As far as trailblazers go, Maymol Rocky is right up there. The first ever female head coach of the Indian national women's football team is not a title you achieve without breaking a few ceilings.
The 39-year-old scripted history when she was handed over the reins of the Indian women's team in 2017. And she has done a good job so far.
India won the 2019 SAFF Women’s Championship under Maymol with an impressive record of winning all four games, scoring 18 and conceding just one. They are also the reigning champions of the South Asian Games held last December.
Maymol, who hails from Kerala but considers Goa as her second home, was an established international and has represented India for six years between 2001 and 2007. However, she continued to serve women's football in India as a coach, overseeing a period where women's game has seen a growth in stature.
"If you see in recent times, parents have also changed their perception about their daughters taking up sports. Even the surroundings have changed. You see everyone being encouraged to take up sports in schools and colleges -- now sports is not just seen as a career option but also a way to maintain health," she told Goal.
The Indian Women's League (IWL) has been established, though it is run for a short duration right now and plans are there to expand it in the future. Also, India is all set to host the next edition of the U17 Women's World Cup.
"We have had four seasons of the IWL, and it has got better with every season. On top of that, India hosting the World Cup is a huge fillip for development of Women’s football in India. The progress has been steady and we hope to keep it going," Maymol professed.
Now, Maymol's journey from a national team player to the national team head coach has not been easy. She has struggled, put in the hard work and overcome odds. But she also recognises the All India Football Federation's (AIFF) role in supporting her and trusting her with an important job.
But it was one of her own coaches from her playing days that convinced Maymol that she could be a coach.
"I had never started out to be a coach. I started with playing football - for the state team, then the national team. It was when I was in the national team that one of the coaches showed me that I could become a coach. Not to make a career out of it but to help other kids learn the game. I started coaching kids in our locality. I got a lot of help from the other local coaches as well as from Goa Football Association (GFA)."
She started off first as a Team Manager before becoming a coach. That decision to change paths was rewarded, years down the line. But it was also made poosible due to support from her family.
"I used to go to national level tournaments with the state teams as a Team Manager first, and then shifted to coaching. It has been a difficult journey but I had a lot of help from my father along the way. Even my brother helped me a lot when I was doing the courses.
"The places were quite far from where we live, and we did not have any cars. So my brother used to accompany me on the bus journeys. My coaches and instructors were really helpful, and shared a lot of knowledge with me," she shared.
The AIFF noticed her after she completed her B License coaching course. They duly brought her under their wing and Maymol has not turned back since.
"After doing my licenses in 2004/05, I went for the state team (Goa). We didn't have many exceedingly good results. We made it to the quarterfinals and sometimes to the semi-finals.
"After I did my B License, I came under the radar of AIFF. I am thankful that I soon got an offer to join the national team at the age-group level, and then slowly got shifted to the senior team.
"That was a big opportunity for me to step up. Not many coaches were females back then. Even my assistant coach and goalkeeping coach were also males. But both of them supported me, and the girls also supported me on my journey."
"But for me, it was a sign that the Federation did have faith in my abilities to do good work. As a head coach, it's not only about the game but it's about management of the entire team and the staff. So there's been a lot of hard work but it's been a beautiful journey for me," shared Maymol, highlighting the support AIFF has given her.
One thing that Maymol wants to see in the country is more female coaches coming up. She has set an example and is hoping others follow suit soon.
"The more female coaches we would have, the better it could be for the women’s game. I will encourage other women to get into coaching. It's a lot of hard work, but if you are dedicated, you can get to the top level. The AIFF is undertaking a lot of programmes that help people around football earn their daily bread. I would like to encourage more women to take up coaching," she said.
Apart from that, she also feels the upcoming U17 Women's World Cup, which has been postponed for the time being due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, will spin a revolution in the country much like how the U17 World Cup for men in 2017 did.
"It’s a great opportunity to propagate women's football across the land. We have already seen the impact that the men's version of the tournament has had three years back. Now it's time for women's football in India to experience the same."