When I was in high school, I felt intrinsically motivated to play games like volleyball and basketball as they build team spirit and leadership. My passion for sports persisted whilst I was pursuing my degree in Architecture at Dalhousie University in Canada, when I tried out for the varsity football team. I knew then that I was destined to become a sportswoman.
I returned to the UAE after graduation and initially explored job opportunities in my field of study, landing a position as a project architect for a master developer in Dubai, which lasted a decade. My love of football compelled me to consider it as a full-time pursuit, so I played in an amateur league as a goalkeeper for a few years before joining a professional team in Abu Dhabi, changing my position to a defender due to a sports injury.
At the onset of 2015, the UAE Football Association called on all female Emirati players to join trials with the aim of forming a women’s national team. I availed the chance and started training regularly to participate in national and international matches, such as the Al Ain Ramadan Cup Tournament 2016 in the UAE, WAFF Women’s Championship in Bahrain and Jordan in 2019, and Asian Cup Qualifiers 2017 and 2021 in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, respectively.
Being a player on the UAE women’s national team is one of my greatest feats and has provided me with the opportunity to represent my country around the world, even as the captain for certain matches. I’m currently affiliated with the Abu Dhabi Wolfhounds
FC and Abu Dhabi Country Club, and I’ve won the UAE Women’s Football League four times in a row with the latter. I was named ‘Sportswoman of the Year’ for the 2017-2018 season by the UAE Football Association, and I’m the first female Emirati to have been appointed as a match coordinator for the final of the UAE President Cup that took place last year.
But being a sportsperson comes with its own set of physical and mental challenges. The drive to be competitive and remain on top of one’s game can take a toll on the body and mind. It also means sacrificing ample personal and family time and dedicating it to your sport of choice. My passion for football has helped me overcome the hurdles— the more I give my best on the field, the more I receive in the form of recognition, awards and success.
As I move forward in my career, my key goal is to study sports management and gain work experience in the industry, with a special focus on developing women’s football in the UAE and the region. I’m also interested in learning new languages, so that I can explore different cultures and broaden my horizons.
For anyone who wishes to pursue their dream of playing sports, I’d say be clear about what you wish to do and write it down for yourself—brainstorm and visualise it before making a decision. Once you have a game plan, you’re sure to keep moving forward against all odds.
Follow @Nehal.football on Instagram.
This article was originally published in Villa 88’s Spring 2023 edition. Subscribe here.