She’s created history and 2019 was her dream year. She is the First Indian – man or woman – to be nominated for AFC Footballer of the Year. She is the first ever captain to lead the Indian Women’s Football Team into Round 2 of the Olympic Qualifiers. She led India to the 2019 SAFF Championship Title. Leading from the front again, she captained Sethu FC to their maiden Indian Women’s League Title Win. Only the 2nd woman invited to play for a foreign club, she played in the Maldivian league. And she was the Women’s Player of the Year for the 2018-2019 season by the All India Football Federation (AIFF). And she has been part of the winning team of many national and regional titles.
Hailing from Manipur, where football is a religion, she was obsessed with football from the age of 7. She had a dream start being called up for the National U-17 squad, then rose back from an injury to become the Captain of the Indian Women’s Team.
“I am afraid of no one on the pitch, be it strikers or injuries. I always try to give my everything on the pitch for my team and my teammates, so if I think too much of picking up an injury on the pitch then it is like disrespecting my other teammates who are pushing their limits as well.”
And so important, she stands tall as a role model for women and girls everywhere. She proves that you dream it, work hard for it and achieve it.
Interview with Ashalata Devi
What challenges did you face, in getting to where you are today?
The first time I played football was in school during the games period. We always saw the boys playing football but we never got a chance. I went and asked my coach to let all the girls play as well. I remember very fondly that particular game ended in a draw with 22 girls just running behind the ball for the entirety of the game. Finally, during the penalty shootout I scored a goal and that memory will remain with me through my life.
My father played an instrumental role in my footballing career. When I was 7, my father and I used to secretly discuss football. We had to be secretive about it because my mother was against me playing as she wanted me to read books and concentrate on studies. The funny thing is my father wanted me to becoming a goalkeeper but as fate had it I turned out to be a defender. My mother used to be very strict and used to scold me up until the time I got selected for the u17 Indian team. In Manipur football isn’t just a game it was an obsession I used to play every chance that I got . Unfortunately, women back then didn’t play competitively. I wasn’t sure I would I would be playing football as a profession until the age of 15 when I was called up for an u17 camp which was taking place in Gwalior in 2008.
What drives you to get up in the morning and go training every day?
One of my biggest driving force is my love for the country. I really want our country to be recognised as a footballing nation. I believe that we have a lot of talented players who represent the country. I believe that this team is going to reach places and I want to be able to push myself daily to achieve that goal.
What is important to you? ( apart from sports what else do you do, and believe in ? It’s good for people reading this to know that there are other interests too aside from sports)
Women Empowerment is a cause that is very close to me.. I am a firm believer that women should excel in everything they do. I Try my level best to support everyone around me. One if my biggest goals in life is to motive everyone to be the best in their field.
How does being an athlete make you a better person?
One of the biggest skill you develop is discipline. As an athlete you need to be really disciplined and follow your schedule. This has not only helped me in my professional life but also my personal life.
What do you give up to play sports?
I don’t feel like I have to give up on anything as such because I love this game and it has moulded me into the person I am right now. The only thing I miss is spending enough time at home with my family but I am lucky to have such a supporting and understanding family.
What mental tool do you use under pressure?
Yoga and meditation
What is your mantra?
I am a big believer of hard-work. I stay dedicated to my schedule and try my best to accomplish my daily schedule. I have noticed that being consistent and following your dreams will make you succeed in whatever field you are in.
If you could play another sport, what would it be ?
I have never tried playing any other sport. Due to my tight schedule I rarely get a chance to play. Everyone finds this really funny but the only time I have tried playing any other sport is during training with the team
What expectations do you have of a coach?
I have played under a lot of coaches through my career. I always hope to get proper guidance and try to understand their technical expertise. For me the coach is on of the most crucial point of contact a team has and needs to have the ability to make the team into a fully functioning unit. I love it when the coach takes out extra time and guides the youngsters and they need a role model at that age and it definitely helps them in the long run.
At what age did you know that you wanted to become a professional football player?
I had no idea that a girl could make football their profession the first time I realised this was when I played for the u-17 team.
What do you do to calm your butterflies when you compete?
I have never faced this issue before the game but during halftime if we have had a bad first half I take a few minutes for myself and understand the situation and calm myself down. I have always noticed that many players have their unique ways to cope up with pre match hitters but I always prepare myself mentally and physically to not get nervous before the game.
What coaches, teacher or other people have been great influences in your life and why or how?
I have played and trained under a lot of coaches but I have been lucky enough to have great coaches throughout my life and have been greatly influenced by each one of them.
What’s on your iPod right now? (What music genres and which artists do you enjoy listening to before a match?)
I don’t listen to music generally but when I do I usually listen to old Hindi songs as I find them very soothing
Why do you think everyone should play a sport?
Apart from keeping you fit and healthy sports helps one develop a lot of skills like punctually, hard-work, discipline, sportsmanship, honesty and dedication. If these skills as translated into your day to day life it will help everyone become a better version of their self.
Which sport would you not let your child play? Why?
I will not be stopping my child from playing any sort of sport. In fact I would encourage them to be a part of any sporting activity from a young age as I believe sports is a lifestyle and helps in building a persons character and is a must for overall development.
What do you do to keep fit ? Nutrition?
I have a set routine that I follow on daily basis. I try and be extremely consistent with the same. I have a very balanced diet and take my prescribed nutritional supplements to enhance my overall fitness and health.
How do you incorporate mindfulness practices into sports?
I Practice yoga and meditation along with positive chanting which helps me a lot.