encouraged them to go.

The girls arrived at Seva Mandir's accommodation just outside of Udaipur, coming from different villages, all with their own unique cultures and languages, just ten days before the tournament started.

Initially, in the first 1-3 days it was difficult to get them to play together as they were all speaking different languages and were nervous to make the first move to connect with each other. The coaches worked hard to get them to come together and build a team - and they did just that. They put aside all of their differences and their bond after 10 days is so strong.

Munendra Chauhan, programme associate with Seva Mandir's Youth Cell.

The tournament was fast approaching, and the training sessions were becoming more intense. The girls were apprehensive of what they would face - the other teams were from schools in Udaipur city, with proper training facilities. The coaches, however, did not let the girls become demotivated and were encouraging the girls to believe in their abilities.

The day of the tournament arrived. Dark, winter rain clouds were building, and a cold wind was rushing through the city. The signs seemed ominous, though the girls were focused. They had already come so far, overcoming every obstacle placed in front of them, whether societal, cultural or material.

They arrived at the football ground, hosted in a local private school. The other teams were made up of children from schools in Udaipur, and their families and friends had come to watch them. The school's four-storey high complex seemed menacing for the girls, as most had never left their villages before. They were overwhelmed.

But there was no time to focus on their nerves - the first match was already over and it was time for the girls to face their first opponents. All of the Seva Mandir coaches were on the sidelines, anxiously pacing up and down the pitch watching every tackle, every pass, every move the girls made. They were playing exceptionally well. The coaches yelled encouragement, spurring the team on.

The team put their hearts and souls into their performance, and they won 2:0.

No one expected the underdogs to beat a city team and the girls were elated! Their energy radiated into everyone around them and suddenly everyone was cheering for them. It seemed as if they had made the school football pitch their home ground.

But they needed to focus - the next match was already beginning, and the winner would be their next opponents. The team and coaches huddled together, watching every move their opponents made. The girls were creating strategies for their next match, determined to win that too.

And they did. 3:1 on penalties.

The atmosphere was electric. The team that was expected to be beaten in the first round had reached the final. No one could believe it, but the girls knew deep down that they had the ability and determination to do it.

The final began and the girls put their full efforts into the match, following their strategy and supporting each other through the entire game. Unfortunately, they lost 2:0 but they had won the respect and admiration of the other teams and the entire crowd.

Since the tournament, their confidence has increased tenfold. Not just in football, but in their everyday lives as well. Now they want to challenge what society is dictating to them so that they can draw their own paths in life. If we look back at last January, their success in this tournament looked unimaginable. They did something that was not expected by their parents, school teachers or even their friends. They want to continually improve their skills and encourage other girls from similar communities to take up the sport.

Munendra Chauhan

They had challenged the norms that society had dictated to them. They had bridged cultural divides with others and built deep-rooted friendships. They had come second in the football tournament, but they are the real champions.


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