Young & driven Anju Turambekar shares her Grassroots football journey
The first female to be appointed as a Technical Director of an Asian football club and the youngest AFC ‘A’ licenser holder in India, Ms Anju Turambekar was in town under the invitation of SingaCup,
The first female to be appointed as a Technical Director of an Asian football club and the youngest AFC ‘A’ licenser holder in India, Ms Anju Turambekar was in town under the invitation of SingaCup, Singapore’s International Youth Football Tournament as Guests of Honor.
Junpiter Futbol (JPF) has the privilege to sit down and have a great chat with the former Head of Grassroots Football in All India Football Federation (AIFF). A lot has been touched on the grassroots football development in India, her involvement with Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and not forgetting, the prestigious FIFA World U-17 Men’s Football Championship hosted by India in 2017.
JPF: Which is your most memorable project to date
AT: My most memorable project to date has to be the FIFA World Men’s U-17 World Cup which we have hosted in India in 2017. Prior to that prestigious tournament, I was tasked to develop the Grassroots football in India. And you know it’s never an easy task when we talk about developing Grassroots football in a country with a population of 1.339 billion!
Yes, India does have a dynamic football ecosystem in place but the grassroots football was missing in the ladder. Basically, we would have to start everything from scratch like creating the Grassroots football learning content, bringing the right people in, educating them and building up the culture so as to build up a team to work towards our goal. It will always be a huge challenge for people to buy in into a completely new system. So it took us a long time and a lot of effort to convince people to believe in what we are implementing for the future of football in the country.
Despite all these challenges, I am glad that the government has always been very supportive. Together with FIFA, AIFF and our Government, we have launched Mission 11 million project to reach out to as many children as possible in the country. We understood that it was almost impossible to reach out to all the children but we have done our best to reach out to teachers in the schools especially in the rural areas of India. And hopefully from there, the teachers can share the game with the children. Basically, we wanted people to talk about football. To me, that experience is truly memorable.
JPF: Do you face any difficulties in getting respect from other coaches or instructors in India especially with your young age?
AT: I have been working around, with, and for men’s sector almost throughout my career. When I play this role everyday, I never consider separate genders. This definitely doesn’t stop me from doing what I must do to contribute towards the development of the country.
I have been with AIFF for 6 years before becoming one of the youngest panelists in AFC dealing with Grassroots football. And despite being a female in a male dominating country, I am thankful to my Federation and fellow coaches for believing in me as I spearheaded the Grassroots project. All of us, regardless of seniority level, have mutual respect for each other. Special mention has to be given to my team of dedicated instructors who are extremely professional and supportive in assisting me to raise the standard of our Grassroots football.
JPF: In your opinion, what is one thing which people often mistaken about grassroots football?
AT: A lot of people are always mistaken that Grassroots football is the “lowest” form in the hierarchy of football education and often regarded as not an important one and it’s just a basic part. Some even think that if you are not good at your job in coaching then let’s put that person in Grassroots. Well, if you really think that way, that’s absolutely a huge mistake. It is because adaptation at an early age is on the higher side and if we fail to provide the best education at Grassroots level then it will impact on their further development. Yes, professional football is the highest on the ladder but Grassroots football is the time where many young footballers are molded and it’s the most significant phase for the players. Without the fundamentals, professional footballers will never be where they are today.
JPF: You are the youngest coach to receive AFC ‘A’ License certification in India football history. What really inspire you to succeed? And what’s your motivation?
AT: I have always felt that I am my own competition. So if today I am doing what I have done yesterday, I will make sure I do it better than yesterday. That’s just me. So that mentality and approach that I have in my life go into how I do my daily things as well. It doesn’t matter if I am a female or male coach; I am going to stand on a football pitch as a professional coach. And that’s how I have been carrying myself in the industry.
I have not seen mine or any job, task, role, responsibility in the industry as a challenge rather I have always considered it as an opportunity to learn. An opportunity to bring a change, opportunity to make a difference in the industry and the society, opportunity to grow as a better professional, etc. Giving your 100% in everything you do is the key.
JPF: What are some of the biggest challenges that you face all these years in football?
AT: My life has been a challenge yet an opportunity every day. There have been occasions, for example, I am standing in front of aspirant Grassroots football instructors/coaches and trying to explain to them how the country will reach another level or how one needs to develop to become a better player, coach, or an instructor. It will take some time to settle down to “learn from a lady”. That’s just the initial stage. Once you have earned their respect and confidence, all will be good. Things will just take off.
I have taken a lot of challenges to deal with tricky situations and have enjoyed the process. I strongly believe in ‘CHANGE’ and it starts with YOU. All you need to do is respect and understand where they come from and their views. And make sure you have limitless convincing power within you. My job is to bring change in people, systems, processes, etc. while creating a better learning environment to see the transformation in their comportment, knowledge, understanding and etc.
However, the biggest challenge that I have faced was still my family. As the youngest in the family, my parents wanted me to be their helping hand in everything they do and never wanted me to spend my time playing football or getting into further studies. We were living in a village where no one really supported female to pick up a football. At the village most of the time we spent in farming. So, my parents would prefer me to stay in the farm to help out. But of course, I had other plans, haha!
Over the years, my family has already come to realize that football is my passion. And especially when I started to have a decent income out of football coaching, my family became more supportive and they accepted my job.
JPF: Your wish for Indian grassroots football?
AT: It has been more than 6 years that I have been working in Grassroots football. I am delighted and proud to say that now the Grassroots football system in India is all up and running. For the first 3 years, I have got a challenging time where I did almost everything by myself. So now, I just want our Federation to continue with what we have done. Ground work are all set and we have to keep moving forward, improve and give more children in India the opportunity to play football.
JPF: Advice for youth footballers and their parent?
AT: It is a long journey for a young player. Becoming a better player, better human to contributing to their community by setting the right example. A young player might not understand the real meaning of values and this is where the football coaches or parents come in, share, and teach the life values to the players for their bright future.
No matter how good or talented you are, young footballers must understand nothing comes free. It’s all about hard work, commitment, dedication, passion etc. If you work hard, things will fall into place for you. Lastly, listen to your coach and your parent. No advice is bad advice. It’s a matter of how you evaluate that and turn every advice into positive motivation.
Anju Turambekar is currently appointed as the Technical Director (TD) of Dempo SC. With this appointment, Anju became the first ever female to hold a position of a TD in Asian football club. Prior to taking up that position, Anju served as the Director of Grassroots Football in All India Football Federation (AIFF) for 7 years. She went on to become the first Indian women selected to be on AFC panel. And she is also the youngest AFC ‘A’ license holder in India.
Article: Junpiter Futbol/JT
Photo: Junpiter Futbol/ JT & Steve
Note: This interview was conducted before the declaration of Singapore’s Circuit Breaker.