In discussion with Durva Vahia on her time in the game and how she ended up being a footballer

Football Counter caught-up with Mumbai City Football Club’s Grassroots Development Officer and Indian Football School Coach, Durva Vahia. We discussed her views and experiences in the sport, what did she learn from her time in the United States as a player in the NCAA and how exactly a Chemistry and Information Technology graduate ended up between the sticks.

Occasionally, we have to change our shape in order to fit-in. What change and which shape will be fulfilling is always a difficult question to obtain an answer for. The development of Indian football, largely has remained paradoxical and stagnant. So, how can a sport rise above its own expectations, which is at an infant stage of its development?

I started my conversation with Durva Vahia in a Starbucks outlet at Fort. “The Siren”, who is the mermaid on the logo of Starbucks; she is a storyteller, a muse – inspiring us and demanding us to move forward, a depiction of what you are looking for. Durva Vahia is a muse, a storyteller who narrates her tales as she impresses and inspires the ones around her.

At 24, she is a professional goalkeeper and coach. Durva Vahia has represented the Maharashtra state team from the under-17 and under-19 level, where she captained the team(s) during a number of district and national-level competitions up to the senior team. Also, the 24-year-old has been a regular figure in-goal for the Western India Football Association (WIFA) and Mumbai District Football Association (MDFA) as a leader. Having attended the Indian Senior Women’s Team training camp three times (in 2013, 2014 and 2015), Durva Vahia has also played as a goalkeeper in the 2011 season for the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) Women’s Soccer Team in the 2nd Division of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). A holder of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) ‘B’ License and All India Football Federation (AIFF) Level 1 goalkeeping coaching certificate course and ‘D’ License coaching certificate course, where she was ranked 1st amongst 33 participants.

Having completed her Grassroots Leader Course, conducted by the AIFF and Women’s Refresher Course by FIFA, she is now part of the Mumbai City Football Club team as a Grassroots Development Officer and coaches at the Indian Football School (IFS). In 2013, being a trainee of the Manchester United Soccer School (MUSS), Durva was awarded the overall Star Player award for module 4 and 5. Also, she was an intern Head Coach of the Corporate Social Responsibility Project for Women’s development during her time in the school. The internship at the Manchester United Soccer School gave her “the opportunity to work with the best professionals in the field of football. It will support my understanding of the professional approach M.U.S.S brings to grassroots development in India. With the support of this wonderful experience I want to make a positive difference in the Indian Football Culture,” she was recorded saying back in 2013.

Coaching is very crucial. My game has largely developed because, I started coaching. It gives you a sense of maturity on the field – Durva Vahia

As she recollected her experiences from M.U.S.S, Durva Vahia explained, how the coaches at the school helped her understand the need to posses the knowledge of the coaching aspect of the game. “Coaching is very crucial. My game has largely developed because, I started coaching. It gives you a sense of maturity on the field,” says Durva, quoting the Latin saying “docendo discimus” (“by teaching, we learn“).

“As you start teaching, you start to understand the game a lot more. You make better decisions, you position yourself better and you know what your coach requires from you,” insisted Durva, who believes learning how to coach is an essential initial step in developing your mind for football. Sharing her relationship as a Head Coach with the Maharashtra Women’s Under-18 team, “I get attached to the players as you become responsible and accountable (for them). You are their role model outside their family.” On the recent Senior Women’s Zonal Tournament for Maharashtra in 2015, where Durva was a player and a number of her teammates were girls whom she has coached. “You are under scrutiny upon how you perform and your behavior is kept in check,” she stated.

From her playing days at St. Anne’s High School and Jai Hind College to representing Maharashtra on the national stage and attending training camps with the Indian Senior Women’s team she recollects, “The turning point of my career was, when I went to the United States, where I was playing for the senior team (NYIT Women’s Soccer Team). I always wanted to play for India, and I knew that it was the right step in my development. Even for a second-division college team, the setup and atmosphere was perfect with the level of professionalism on site. From proper training centers, physiotherapy and post-game video sessions to sessions which focused on tactics, positioning and movements, there was an appropriate training routine, and the infrastructure as well as the logistics were up to date.

She explained, how “the grassroot is strikingly better in the United States. I did not know a lot of basics, which had been taught to my teammates, there from the age of 7 or 8. Though, my teammates were really helpful in helping me understand the footballing culture and helped me out during post-training sessions, too.”

Each day is a struggle, struggling to become better, reaching the top-level and maintaining it at the top for as-long-as possible – Durva Vahia

When asked about, how different it is in India, the goalkeeper and coach Durva Vahia tells, “The conditions and circumstances in India are unacceptable for the development of girls and the boys, too. Most of the boys belong to a similar level of footballing brain, experience and talent, and with a necessary amount of professional guidance these football players will be up by a level or two. In my case, I am not only a player, but a coach, too. I’ve to engage myself into coaching in order to sustain myself. At the age of 24, I cannot sit at home and wait. I don’t get paid to train every day; hence, I decided to take-up a job in coaching, and sustain myself to a level.

“Each day is a struggle, struggling to become better, reaching the top-level and maintaining it at the top for as-long-as possible. The level of football in Maharashtra is good, but the intensity-level in the competitions is lacking. When I faced other state teams in India, I realized we (Maharashtra) weren’t at that level. Manipur, Assam and other North and North-Eastern states are better compared to us and are best suited for the development of women football in India. Such states have football leagues (for girls) which run throughout the year. But, states who launch leagues, occasionally could not match-up to intensity-level required to progress step-by-step and on a large-scale.”

“I find it a lot better to train with the men’s or the boys’ team as they train regularly and at a uniform level of intensity in games. With the lack of games played and training done throughout the year it becomes difficult to maintain a level of professionalism. Though,” she adds, “there are national and state-level training camps and district-level and state-level competitions, which acts a gateway. I don’t know of India, but Maharashtra and WIFA have taken certain steps at the grassroot-level to train the under-15 and under-18 women’s team twice a month on weekends for 2 hours, which is a positive step forward.” WIFA is set to start an inter-district women’s league, and if other states in India initiate for such tournaments, the selectors will have better quality to choose from.

So, where exactly does the problem lie for women football in India? Durva Vahia says, “The mentality of the parents and schools. Most do it just to check a box. Parents send their kids to play football as a hobby or an extra-curricular activity and pull their kids out when they reach 8th or 9th grade. Women’s football lack structure and a guiding faculty. Parents and institutes lack the knowledge to develop their daughter(s) into a professional. Girls who stay longer put a priority to education and career over the sports they enjoy playing. For boys, there is the Indian Super League and i-League, girls?”

At the moment, “there is no visible pathway”, according to Durva Vahia. “Until I go to the parents and convince them to make their daughter join football on the basis of what I’ve done and how, there isn’t a way I can educate them.” Durva denotes, “In India, ask anyone of Baichung Bhutia or Sunil Chhetri, and they’d know of them even if they have no clue about Indian football.”

Durva’s journey herself has been no short of an adventure safari. She prioritized sports over career, but never compromised on education. “My entire family has been always supportive. But, initially, I had to prove myself. My family too thought football for me was a hobby. But, when I decided to go to the United States for it, the mentality changed. Academically, I was always sound and my parents agreed if I can maintain my grades up to 70% ‘you can continue’ to play. My parents gave me the time to think and act upon my decisions, because I took their advice of not neglecting studies entirely, and which always gave me a chance to turn it around,” she explains with content.

On a personal scale, though, Durva thinks she has a long way to go in the sport as a player and later coach, at the moment, “wearing the national team jersey is the only dream that keeps me going.” On the dark side, she tells, “There are days, when you sit and wonder: ‘why do I want to put myself into it, and as you’re about to give-up, you deliberately wonder (again) about your dream to play for the national team!”

Challenges and struggles have been a part of Durva Vahia’s daily routine. Starting her day at 6 in the morning, Durva finishes her first-session of training in the morning from 8:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. after which she moves-out to work. In the evening, she heads to the gym and returns to the field for her final training session of the day before going to bed at 10:00 in the night. “It is difficult to find people to train with, when I am practicing; but being a goalkeeper it helps me with the number of co-mates I need to train with. Being a coach myself helps me on various levels, here; with my training and personal development. After every game and practice session I review my work and act upon my mistakes in the upcoming session(s).”

She expresses her optimism with regards to development in the sport for women praising the efforts from AIFF and WIFA, who have been working consistently well on the quantitative front, at least to provide more game-time to the girls from an early-age. She tells, her seniors during the national camp explain, how the upcoming generation of players are trained under better coaches and circumstances.

Durva’s interest in coaching wasn’t natural, though, and neither was her initial playing position in the sport. The goalkeeper insisted that she never intended on playing between the sticks, but consistent efforts from her school coach and her trainer got her convinced. Later on, during her time in with the New York Institute of Technology Women’s Senior Team, the coaches at the university helped her mature as a player and an internship at the Manchester United Soccer School fruitfully benefited her in increasing her knowledge about the game and her position on the field.

“As a goalkeeper, when you concede a goal, you go through a lot of emotions from the inside, but it helps you tackle your defeats and you provide meaningful efforts to overcome troubles and the mistakes you have made in the match,” says Durva.

She spends a large part of her time working and training, but Durva Vahia finds time to read during travels. When asked, what she has been reading recently? She replied, “I read non-fiction, but I tend to read fiction, occasionally, too. I completed the Power of Meow and prior to it I read The Power of Habit. She explains herself as “driven, hard-working, persevering and happy” after much thought, but, a person who invests most of her time for others it was rational of her to think and take time out for herself, this time.

As our conversation came to a closure, Durva Vahia – a muse, whose story allows us to dream and be ambitious of what we can be – or could have been. Throughout my chat with Durva, there was a lovely variety of how individualism in various dimensions of every aspect in a mortal being’s life emerges and succeeds, in a way – a muse, who is meant to be different to everyone who sees her – urges to her observers to realize and act.

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