Delhi, even in this peak winter, feels warm right now. After Canada, it's definitely warmer here. And it's good to be back with the family, even though it's for a brief while.
You know, I miss my family in Canada. Everyone says they have difficulty adjusting with the weather, the food...well, food is something I've adapted to everywhere because I've been traveling so much. But the one thing I really miss is my family.
We always want to be in the comfort of people who we are close to. The distance is a lot. The time difference adds to it. Sometimes it's difficult to get in touch with them and talk to them properly even. It's the way it is.
Football has kept me going, though.
I am actually loving the game there and how professional it is out there. The leagues that I'm playing are the topmost leagues for women in Canada. It's pretty organised and structured. The whole of Canada is divided into 4 provinces, 4 zones - West, East, South and North. You play home and away matches with the team in your zone. You keep on qualifying for the play-off's and then you play the second round of play-off's.After the second round of playoffs the teams qualify for the national championships.
The overall experience of playing football there has been great because I wasn't exposed to such kind of a system and a structure of footballing. I guess it has been a good change and a very big change for me and it is definitely helping me to improve.
One thing I really found to be good was the team and the people the team comprised of. We have Sports physios working with us, we have 3 Assistant Coaches, one Head Coach, and one Goalkeeper Coach. The team is comprised of so many people to look after every specific need of each player.
We also have a nutritionist. She'll be constantly with us, helping us with proper diets, individual diets according to the body physique... these specific needs were taken care of. It was pretty professional.
Having people like that around you very important because at the end of the day, all a player wants to do is perform their best on the field. If the player has other things to worry about, then they can't focus on the game at hand. If I know that there is something troubling me in my mind, you know like, I have a problem going on in my home, some problem I'm feeling nervous, I know I have somebody to talk to, but I know I can focus on my game because all my other needs will be catered to. Even if I suffer an injury, there are 4 Physios I can go to. They'll tell you what it is, how you can do it and make you ready. When the person who has the best knowledge about it tells you are ready to go, you feel mentally strong to go on the field, no matter what injury you have, what pain you have.
For the player's overall development and growth as well as for the player to focus on their game as well, this is important. In EPL and such leagues, it functions that way. All the player has to do is step on the field and play their best level, all their other needs are taken care of.
It has all been a very knowledgable experience for me. It has given me a different perspective. I plan to be a sports psychologist, on which I am doing my Masters here. For me, it has given me an inside knowledge and taught me how the professional world in football really works, how teams work in a professional league and how structured it is.
What has been the best thing about this stint personally for me is that I ended up playing 18 matches in 4 months. In the off-season, we play around 25 matches, we play more tournaments, we travel to the US. Like last time, the team traveled to Mexico to play. We play with different teams to get better exposure. There are a lot of opportunities for players to keep playing. Every player who is on that roster gets to play and has an opportunity to grow. The matches are so organised too.
I'm playing with players from Canada, Brazil, Mexico, from Colombia, this has helped me grow. I feel it's very important to keep exposing yourself to new challenges and to new limits and to play against new players because the game over there is very intense. You simply can't walk on the field. You have to be on your toes and keep moving. The time really flies. The game is so physical and intense. It's very competitive and that is the kind of atmosphere a player needs to grow.
I reached there late for the pre-season, due to Student Visa issues. But I started playing with the team and I was able to adapt well. I'm very happy to be the first Indian to have received the first football scholarship to play. I have been starting every match in the first 11 there. I'm glad I could get the time and definitely prove a point for more players coming to Canada and playing.
After looking at my performance, they think Indians have the potential in women's football. Also, I'm sure there would be a lot of players like me, because I've proved the point that you can play and study together. A lot of parents right now need that kind of assurance - my child can do it. Management of time is very crucial here.
For me, being able to do that, it has opened up a lot of doors for other women footballers. There will be many who wish to continue studying but they cannot leave football. We know that Canada and US have the best universities and their soccer league is one of the best in the world. In Canada also, they will be looking forward to having players from India.
On the other side, my Masters' also is actually going good. I'm enjoying my studies there. I've been able to dissect and narrow down on the approach I want to take. A lot of opportunities came by way to understand sports psychology better by working with people. We have sports psychologists in our team so I can talk to them and gain some experience too. I can work with them and understand how it works. Like the fieldwork has been going good overall.
But it's not like I don't want to come back to India. Whenever the next opportunity would be, I would love to come back and be a part of the national team. After Canada, I want to come back to the country as a better and developed player, a grown player with a lot of experience. I'm really looking forward to that opportunity.
Before I sign off, there's one last thing that I must talk about — the upcoming U17 FIFA Women's World Cup. I think it would be an eye-opener because India as a country has not been exposed to women's football at such a big stage. The FIFA World Cup being the biggest event in football ever, I feel like it impacts coming to India would motivate the players and the parents.
Even young girls who are motivated to take up the sport are stopped by the parents. Hence, a tournament of this level would be an eye-opener for the parents. They'll be able to see that India has a women's football team and how hard the team is working, even AIFF has been providing us with so many opportunities. They are trying to do the best for the U-17 team, giving them exposure.
It would encourage a lot of young players to come up and take the sport. In the future, these players will move on to the senior team.
And ultimately, it would help in the growth of women's football in the country.