“Playing football makes me feels like nothing else matters”

Meet Sayler W Hla – a member of the Karen FA womens’ team and a skilled football trickster in her own right! Sayler, 19, explains to us why she loves football and – on International Day of the Girl – why playing sport is so important for girls and young women…

CONIFA: Hi Sayler! How did you first start playing football?

Sayler: “I started playing football was when I was 13 years old. I played in a co-ed [mixed] team and I was the only girl who played with all the guys. It was difficult at first because all the other girls were too shy to play at first – but when I started playing, they soon came along and got involved, which I was really happy about!

“My uncle took me to my first game and he also bought me a new set of cleats [studs] that week, which I will always remember.”

C: How did you know you wanted to be a footballer? How did that make you feel?

S: “I wanted to be a football when I was a sixth grader [aged 11]. I worked the hardest that year to make it in to the team at middle school. Unfortunately I didn’t make it and that really made me question if I was good enough – but I didn’t give up.

“I remember still playing in the park for fun while the middle school season was going on because I wanted to play for my school so much. I kept working hard to get a spot on the team. And all that hard work meant I got a starting spot the next year at middle school. That’s when I fell in love with the sport. Even though I made it, I kept working hard because my next step was to make into the varsity team

[first XI]

at high school.

“I kept that mindset throughout my middle school year, so that’s why I was pleased when I was the only 9th Grader [first year at high school] who made the varsity team on my first year. Football made me focus on what my goal was in the sport, so that’s what I love it so much. It makes me feel accomplished.”

C: What is your favourite thing about playing football?

S: “My favorite thing about playing would have to be meeting new people and learning new tricks. Meeting new people makes you a more open-minded person who can see other perspectives. New people teach you new things that you never knew and some can end up being your best friends!

“Learning new tricks is fun and hard – but every time you get it, it makes you so happy and excited that you can finally do it.

“One thing I love more than football is eating chicken wings! If you know me, you’ll know I love, love, love eating wings – but if there’s a soccer game or tournament going on, I’d rather be there or play there… before eating my wings.”

C: How does playing football make you feel?

S: “Playing football makes me feel like nothing else matters at that moment. It makes me let out anger that I’ve been holding inside, and all the stress that I build up. It makes me let go of all the negativity – and after playing, I feel like I’m free from stress, anger and negativity.”

C: What’s the team spirit like when you and your teammates go out on to the field?

S: “What my team – Midwest United – spirit is all about is to never underestimate the other team that we’re facing. I had some players that I played with who doubted themselves before even touching the ball, which really made me upset because I knew they had more in them then they thought. What I do is just tell my teammates to give it all they’ve got and it’s okay to make a mistake while you’re playing. Just go out there, give it your all and you’ll be satisfied. Basically our team spirit is to always be positive… even when there’s a negative outcome.”

C: What does representing Karen FA mean to you?

S: “It means a lot to me because if it wasn’t for the KFA, I probably wouldn’t have any other opportunities to play the game I love so much for my country. Growing up I couldn’t play at clubs because money wasn’t there, but even playing for the Karen tournament each summer builds you up to try other opportunities that are given to you.”

C: Karen FA’s team motto is ‘We play for you’ – what does that mean to you?

S: “The motto ‘We play for you’ doesn’t mean for ourselves or just to show out to our people – but it means we play for the Karen people, people who didn’t have a chance, but now who do. We play for everyone – women, children, men and for gender equality. We want everyone to have the opportunity to play.”

C: Finally, what’s the one thing you would say to other girls who are thinking about playing? What advice would you give to them?

S: “You will always have a chance if you keep working hard. Even if at first you fail, don’t ever give up – just keep focusing on what you can do better. Always have a positive mindset and never be in competition with anyone but yourself. Learn from your peers and teach your peers and you will always have an opportunity waiting for you.”

To find out more about the Karen FA, go to https://karenfa.com/

To find out more about International Day of the Girl, go to https://www.un.org/en/events/girlchild/