My personal journey vouches for the rise of women’s football in Pakistan

Football has historically been viewed as a man’s game. Something that can not be endured by the fainthearted and stamina lagging female, but a glorious sport exclusively watched, discussed and most importantly played by men. However, in past years the dawn of female inclusion in football can traced not only on a global platform but more specifically in Pakistan. By no means has the embracement of female football teams competing been wholesome or reached its pinnacle; as exemplified in the Pakistan women’s national football team only being established in 2010 and not yet having participated in international standard tournament’s such as the AFC Women’s Asian Cup or FIFA women’s World Cup. Yet this is besides the point. The space given to female students as well as graduates in the sports arena is undeniably widening year by year.

Talking from a purely personal experience as a player in the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) female football team, I and my journey in the realm of sports can safely vouch for the growing number of opportunities and training available to the female body. As soon as I joined LUMS I became aware of the generous variety of sports teams active on campus. I leaned towards the football team, but having seen the team play at the start of my freshman year, I was intimidated by the level of skill required to carry off a single game. Would I be able to tackle someone like that? Stay alert of 90 minutes? Consistently go for training every night? I  put off joining the team.

In my second year, I found myself sitting waiting for a friend on a bench near the parking lot when I looked up to see a group of girl in smart football gear and a certain air of self-assurance piling out of a van. They each had medals around their neck as the laughed and conversed with one another. Upon a whim, I stopped one of the girls. She had kind eyes and a sense of authority surrounding her. I asked her about their recruitment process. She laughed and told me to be on the football field tomorrow at 7pm.

In retrospect, this seemed to be both the best and most taxingthing I had gotten myself into. Trainings were long and rigorous. Our coach was brutal. His scolding made you feel so weak that you wanted to run from the field but you felt equally fulfilled when you got to the end of training in one piece. There was something about the endless laps, clap-start sprints, cone-dodging footwork and challenging matches that was exhilarating. Every match started with uncontrollable anxiety and ended with a rush of adrenaline no matter what the result. Another element to being part of the team was the strong friendships I made. At first my interactions with team members was limited to complaints about how grueling training was, but as time went on I truly felt the unity of the team and began to confide in them like sisters. Travelling to competitions and being on the field with them made me feel like I was a part of something inexplicably bigger than myself. Meeting other football teams from all over the country firstly gave me exposure to different kinds of people in my nation and upon seeing the steady determination and applaudable skills of the players, made me yearn to learn more about the game. To be better and to compete regularly.

Moreover, this testing activity took the edge off academic stress. I began to look forward to training sessions as a way of releasing pent up frustrations. No matter how turbulent other aspects of life were, on the pitch I could at least be in control of myself. Football is a game of both physical and mental discipline. It may not seem calculated from an outsiders perspective but there is mathematical quality to a players movement and for me, adhering to this discipline was extremely cathartic.

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