Sasha Pimento, 18, is not your average college student. A national-level football player and dedicated engineering student, her achievements have been defined by the fierce competitive spirit that dominates her life.
“I am a very competitive person,” says the bubbly Sasha. “It’s not only sports; I’m competitive about everything I do. It pushes me to work extremely hard. When I get that in my mind, if I have an ambition, I work really hard towards it. Even if I’m not as good as the players when I start out, I really work hard and make sure I’m better than them.”
Sasha started playing football in grade 4 and made it into the school team by grade 7. Her team went on to win the U-14 tournament at the state level, after which the Pune resident was selected for the U-14 Nationals and began playing for Maharashtra.
When asked if football is what makes her so driven, Sasha replies, “I think it works both ways when you try to improve every single time. It instils that competitiveness in you when you want to win so you need to have that spirit. Only then will you give your entire life to it and when you are playing the game your entire mind-set is in the game.”
A computer science student, Sasha doesn’t see many girls playing football in college. However, she doesn’t let that hold her back and thinks that it shouldn’t be a barrier to others as well.
“I love dribbling and dodging people, especially when you play against guys since they don’t think a girl can play,” she says with a cheeky laugh. “When the game starts and you dodge past 3-4 guys in one go, their reaction is hilarious and then they acknowledge that you are good.”
On asked how more girls could be encouraged to play football, Sasha says, “I’d say just go for the unconventional thing. People are going to say things to you, no matter what you do. Do what you want to do and if you love football, just play. Everything can be improved upon but if you have that ambition in you then there is nothing like it.”
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Sasha has also been selected for the U-18 and -19 Nationals, this time playing under WIFA (The Western India Football Association) and won the best footballer award (girl’s category) in her college, The Bishop's School.
Shortly afterwards, she got into I-League club Pune F.C., a move which caught the attention of the media. Unbeknownst to her mother, Sasha was interviewed by a popular News channel. “It was really awesome! When the interview came on television, people from abroad began calling my mum saying, ‘We can see your daughter on TV!’ My mum hasn’t seen it herself but she was very impressed.”
Her club, Pune F.C. went on to merge with Indian Super League (ISL) club F.C. Pune City, allowing the girl’s team a chance into the second year of the women’s I-League. She also regularly attends tournaments held by WIFA, recently winning the WIFA Women’s Champions League 2017.
While Sasha’s school was very encouraging of her football, college has proven more complicated with its strict attendance rules. “There are times when I question whether to go for tournaments and my mum backs me up and tells me to just go for it.”
Living in Pune has presented its own share of difficulties with the lack of football fields to practise on. “You need to find a good coach and a good field,” says Sasha. “It’s difficult to manage everything but when I really wanted to get into the team, I did everything I could. When I didn’t get a coach, I started watching YouTube videos and started learning from them.”
Her positivity shines through when she talks about what has kept her going throughout. “I think it’s just the love of football. I can’t say right now if there is any scope, it’s still taking a lot of time but if we continue playing at least there is scope for the younger players. If you see the scene now and 10 years back it was so bad. I know players who have been playing for a long time and it is like an inspiration for us to continue playing.”
For Sasha, football is more than just a sport. “Football is life. Playing football, a happy feeling just comes to you. When you start playing, even as a junior, there is that thrill you get when you play football.”
She also wants to share the joy the game has brought her with others less fortunate. “I am going to start working with Sparky Football (an NGO which uses football as the tool to empower children on life skills). I think it’s a great idea to combine football with social welfare to teach less privileged children. It gives them so much happiness. Just imagine what a beautiful sport it is.”