Indian girls get leadership lessons through football

There was a boys’ football team in my school, but no girls’. I was always interested in the game but no one was even willing to make a girls’ team. No one ever played football in my family, not even in my community, but I told by my parents, friends and teachers about my liking towards football. In the beginning, I had to convince them but gradually they understood my passion and began to support me. When I was in 8th standard, I joined Slum Soccer and became the first girl to come out of the place to play football,” says 18-year-old Juhi Agarkar from Karadi, Nagpur.

Like Agarkar, there were 199 girls (under 18) from different parts of the country (Delhi, Karnataka, Maharashtra,Manipur, Assam, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh andJharkhand) who beat all odds to pursue their passion in the ‘boys’ game’ and came together to take soccer lessons from a master like Cindy Parlow Cone, two time Olympic gold medalist and her teammate Danielle Slaton from the US Women’s National Soccer Team. The two, along with the American under 17 girls’ soccer team, came down to India to participate in the Goal for Girls Leadership Summit 2016, recently held at Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium, for the second time.

The four-day event aimed at connecting girls from different regions and backgrounds with their peers.

Field activities were designed to empower them through soccer. The activities included technical and tactical training sessions, mini tournaments and competitions, exhibition game and daily training sessions by former leaders of US Women Soccer Team.

Cone says, “The reason I’m in India for the second time is because girls here love soccer. They are thirsty to learn more about the game and want more opportunities to play.” “Soccer is for everyone —male, female, young, old or disabled people. It is a universal language which everyone speaks on the field.”

She was happy to witness that more investors were investing in girls. “Even the girls have developed, not just as soccer players but also as people and leaders in their communities,”she says.

Cone points out that such event helps girls learn leadership qualities and there is a cultural exchange that takes place in terms of girls from different parts of India gathering at a place and exchanging their views among themselves, and then with the American girls as well.

“We have seven different languages that are being spoken on the field together. It is great to see that they are more common than being different,” notes Cone.

Incepted in 2007, Goal for Girls is an international initiative that travels to different countries to teach young girls life skills on how to be agents of change in their own lives and in their communities. The event was last held in India in 2014.

Sunny Narang, founder investor of Anglian Management Group, organisers of the event, notes, “It is interesting to see how girls are so passionately involved in the game. We realised that girls’ football in India will also grow in the next few years. But for this transition we need a platform that can encourage these girls to take up the sport and this endeavour is one such way of reaching our goal.” “Boys are given extra opportunities in our country so it is a good platform to balance the unbalance,” says Agarkar, an engineering student.

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