DNF. DNF.. DNF… Did not finish – my 800 meters record for one of my middle-school pentathlon events. To be honest, I was not a physically active kid during my junior school at all. Killing bots in Counter-Stike, amassing an army of 200 in Age of Empires II and scoring goals in FIFA the computer game was more of my thing. With my calorie heavy diet of 8 samosas, a bottle of coke and minimal awareness on proper food and nutrition, the only thing close to football that I was good at was playing FIFA. The virtual game taught me football tactics, formation and most certainly all the basics. However, I literally had nightmares when I was made to play on the real field, with zero confidence and no physical fitness, I dreaded playing football. Its kind of funny comparing myself from 10-15 years ago to now, things have changed so much, now, football has played a huge part in helping me become who I am today.
After my 10th grade (SLC) I had quite tons of free time and somehow started playing football on the street level. Back in the days, the streets of Kathmandu did not have a lot of vehicles, an alleyway or an entrance way to a neighbors house was the best place to grab a game of pickup street football. We created a group of regular players recruiting kids from the local neighborhood. There were couple players from local mom-pops store, couple younger friends living in rented apartments and I had couple of my cousins in the squad too. All of us either played barefoot or wore sandals, we were from different backgrounds, some of us lived in the slums, while some of us had extra apartments that we rented out, some of us went to private schools while some of us went to public schools. Street football was a great teacher on life in different levels, it taught me that no matter what the background of the players was, on the field, everyone was equal and different people have different levels of talent. We did not play to win cups or trophies, we played for fun, without respecting each other, street football was impossible. Sometimes we used to play with a proper football or a circular tube, other times we played with any sort of items from tied up and rolled up rubber bands to layers of old socks. Those were the good old days; we were young, had nothing to worry about and injuries healed within couple days.
Unknowingly, street football was steering me towards a healthier lifestyle. Although I was getting better at the game, I was still slower than the local kids I played with, luckily google was couple years old by then, so being a tech geek I used google extensively on helping me become faster, better and stronger. I started working out more and ate healthier. High-school was all about basket-ball court level football. At Malpi, we had a basketball-court which the students converted to a football court with mini-goal posts. Our games usually started at 8 in the morning until we had to go to classes, if the classes were boring, football would take precedence. My high-school student profile’s first page was an apology letter that I wrote for skipping a bio-class, talk about my dedication to football. Court football was expensive, the concrete took a toll on the lifespan of the football and my shoes, my mom was not too keen on buying me new shoes every couple months. I made tons of friends, scored some glorious goals and learned that fitness and technique were both important in football, most importantly, in a small playground, counter-attack was the deadliest weapon.
By 2007, little Ankit had grown up and was in Coe College, Cedar Rapids (CR), Iowa. I had watched my fair share of international games on the TV, but oh boy did Coe surprise me. Most of us (Nepali students) were used to playing in the big-field with natural grass but Coe had a state-of-the-art artificial turf with the smoothest surface. I personally feel that almost every Nepali student tries out to play for the varsity team, I did too. However, little did I know that people in the west start training from when they were really young. Us Nepali kids are technically gifted, but we have horrible stamina, I found that out the hard-way. After my first day of try-outs, I was out injured for couple months because I lacked proper fitness. Thanks to the athletic training team and google, I slowly got out of it. Instead of varsity, I started to host pick-up soccer regularly. It helped me make tons of new friends. We had around four-five Nepali players, Brazilian twins Andre & Arthur, couple research students, couple faculty members and new/random players every once in a while. Believe me or not, but I think football had a huge role to play in choosing Business-Econ as my major for college. Wu’s classes were filled with soccer conversation that were used as examples for different econ graphs, got to know Eichhorn without even taking a class with him (although our common interest in Beer and Squash had a huge role to play too). Playing football/soccer at Coe definitely hammered the phrase “Football is not just a game, it is a language”. I saw different levels of talent and gained enormous amount of respect to the dedication college athletes put into their respective sport. I could clearly see what Nepal needed to work on to rank higher on an international level – focus on youth football and college athletics.
Well, college was all about figuring about what I wanted to do next in life. Our academic system taught us to take tests alone, focus more on content rather than the context and completely ignored the most important resource that is essential for success – managing human resources. Somehow I evolved from a not-so-physically-active introvert to an extrovert who loved the outdoors and enjoyed variety of sports. Currently I play futsal on a regular basis with a fantastic group of individuals (more on this later for sure). I am also a working professional now, and I apply football, its team dynamics in my every-day routine while working with teams.
With just a game of futsal, I can figure out who in the team will have problems communicating, I can see who can turn out to be a great leader and most-importantly, who all can work well and closely with other team members. If I could, I would prefer having HR interviews over a game of futsal. In the end, our job/work, is just like football: a team-game.
With time, a lot has changed. Football has helped me keep warm memories of friends who are no longer with us, it has given hope to kids in the streets and most-importantly it brings out our inner-child. Nothing makes me happier than being myself on the field for an hour with some of the best people. Football is not just a sport, it is one of of the best stress relievers and has taught me a lot about life.