Dalima Chhibber is a long way from home, but that doesn’t bother her.
This soccer season, the 21 year old is swapping her India national team colours for some new brown and gold ones.
The New Delhi, India native just signed with the University of Manitoba Bisons women’s soccer team, but has spent years playing at a high-level in her home country, captaining both the senior women’s national team and the U-19 team, among others.
Now that she’s in Winnipeg for a few years, she plans to take back the skill sets she learns here — on the field and in the classroom — and apply them when it’s time to head back home.
Because of her experience playing in a high-level, high-stress sport, Chhibber plans to pursue her master's degree in sports psychology during her time at the U of M. She’ll complete a year of pre-master's courses to top-up the three-year bachelor of psychology degree she received while studying in India, then begin the U of M master’s program next fall.
"As a player, I’ve experienced the importance (of sports psychology). Sometimes I wanted a psychologist to speak to because I’ve been anxious, I’ve been nervous. I was only 18 when I made my debut for the senior team. I was put into the opening match of a tournament and I was all nerves, I actually needed somebody to talk to," said Chhibber.
"I feel if I had somebody to speak to at that moment in time, maybe my performance would’ve been different.
"I want to include the concept of psychology to sport, so here I’m looking to integrate my academics, my knowledge and my experience of playing into one. This is something I really want to introduce back in India, to help a lot of players back there. I’m sure this is something that plays a big part in a player’s career."
The midfielder's signing is a big one for head coach Vanessa Martinez Lagunas.
"I always look for a good fit. They have to be not only good players, but good students and good people," said Martinez Lagunas.
"It’s something that I’m really proud of and something that I cannot really put into words, because when I started there were no women footballers at all. When I used to tell people that I’m playing soccer, they used to be, like, ‘What will you even do with soccer? How far can you even go?’ So now that I’m the face of women’s football in India, I feel like I can make a difference." — Dalima Chhibber
Chhibber is an esteemed player on an international level. She’s played in 47 matches since 2016 and scored 12 goals for the India senior women’s national team. In India, she’s become the face of women’s soccer.
"It’s something that I’m really proud of and something that I cannot really put into words, because when I started there were no women footballers at all. When I used to tell people that I’m playing soccer, they used to be, like, ‘What will you even do with soccer? How far can you even go?’ So now that I’m the face of women’s football in India, I feel like I can make a difference," she said.
She has, in part, been responsible for a surge in the number of girls and women taking up the game in India, which is hosting the 2020 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup.
But how did Martinez Lagunas discover Chhibber, considering the athlete had never played for a team outside her home country before moving to Winnipeg?
"It’s a long story," said Martinez Lagunas. "We’ve been in touch for over a year now. One of my friends was teaching a FIFA course for the national team in India and she met Dalima there."
Through conversations, Chhibber mentioned her desire to study in North America while continuing her soccer journey. The FIFA coach connected Chhibber and Martinez Lagunas.
Chhibber was looking at other universities across North America, but once she learned more about both the U of M’s soccer program and its academic opportunities, it was an easy decision.
"It’s a great experience for me. I think if it wouldn’t have been hard, I wouldn’t have been here today. It’s a lot of knowledge and experience here that I’ll be taking back home, which is great."
Updated on Wednesday, August 21, 2019 at 9:09 PM CDT: Relates sidebar