"Developing grassroots in women's football is the way forward," Maatru Pratishtana head coach
Maatru Pratishtana head coach Dada Nabeel thinks more needs to be done to improve women's football from the bottom up.
Founded in 2014, Maatru Pratishtana is one of Bangalore's most prominent non-governmental organisations which works with underprivileged children. Sport is one of the many disciplines which the organisation is deeply involved in and over the years, their women's football team has come on by leaps and bounds and established themselves as one of the city's best teams. In the ongoing Karnataka Women's League (KWL), the team has been strutting their stuff with much confidence and is one of the most balanced teams in the competition.
According to their coach, Mr. Dada Nabeel, a lot of this is down to the level of commitment that the players have towards the game and in general, towards improving themselves. "We currently have six players from Haryana in the team who are all very good. There are others who have come from other states like Goa while some are from Karnataka itself. Most of them are underprivileged children whom we get enrolled in a local government school. The organisation also takes care of their daily requirements including rations and medical expenses," he says with a sense of pride that is visible.
Getting the players to wear shorts during practice was the first major hiccup that the coaches had to face. However, they slowly came around once they started seeing the other teams wearing similar clothes but even then, it took them an entire year to get there. The team is quite young as well, one of the major reasons why they receive a lot of support every time they turn up to play. The average age is around 17 or 18, with very few players like captain Sharda who are above 20 years of age. The rest are under 18, some even 15.
Besides, communication is another area which has been a hurdle. "The girls usually feel awkward to share their personal issues with me. So I have a female assistant coach to help out in that respect. Since a lot of the girls are from the north, the language and food is also something that is kind of a barrier," he explains.
Having turned out for Mohun Bagan, Salgaocar, Air India, HAL as well as the Indian national team during his playing years, Nabeel is a seasoned campaigner when it comes to working in the field of sports, and not just limited to football. His association with Maatru Pratishtana has seen him work closely with para-athletes, with India's first Paralympics medalist HN Girisha also having had a close association with the organisation.
Coming back to football, Nabeel is of the opinion that the quality of football in the KWL has improved drastically over the past three seasons. "Earlier there used to be two or three good sides while the others would concede 8-10 goals every match. But now, except a couple of sides who have still just started off, all the other teams are well-balanced and difficult to beat," he says.
However, the former Indian footballer, who had to move away from the sport after a serious injury, feels that a lot needs to be done to take women's football in India to the next level. "Although we are slowly moving towards having a better structural framework for women's football, the available infrastructure needs to improve. Furthermore, when it comes to the women's game, we have to start at the grassroots level and move up instead of directly starting from youth divisions," he emphasizes.
That this will take the best part of a decade is something that he realizes fully. "The U17 Women's World Cup next year will be a big step for us. What we have been able to do with that team is keep them together and train them for close to two years with the intention of grooming them for the flagship event. We have to adopt a similar approach for the U10, U12 and U14 prospects as well so that by the time they turn 17 or 18, they can compete for the national team spots," is how he assesses the situation.
While he does raise quite a few pertinent points, it remains to be seen whether such measures are indeed implemented going forward. For now though, the Karnataka Women's League continues being one of the, if not THE, best women's leagues in the country that shows no signs of slowing down in terms of its overall quality.
(Image credits – Md. Arsalan)