Naupang League: Catalyst of grassroots football & way of life in Mizoram

Moments from RFYC Naupang League. Source: RFYC

Mizoram is a state where people live, breathe, and dream football. The passion and dedication for football have catapulted them onto the map of India. When Aizawl FC clinched the I-League Championship, Mizoram became the talk of the nation, all thanks to their football club. The state boasts immense football talent and has even produced international stars like Jeje Lalpekhlua, Shylo Malsawmtluanga, and Lallianzuala Chhangte. However, despite being a hotbed of Indian football, Mizoram has lacked certain crucial elements over the years.

Key among those are proper grassroots programs to channelise emerging talent, modern infrastructure, coaches’ education, and astute scouting. But with the introduction of the RFYC Naupang League (Naupang means ‘Kids’ in Mizo), the Mizoram Football Association has set its sights on grand ambitions.

With over 160 clubs and 2000 children participating, the Naupang League runs for eight months. During this time, team coaches receive proper coaching education, and children are provided with football kits and artificial turfs or mud pitches for matches, replacing clay pitches. Since its inception in October 2022, RFYC has scouted 40 talented children based on their football prowess for an exposure camp in Mumbai, where they learn from renowned coaches, and more than that – get the experience of a lifetime. Witnessing a full-fledged academy for the first time in a different city would evoke different emotions and further builds aspirations to achieve excellence.

With the chance to interact with different personnel at the academy and train during the camp, students would have a better understanding of what a structured setup can do to make them better – not only for children but even the coaches who travel. They take these learnings back to the state and share them with others – all geared towards becoming better.

“I think these children are very lucky they are getting better facilities and infrastructure, jerseys, boots and all. We haven’t got such facilities in our childhood days. They will have a bright future if they can use these opportunities.” Said Former National Team and East Bengal midfielder, Lalrindika Ralte.

According to Lalnghinglova Hmar, Mizoram Sports Minister, the most significant benefit for Mizoram’s children has been the instillation of discipline through the Naupang League. Previously, children stayed up late to watch European football matches. Now, those participating in the league go to bed and wake up early for games, while also adhering to proper diets and nutrition required for athletes.

“Discipline is crucial for a footballer,” says Lalnghinglova. “Players are becoming more disciplined after the inception of the Naupang League. They have changed their food and sleep habits. Social media and mobile phones can be major distractions, so coaches teach players to avoid them.”

“I have met many parents who want to enroll their sons and daughters in the Naupang League. Even if they don’t excel in football, they will learn discipline,” Lalnghinglova added.

However, one of the most significant challenges faced by Mizoram is drug abuse. Drugs have long been the bane of football in Mizoram, ending careers of many players. Hmar believes that the Naupang League will guide young footballers onto the right path, steering them away from drugs.

Lalrindika Ralte, a native of Lunglei, Mizoram, observes that today’s children are highly addicted to mobile phones. However, he has noticed a positive change in kids after participating in the Naupang League.

“Even my own child takes the phone and stays glued to it after coming back from school. But in Naupang League coaches ensure that children stick to proper discipline, diet and exercise.” Lalrindika said.

On match days during the Naupang League, the excitement among the children is palpable. They eagerly arrive at the ground, ready for the match. Once the game begins, they focus on giving their best. Some even emulate local stars like Lallianzuala Chhangte and Apuia. .

Notably, they pay little attention to the referee’s decisions. Even if fouled and the referee overlooks it, neither the children nor the coaches are bothered, as if they want to minimise interruptions while playing this beautiful game.
Parents have become more enthusiastic since the Naupang League has begun. Some even skip household chores or work to cheer for their children. Some parents dream that their child will become ISL stars in the future.
With its passion to take football to new heights, the RFYC Naupang League is acting as a catalyst for football growth in Mizoram. Proper facilities, infrastructure, coaching programs, and scouting come together to ensure that Mizoram has sown the seeds for a promising future through its partnership with Reliance Foundation Young Champs.

Also Read: How the Naupang League gave wings to a young boy’s dream