Women’s football is a fairly niche sport in India. In this series, we will profile women football players who are making a mark in the game. We kick off the series with player-cum-coach Sanaya Anklesaria. This year, while playing in the Maharashtra State Inter-District women’s tournament, Anklesaria captained the team as well. SheThePeople.TV caught up with 28-year-old Anklesaria to know about her football story.
She is a Parsi from Hyderabad who grew up with two brothers. While growing up, they did not have many indoor games, so they relied upon each other for entertainment, explained Anklesaria.
“Being the only girl between two boys might have played a role in making me tough and athletic. We never had any video games or anything; hence we had to resort to each other for any sort of entertainment which involved a lot of outdoor games, wrestling (of course, all these had the thumbrule of boys vs. girls),” she said
Very early in life she moved from Hyderabad to Mumbai because of her mom’s job. It is in Mumbai that she first got serious about the game. Back in her childhood, she can only remember playing two games—cricket and football. “I guess like with many kids, who live in a colony, coming together to play cricket or football, was a common sight.”
She became serious about the game when a coach was hired and she actually got to learn the nuances of football. “I was the only girl among more than 20 boys all from various age groups. I knew I could not beat them in speed or strength, so would work hard to make sure my skill and endurance made up for it,” she reminisced, adding that it later helped her when she played women’s matches.
“Training with boys gave me the edge I needed in terms of getting a good game sense and really working hard just to get a touch on the ball. Hence, in a girl’s game I could dominate the entire game as the girls were much slower. So it was not rocket science that I chose football,”- Sanaya Anklesaria
While parents still have qualms if their children want to take up sports professionally, especially if it is a girl child, Anklesaria’s parents supported her completely. “My parents, husband, in-laws and the entire family have always encouraged and supported me at every step to take up the sport.”
Over the years that Anklesaria has been playing, she has seen drastic changes happening in the football scene in India. Where earlier no school paid any attention to football, today every school has a team in each age group, which ranges from 4 to 16-yr-olds. She also says that the stereotypes surrounding the game that it is very rough and a manly sport is also eroding.
“Many girls from villages and small towns have taken up the sport, as they are resilient, fast and strong. Something I would call raw talent, because of the hardships they undergo in day-to-day life.”
It’s been five years that Anklesaria has been coaching kids. But it wasn’t easy for her to work and juggle sports along with it. Since there isn’t much happening in football at an international level in India, she started to work in an ad production house. However, she realised that she couldn’t find any time for even recreational football in her job.
“Many girls from villages and small towns have taken up the sport, as they are resilient, fast and strong. Something I would call raw talent, because of the hardships they undergo in day to day life.”
“I got talking to some people regarding taking my game ahead and they told me that I was already too old. I decided to take up coaching as it was the only way i could stay in the game. That when I started doing my licences and coaching kids,” she said.
Her one wish? To coach the Indian Women’s team and see them play in the World Cup in future.
She encourages the sport among girls by making sure she is there whenever there is a girls’ tournament happening.
Anklesaria believes that the government and sports authorities are taking initiatives to organise leagues and competitions for various age groups. However, what they should focus on is “what one should do after the tournament is over”.
She firmly believes that the players who have performed exceptionally well should get proper coaching and training. That’s the only way they build a strong foundation for the youth teams of the country.
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