Sport is often looked at as a recreational activity, but it is also a great tool for the development of individuals and communities. Sport inherently contains a transformative and transcendental power that can uplift people and change the course. Here is one such story of development: with and through sports
Anjali Devi was born into a family of four in Kalyandurg, a small district in Andhra Pradesh. Her father, who works in a petrol pump, is the sole breadwinner of the family; Anjali was just like any other girl hailing from a small village, going to school, playing with other kids and looking for opportunities.
In the 9th grade at Jilla Parishath Girls High School in Kalyandurg, she was introduced to chess as a recreational activity, it got her interested in sports. Her interest and enthusiasm for sports led her to try various sports like running and basketball. It was during this time that her P.E. teacher insisted she take part in football coaching sessions at her school as part of the RDT initiative to use sport for development at the grassroots level, especially among rural girls.
Even though football was not a sport many girls opted for in her village, she loved the sport and believed she could do it. Her hard work, commitment and diligent practice helped her secure a spot in the Kalyandurg football team as a goalkeeper. Little did she know then that her life was about to change.
Despite getting trained in football under the RDT initiative, her first encounter with Anantapur Sports Academy happened later that year when she came to participate in the Rayalseema Tournament conducted by the Academy; her skills and commitment paved the way to secure visits to ASA for various summer camps, workshops and training ever since.
Her parents never opposed her playing football, but her extended family was not really happy about it. “She is a girl, why are you sending her to play?” These are the words Anjali recollects, thinking about how people discouraged her parents from sending her to play sports.
Despite discouragement from a few, she continued to play because of her passion for sports. As it is said, life is full of unexpected turns and twists. In her first year in college, she had the opportunity to assist her coach as a volunteer and help in coaching the team. That is when she saw sports as more than just a passion; it paved a path for her future through sports. A career plan was laid right in front of her, and she attended a coaching course in Mumbai in 2016 during her volunteering years with ASA.
Sports opened up new opportunities and possibilities. When the opportunity presented itself, she joined as a volunteer coach at ASA after graduation. Being a coach came with its own share of challenges; her family was not very sure of coaching as a career option, and her extended family stopped talking to her altogether for choosing sports and travelling as part of it.
She chose to ignore it all, even though it did sting her at times; she started to earn and support the family; her father was not the sole breadwinner for the family anymore.
Anjali’s determination and hard work paved the way for her. She saw an impressive change both professionally and personally in 2022 when she became the first woman coach in Andhra Pradesh to get a ‘C’ license. The same relatives who once disapproved and stopped talking to her for going out and playing football now wanted to know more about her career, and her family now started to support her coaching career completely.
Today, Anjali has been selected as the goalkeeper coach for the Indian Women’s League and marks it as one of her happiest achievements in sports.
Anjali is currently the head coach in ASA for the Under 15 girls’ football team and looks forward to promoting her students to play for the Indian team and complete her ‘A’ license soon.
She looks proudly at her students and smiles gleefully at every goal they score during the training session. When asked about her future plans, she happily said, “I want to see my students play for India”.
“Coach is always supportive. She encourages us to try new things, she tells us that our teamwork will take us to victory. I feel very confident to have her as a coach, she understands and encourages us to be better. It feels good when we see her happy for our achievements”, says Lahari, the U15 ASA football team right midfielder.
Anjali stands as a testament to the transformative power of sport, her journey from a small village in Anantapur District to the first women coach in the state to hold a ‘C’ license inspires young girls. Today, like her many girls from rural villages dream and work hard to realise those dreams.
Text and Images: ©Riya John Richard/RDT