A Conversation with Dalima Chhibber, the Indian Football Prodigy

 From debuting in the under 19 nationals at the age of 11 to scoring 40 yard screamers in the Indian Women’s League, Dalima Chhibber has proved her mettle time and again. Apart from being one of the top female footballers in the country, she has also become a worthy ambassador of the sport by being vocal about the various challenges that the players face. 

 Read on as we discuss various topics about women’s football in India as well as her experiences throughout her journey to the top. 

 What difference do you feel between playing in top tier domestic leagues like the IWL (Indian Women’s League) and playing in international tournaments? 

The level of competition is quite different and extremely high when it comes to international matches as compared to domestic matches since football as a  sport is still developing in India while other countries have progressed quite a bit. The bigger difference which I feel, however, is the spirit of playing for and representing your country. It’s a different feeling altogether. 

 Having played with numerous players across different levels and competitions, what do you think is the defining factor between a regular player and successful one? 

 It all boils down to how much you are willing to give to the sport. A successful player is always thinking about ways to become the best version of themselves, trying to improve their weaknesses and giving their day and night to the sport instead of sticking to the bare minimum training. Passion and dedication are factors which separate successful players from the regular ones. 

 

You have been quite vocal about the lack of recognition and scope in women’s football. What according to you are the necessary steps which need to be undertaken in order to change that? 

 I feel that the most basic thing that needs to be done is that we need to have a very organised structure for all the sports and not just football in terms of training and competitions. This is crucial even at the domestic level to ensure that certain things happen at a certain time during the year so that the athletes can proceed to further levels. Secondly, we need to greatly improve our infrastructure and facilities. Apart from having just one physio, we need to branch out more and have more people involved such as nutritionists and trainers being provided to the players instead of the players running to them, at least at the highest level (national team) if not at the domestic level. The commercialisation of women’s football is an extremely important factor considering the fact that football is a newly developing sport in the country for both men and women. Still, men have come up really well due to the amount of commercialisation that is taking place in ISL (Indian Super League) but women’s football has a long way to go, the sport requires more private stakeholders to come in and invest their money. 

 You’ve been a part of the team that recently created history by qualifying for the second round of the women’s Olympic football tournament. Now there are going to be a lot more eyes watching out for this team than there have ever been before, how do you think is it going to affect your performance? 

 I feel now the team is going to perform even better because it is going to serve as a big motivation for us. We’ve been trying to qualify for years now and we finally have a breakthrough. I also feel that during this tournament we have a lot of people coming out and supporting us and supporting women’s football and that makes a lot of difference. We are going to be all the more confident while stepping on the pitch knowing that we have people backing us and supporting us. 

 We know that you started playing because of your father, how much of a role has he had in your success? 

 

He has been my coach throughout my sporting journey and in a way he’s the reason why I even got into football. He used to have a boys football team and I just started playing with them and that’s where my journey began. I went on to play for India in all the age categories and he was with me all the way, he used to train me every day in the morning as well as the evening and worked on all aspects of football — strengthening, power training, agility work and especially shooting. I’m known for long-range goals and he was the one who made sure that I became a player who could shoot from all angles. 

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