Football: While most girls her age dreamed of shiny sandals and Barbie dolls, 9-year-old Ngawang Yangchen fancied Nike boots and football jerseys. She is 19 today.

For Ngawang Yangchen, skipper with the national women’s football team, football was love at first sight. Popularly known as Parop, Ngawang Yangchen’s skills is comparable to that of Chencho Gyeltshen’s.

“Chencho Gyeltshen is my inspiration. I appreciate his pace in the game. When it comes to gameplay, though, my favourite player is Tshering Dorji,” she said. “These two players encourage me to work harder and improve with every game.”

Ngawang Yangchen is the only attacking midfielder the national squad has. “I think my role in the national team currently is critical because there is no substitution for my position yet,” she said. “I think this is an opportunity to prove myself and grow at the same time. It is also a challenge because if I don’t perform, it is the team who will suffer.”

Her skills, especially in football, won her a scholarship in one of the schools in Thimphu. While in the school, Ngawang led her school win several school tournaments including some national competitions as well.

Thimphu City FC was the first club to sign Ngawang. In her first appearance last year, she led her team to victory in the first women’s league that was conducted in the country.  Ngawang scored a staggering 19 goals during the league, becoming the second highest scorer in the season.

Ngawang has joined the women’s academy in Gelephu where she will continue her education. She will, at the same time, train under the Korean coach.

“It’s been just four days here at the academy. It was difficult in the beginning but I’ve adapted well in a short period of time,” said Ngawang. “Staying is an academy means I get more time to practise and sharpen my skills. But this doesn’t mean that I would be compromising on my studies.”

Since 2012, after becoming a member of the national team, Ngawang has taken part in at least three international competitions. She said that each competition has taught valuable lessons and the team has been growing stronger ever since.

“I have grown watching Youtube videos of Ronaldo and Neymar. Now that I’m in the academy, I expect to learn the technical and tactical aspect of the game first-hand,” she said. “Women’s football in Bhutan in growing and with young and talented players in the academy, it will further improve in the near future.”

The Gelephu academy under the Bhutan Football Federation houses 54 girls of three categories: Under-15, Under-17 and the senior national team.

Potential players from all across the country gather at the academy and start the training from grassroots.

Younten Tshedup | Gelephu