Perceived as weak and not made for ‘rough sports,’ girls and women are often frowned upon for wanting to get on the playing field. As a child, Tanaz Mohammed’s love for football and wanting to take up the game was met with hesitation. Today, the 26-year-old from Mumbai, is helping other young girls embrace football on the road to empowerment.
Tanaz, who has been pursuing football for the past three years, serves as the Grassroots Development Officer for the Mumbai City Football Club, and is a level one Coach Educator at Premier Skills, an initiative by British Council that encourages community coaching across the globe. She is also a Development Coach for Reliance Young Champs.
Along with football, Tanaz is also a national-level hockey player.
The game changer
Through Premier Skills, Tanaz has coached hundreds of girls and helped their families understand why football is not just meant for boys. Her biggest project so far has been a 10-day coaching camp in Madanpura, Mumbai, a largely Muslim-dominated community, where girls didn’t have much exposure to sports.
Recalling the experience, Tanaz says,
“In Madanpura, boys’ football is given more importance, and the girls aren’t really out in big numbers. But when I went there, the parents realised that their girls would be safe, training with a female coach, and over 400 girls showed up. By the end of the camp, I was coaching the women who accompanied them as well!”
Even though the coaching camp lasted for just 10 days, the girls were determined to keep playing the sport, and formed their own football teams at school. Tanaz says that they have been consistently competing in local tournaments. Also, the girls have overcome their initial barriers about clothing, and continue playing with their hijabs and salwars.
Recounting an eye-opening memory from the coaching camp, Tanaz says,
“To begin with, it was only the mothers who accompanied their daughters to the coaching grounds. But on the last day, the father of one of the girls was there. Both the parents told me that they never knew that female football coaches existed, and because of the coaching camp, their daughter has been able to play the sport.”
Getting the ball rolling
Ever since she was a little girl, Tanaz has made her love for sports loud and clear. Although she is a professional footballer today, she first pursued hockey through the girls’ team at school, and quickly made her way to the national level.
However, after she graduated from college with a degree in Sports Management Studies, she was offered an internship at Mumbai City Football Club, through which her interest in football began flourishing. She then took up a basic course in football, and enrolled with Premier Skills to become a qualified coach educator.
“There was some initial hesitation from my parents, but they have been my biggest support system. There are a few people who have passed unpleasant comments, but I chose to ignore them,” says Tanaz.
In 2018, Tanaz was the manager of the Mumbai District Football Team that won the State Level Sub-Junior Girls Football Championship held in Jalgaon. She has also been a hockey team coach to the girls' team at MMK College Mumbai, who won the Mumbai University Inter-Collegiate Hockey Tournament in 2017.
Tanaz says that three girls from the Sub Junior Football Team went on to play for the Under 15 Indian Team. When it comes to hockey, eight of the players represented Mumbai University in the All India Inter-University Tournament. They also represented Mumbai in the Junior and Senior National tournaments.
All in the game
Now as a coach educator, Tanaz’s mission is to create a lasting impact on girls and society across the country. She says she wants to present young girls everywhere with opportunities that can help expand their horizons and stay empowered.
“I plan to extend my reach across India and help girls realise that there are plenty of sporting opportunities out there that they just need to grab. It is a slow process, but I will continue doing my work,” Tanaz says.
On the support girls and women need from the government and sports associations, Tanaz says that there need to be more grassroots activities, coaching camps, and leagues that can help girls get on the field from a young age.
To all the young girls aspiring to pursue a career in sports, Tanaz says: “Believe the voice in your head telling you to just do it, even if everyone else discourages you. Focus on your own journey, and don’t compare your progress to someone else’s. Get rid of the barriers you make for yourself, and tell yourself you can do whatever you set your mind to.”
(Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan)
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