In the initial days of my Football career, I used to be an individual player, so selfish in my game-play that I rarely used to pass the ball to my teammates as I always thought that I am more talented than them. One reason to think that, was a fundamental assumption that if I have the ball, there are more chances of us winning the game as I could dribble pass 4-5 players easily. With more time and understanding of the game, my style changed. I became more responsible and started passing the ball more often to my teammates. I began to realize that in order for the team to perform well and win games, we need to keep the ball for control on the game. This basic shift in my approach led to my team’s better performance. We won more games and I started playing in positions which the team demanded rather than the ones where I could have been more powerful.
My strengths in football are acceleration and dribbling. According to me, I do my best as either a winger or a striker. But, instead of playing in those positions, I opted to play as a Defensive or Central midfielder because players that used to play in those positions would always push forward to score goals and achieve personal glory. It would leave open spaces at the back and we would concede more goals than we scored. My aim was to fill the leakages in defense and dictate the game better.
Often the sacrifices I made, like playing out of positions, supporting defense and weak links, anticipating opponent’s threat, doing all the dirty work, were almost never appreciated by my teammates or even the coach. Most of the players had limited understanding of the game. The coaches I played with, were mostly fixated with their old-school approach. They were not ready to take inputs from anyone as they saw us as amateurs. Most of them never wanted to play the game but only instructed others to rush into an attack which led to losing possession. We would run all over the place to get the ball back but it totally chaotic.
A coach is the main orchestrator of any team’s performance. The approach and strategy they adopt mainly decides the performance of individuals as well as that of the team. The culture a coach sets, becomes the culture of the team (Movie recommendation: Coach Carter). It’s their duty to decide which player plays in which position, to instruct them with roles and responsibilities, to keep the team dynamics balanced as there may be some strong personalities in the team and any biasness towards a player may lead to tension.
In hindsight, I realize that throughout my life, the skills and values that I have acquired are mostly through sports. Those have molded me into the person that I am today. For me, freedom is when I am playing without worrying about the future or regretting about the past. I feel a sense of belonging when I contribute to the success of the team. Injuries and setbacks give me patience, an eagerness to work harder and come back stronger. Overcoming odds gives me a ‘never-stop-trying’ attitude and also makes me believe in miracles. Punishment teaches me to follow certain rules and regulations and makes my belief stronger that no one is above the game.
Watching world class players punished for their bad behavior like racism, cheating, foul play, dishonesty, disrespecting and humiliating the opponent, gives me courage to challenge such behavior in real life situations as well. When I see fans appreciating and respecting players for their loyalty, team-spirit, contribution towards society and sportsmanship, it encourages me to follow these virtues in life, and not just in the game.
At the same time, when one practices these values and keep other people, situations, problems and causes above oneself, it can lead to serious criticism and lack of appreciation. One of my managers at the bank where I used to work, said, “Jo dikhta hai, wo bikta hai”. He meant that people who work behind the scenes can never be understood by general public due to lack of context. Also, if one is too humble, it becomes even harder to portray the work and it gets worse when other people know how to showcase their already visible and tangible output.
It is similar to the situation of Xavi and Iniesta being less appreciated in front of Lionel Messi but there would always be a minority group who would always appreciate the efforts of Xavi and Iniesta, and those are the people who understand the game better than others.
In one year of India Fellow, I have seen both sets of people. Everyone chooses their path to either become a Messi or a Xavi but I would always have a soft corner towards those who are more like Xavi or Iniesta because of the balance they bring to a team. You can always decide for yourself what you want to become, but remember to appreciate and respect the efforts of people whose work in the background because without their support, you can’t become a Messi.