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13

Oct, 2019

Dalima Chhibber, India Rush SC, Impacts the World of Soccer for Female Athletes

“I grew up and saw the dream of being a soccer player when women’s soccer was not even considered a sport in our country.”

Dalima Chhibber is a defender on the Indian women’s national team and is defining a path for women in India to play the sport. 

“I used to tag along with my father to the field where he coached boys,” she remembers. “I practiced athletics and running while the boys played soccer. There were no girls who used to play the sport. Once I just tried soccer with the guys and it became a regular thing to try and play soccer with them everyday for fun. I started liking the sport but it was just a hobby.”

Soccer didn’t become a serious pursuit until Dalima made the U-19 team when she was just eleven years old. 

“One day I went with my father to take my sister for trials for the state team (Delhi Team); the trials were for a U-19 team. While she was playing soccer inside, I was juggling the ball and playing with my father on the athletic track on the side. The coach saw me and he asked me to come in. My father was obviously reluctant at first because I was so young and was worried that I would get hurt, but then he sent me in and I played with the 17-18 year olds. The coach liked how I played and moved around with the ball and that I could kick the ball properly. He asked my father to let me play regularly and then I started playing.”

Athletics is not uncommon in Dalima’s family. Her father, Om Prakash Chhibber, was a professional athlete who then went on to be a soccer coach, coaching Dalima as she grew up. Her mother, Neelam Chhibber played soccer occasionally at the University she attended and her older sister, Akanksha Chhibber, was a professional skater and has played professionally for the Delhi Team and at her University. Her younger brother is also a professional Triple-jump athlete as well as a pro soccer player in India. To say the least, athleticism was in her genes. 

Playing on the U-19 team was Dalima’s first professional tournament. Later on, she attended a workshop in Delhi that was put on by the Liverpool Coaching Foundation. 

“On the last day, when the medals and certificates were being distributed, the coaches called me,” she recalls. They pointed towards me and told my father, ‘If you have talent like this in soccer in your country, you will achieve heights and the future of soccer in the country will be good.’ I still have the photograph, where the coach is pointing toward me.

These words were prophetic of Dalima’s her soccer career:

“It was in 2011, when I got my first call for the national camp for the U-14 category. In U-14 I was the second highest scorer with 9 goals. I went to represent my country in the U-16 category and then the U-19 where I captained the team. In 2016 I moved to the senior team at the age of 17/18 and made my debut in the opening match of the South Asian Games against Maldives. Since then I have been a part of the national team and have represented the country in various competitions.”

Dalima played for India Rush in her second season of the Indian Women’s League. 

“It was a very good learning experience playing under a different coach and learning a lot about the game of soccer,” she recalls.

Her new coach was Claude Bolton, who is very grateful to have had Dalima as a player:

“Simply put, Dalima is a thinker. She has a quick grasp of various game plans. One may wonder how she seems to always be able to beat players to the ball. This is because of her uncanny ability to read the play and out-think opponents. Couple this with her tenacious desire to win and you will understand why she made such a mark for India Rush SC during our 2018 India Women's League campaign.”

“She will continue to make a mark wherever she goes,” he finishes, “I admire her as a player and a woman who cares about the society in which she lives. All the best Dalima!”

Dalima enjoyed her time at Rush competing in intense matches and gaining important soccer knowledge. “It was fun being  part of a team where everybody understood each other and fought for each other on the field.

Though Dalima suffered a major elbow injury in her first match, she was able to compete in all of the matches. She was excited to, “do my bit for the team having scored some long rangers which I personally love doing. This experience helped me be mentally tough.”

CEO of India Rush, Dennis Fernades deemed Dalima as:

“A football player who knows how to represent the game, as well as to be a strong ambassador of women’s empowerment.”

“It was an amazing season for our initiative of Women's empowerment through Sports,” Dennis stated. “We emerged as the State Champions and then became the 1st team for the state to qualify for the National Final Round of FA's Indian Women's League.  It was a star-studded team featuring Indian Women's National Team Players supported by players who are now playing for the National team.”  

“Once in a while players stamp their brilliance and the 30-yard screamer of a goal in the IWL Final round was the moment Dalima will surely be remembered for a long time. She did an encore for the Indian National team at the SAFF Championship 2019. We were happy to have her on our team and are glad for her successes,” he finishes.

Dalima has decided to play abroad at the University of Manitoba in Canada where she plans to get her masters in Sports Psychology. She is excited to learn “under some great professors who have done some amazing research in the field of Sports Psychology.”

Dalima is also introducing herself to soccer outside of her country to grow in experience and knowledge. She is striving to better herself as a player in this new pace so she can bring back what she has learned to her national team. Additionally, she hopes to pass on her experience to the young players in India, “To inspire them not only to be good soccer players but also to do well in academics and show that it is possible to manage both... That both go hand in hand because one cannot be compromised at the cost of the other.”

Dalima aspires to encourage soccer players in India to follow her footsteps and move abroad to get playing experience. She hopes that her move to Canada can begin to pave that path. 

When asked for advice for young girls aspiring to follow her successful footsteps, Dalima encouraged,  “The key is to believe in yourself because there are times when nobody else will. Keep going. Learn from your failures and make the mends and be ready for the next opportunity that you get to do your best. I believe if you're willing to work hard and put in that extra effort, things become possible to achieve.”

“I grew up playing with guys and learned about falling and getting up and going again. Today what I have achieved is because I was willing to do the hard work back then. There will be tough times and a lot of obstacles that will test your patience and try to stop you from achieving what you want to achieve. But it is important to stay strong mentally and persevere for something you really want and keep trying until you're where you want to be.”

Dalima has not only made a powerful, positive statement for female athletes in India but for female athletes around the world. Rush is extremely proud to have been part of her soccer career and we cannot wait to see the continued impact she has in the world and through the beautiful game. 

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