During our first ever Women and Sports Conference in India, one of our guests Daniela Tomer, Psychologist, congratulated the women in our Naandi Foundation Sports Programme for:
“Daring to be comfortable with their imperfections.”
This statement has stayed with us ever since that day and is a true testament to the inspirational and brave nature of the women leading our Naandi Foundation Sports Programme. In fact, it is a key to the sustainable growth and development of our grassroots sports for girls in India.
In the world of sports, and in most other fields we look to experts to guide the way. Olympians, world champions, national champions, and national level coaches are put on pedestals and are examples that we strive for. Rightly so. Their stories are inspirational and can motivate entire communities to follow their sports dreams. They are professional athletes and coaches that are familiar with the path to success and can help others achieve the same. They have full confidence in their sports specialities. They are sports ‘perfection’.
However, it is not only these professionals and experts in the sports field that can inspire and have a huge impact on the grassroots sports world. Those who may not be as athletic, who may not have played at such a high level, but are hungry to learn, who have a desire to help others, who are willing to change and try new things, in other words, those who ‘dare to be comfortable with imperfection’ can go on to inspire and lead a revolution in sports. These are our Naandi Women Game Changers.
The Game Changer Programme
Responding to the acute need for more women coaches in rural India, we began a ‘Game Changer’ - Women Coaches-in-Training Programme in rural India. We recruited 13 women coaches from the villages where we have thousands of eager girls looking to learn and grow through sports. These women know the communities, they know the life of these girls, and they know the challenges all women and girls face in their daily lives. They know that traditionally sports is considered a luxury endeavour for boys and men in the community, not girls. Yet, they dared to challenge themselves and the norms around them. They would not consider themselves exceptional athletes nor extremely knowledgeable in football but they refused to let any of this stop them. They are ready and willing to learn. They will challenge themselves and dare to be comfortable with their imperfections. By so doing, they will lead by example; allowing the girls in the village to identify themselves with a role model that they can relate to. She is one of them. She is having fun even when she is not an expert.
One month into the Game Changer Programme, our young group of women were invited to play as a team in the district level tournament for women in their state. With little hesitation, they accepted the invitation. The following week, they found themselves hundreds of kilometres away from their community, their husbands, and their children with a group of women they had only met four weeks earlier. They had never seen a full football pitch before nor a real goal let alone play in a match. Their knowledge of the game in general was elementary. But, they dared to leave their comfortable and familiar surroundings for the unknown; they dared to play a sport they are very imperfect at.
Although they were very outmatched in the games, these women learned more in a few days than they could have learned in a month of football classes. Not only did they learn about the technical aspects of a game, including refereeing, coaching, setting up the tournament, they learned so much more. They learned the critically important intangibles of sports that can only be acquired through play, through losing and through struggling as a team. They came together as a team of women, supporting each other, and trying their best; the same thing we ask of every single girl who dares to start on a sports for life journey. They made history as the first ever women’s football team to compete from their district. They are the ‘imperfect’ heroes our girls will look up and will strive to emulate.
We will always look to professional athletes and coaches to inspire and drive our sports passions. They are the perfect sports example that thousands of girls all over the world will look to emulate. These professionals are indeed needed and worshipped. But, we need more if we want to change the sports system for hundreds of thousands of girls everywhere. We need brave women who ‘dare to be imperfect’ and to drive our grassroots sports programme. These women are continually challenging themselves to become sports leaders knowing that the alternative to not doing so would leave many girls void of the joy of sports. Their brave decision to challenge themselves and the norms around them is giving thousands of girls the chance to play and a chance to develop agency over their physical development. Who better understands the alternative for these young girls if they are not given this chance? Who better understands the challenges girls and women face in their daily lives? These brave women who understand all of this so well, continue to extend themselves out of their comfort zones and ‘dare to be imperfect.’ They are the Game Changers of our sports programme for women and girls in India and are leading the revolution. This revolution is shaped by these local heroes.