Hailing from the bustling area of Rambagh in Srinagar, Nadiya Nighat has come a long way despite her young age. Nadiyaâ€™s footballing journey reflects not only the courage to dream big; but in the process shows the world how to shatter gender stereotypes. Fan of Brazilian star footballer, Ronaldo, Nighat not only rebelled to play football in the conservative society but emerged as Kashmir's first female football coach when she was just 19-years-old. She has not only turned the tide to her side but even has earned respect of her critics. Rising Kashmirâ€™s Special Correspondent, Yaqoob Ali spoke exclusively to the young and dynamic coach about her commitment to the game and her future prospects to develop the sport in a place like Kashmir.
Â Q: When did you start playing football?
Â I started playing football in 2007.Â I had a dream to represent my country at international platforms. In 2010, I played football at national level.
Q: How many tournaments have you participated in so far?
I have played under -19 in 2010, senior nationals in 2015, Indian womenâ€™s league Kalupur, Maharashtra, and I have served as J&K captain in senior nationals in 2018. Played Mumbai district league, played Karnataka State league 2020-2021 and recently played Delhi women football league in March 2021.
Q: How difficult was it for you to choose football as a career?
Since I started playing football in 2007, I was taunted for playing with boys. Even boys kept telling me that I should refrain from playing with them; sometimes these boys were also taunted for playing with me. I decided to trim my hair, I did a boys' cut. Now no one would notice my gender, it was till 2013 I kept facing such challenges. But after 2014 onwards, my parents came forward and started supporting me. People, who earlier used to raise questions about me, now ask me to take their wards along.
Q: Did your family support you?
Â Initially, they were not supportive, when I started playing football. I kept hiding from my parents. Once my mother found me playing with boys, she kept beating me on the way home. Then my father intervened and convinced her for allowing me to play.Â
Q: What is your happiest moment?
One day when I was playing with other kids on the ground. My father called me and said that I was selected for the national level. Perhaps, thatâ€™s the moment which I will never forget. I never thought I would be selected for nationals.
Q: Do you play any other sports?
Yes, I was interested in boxing. In-fact, I have bagged gold medals at state level and also have participated in senior national level boxing.
Â Q: What motivated you to opt for football coaching?
At the age of 17, I once saw a post on social media where a person was searching for a football coach for his children. After I approached the person, he said to me, â€œhow come you can train /coach. You are yourself too young, what do you know about football? And I was told to go home.
It was in 2014 when I was barely 19 years; I met a person who showed me the road to Jammu And Kashmir Football Association. They guided and motivated me for opting for the grass root level coaching course. After completion of the coaching course, I started my own academy. I started with a single kid and soon I trained more than 40 children in different age groups.
Soon after I qualified C licenses in 2018, I got a job in Mumbai, I also have worked with U- 14 boys as a head coach, I also did three months coaching in Haryana, where Haryana stood as champions in 2019. I also worked with Lonestar and Real Kashmir; currently I am working with Lonestar womenâ€™s football academy.
Q: What was your motive behind opening the academy?
My motive for opening the academy was to train girls for which I tried many times. We got success after we launched a womenâ€™s football academy.
We recently launched Lonestar womenâ€™s football academy, in which we have set a target of covering most of the districts in Kashmir, and few from Jammu region.
Q: What courses did you do for becoming a professional coach?
I am the only girl in J&K who qualified AFC-C licenses in 2015, and even did NIS thereafter.
Q: Why don't parents encourage their daughters into sports as a career?
Parents think that their girls are not competent enough to play games like football. Parents should understand that winning and losing are two sides of the same coin; the important thing is participation in games.
I think, every parent wants to see their children secure and safe from every type of hardship, danger and injuries. As sports are usually prone to injuries, there are chances of getting injuries in most of the sports. Parents realize that girls are physically weaker than boys, but I believe it is through sports by which these girls can be made strong. It is the responsibility of every parent to take initiative in this direction.
Â Q: Finally, your message to youth?
First of all, I would request parents to permit their children to play football and other games. It is through these games their children will remain physically as well as mentally fit. To children, particularly girls, my message is if you want to opt for football academies like Real Kashmir FC and Lonestar FC are there for you, it is open for every age group.