Thursday 09 April 2020, 05:09

Passion takes Shabsough from volunteer to world-record experience

  • Football fanatic Yasmeen Shabsough realised her dream of turning pro

  • Jordanian uses football as tool for self-improvement and breaking down barriers

  • Volunteered at FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Jordan 2016 and helped set records

Ambition, passion and future goals were what drove young Jordanian Yasmeen Shabsough to make the most of football. A deep love for the game, evidenced from an early age, has not only made her a professional player, but has also given her numerous opportunities to harness her enormous energies to show the potential of football to achieve very lofty goals.

"I grew up as an only girl surrounded by boys," Shabsough told "My brother and cousins would play football in our garden. With no other girls around, I wasn’t your typical girl playing with dolls. I wanted to go out and play football with the boys, but they said no at first. Thanks to my aunt’s insistence, they let me be the goalkeeper, before I found my love of getting forward and scoring goals. They were beautiful times and, coincidentally, the pattern continued in school, where I played with the boys while other girls preferred their skipping ropes.

"My love of football deepened and then I heard that Amman Club were going to start a girls’ team to take part in local competitions. I remain deeply grateful to my father, who used to drive me to the club where I learned the basics of football: training sessions, tactics, formations, defence and attack. At the end of my first training session, the coach talked to my dad and asked for my official documents so I could join the team. I couldn’t believe it myself, but this was the start of my football journey."

Jordanian player Yasmeen Shabsough

Character building

In a conservative country that cherishes customs and traditions, Shabsough feared her career might be short lived because of social pressure and a mindset that balked at the idea of girls playing what was considered a "boys' game".

"Yes, I was really afraid I’d be forced to quit. I got the call to join the U-14 national team that would later travel to the Asian qualifiers in Sri Lanka. I knew my parents would support me, but I hesitated a lot before breaking the news. My father was very understanding, and he continued to instil confidence in me, especially now that I was going to travel with other girls and officials from the Jordanian Football Association. This marked the start of a new journey – one requiring us to tear down barriers and always look forward.

"It was the first time I’d travelled to a distant country without my family, but this trip helped shape my personality early on. I came to know girls of different nationalities and changed my thinking, and this had a positive impact on me when I returned to school. The same thing happened again when I joined the U-19s, with whom I had several training camps and played matches in Vietnam and Turkey. I had to strike a balance between my passion for football and getting top grades in secondary school. However, I graduated with flying colours and went to college."

Volunteering at the World Cup

Like all players, Shabsough dreamed of participating in a World Cup, but given how difficult that was going to be at that age, she decided to volunteer for the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Jordan 2016.

"This is everyone's dream, I wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass me by. I took the initiative to volunteer with the organising committee and, after extensive training, I was tasked with escorting the England national team during the tournament. I was very happy because I’d be getting close to professional teams but, to be honest, I never expected I’d be more than a volunteer performing logistical tasks.

"When the England coach learned that I was a footballer, he asked me to bring my boots. At first, I was really surprised, but then I started to see my name added to the team sheet. I participated in training and and did almost everything required of the players. I learned a lot, including the meaning of professionalism and how to prepare for games from three days out until arriving at the stadium 90 minutes before kick-off. It was an unforgettable experience that made football more valuable to me."

Jordanian player Yasmeen Shabsough

Breaking records

Through football, Shabsough’s horizons expanded. She came to know players of different nationalities with a shared passion for the game. She took part in a challenge to highlight gender inequality that involved a group of girls from around the globe playing the world’s highest-altitude football match in a crater beneath the summit of Kilimanjaro.

“It was an experience worth all the effort," she said. "To get my family’s approval, I asked my friend Haneen Khateeb to join me. However, this wouldn’t have happened without support from Her Royal Highness Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein. We arrived in Tanzania and got to know many big names in football, such as the former USA player Lori Lindsey and the famous French player Sandrine Dusang. We made it into the Guinness World Records and it was certainly a beneficial experience.

"We received a lot of attention and we had a meeting with His Highness Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein. I started to think about taking advantage of the unique location of the Dead Sea, the lowest-altitude spot on earth, so I started the process of organising a match that would bring players from all over the world. With the support of Prince Ali, we succeeded in establishing an official sized pitch to host the game, which attracted the attention of the world’s media."

Not content with helping to break records, Shabsough then applied to work with international organisations sponsoring projects in Jordan. In 2017, she joined GIZ Sport for Development Project in her homeland.

"I've always wanted to use football in another way. These programmes focused on developing the skills and personalities of participants, who included young coaches and even schoolteachers, by training them in areas like collaboration, sportsmanship, communications skills, empathy and support. We launched programmes geared towards children in impoverished areas of Jordan away from the capital, and for displaced Syrian children.

“I think the journey I pursued proves to everyone that the mission of football is not limited to competing in tournaments. Football can do many things and it's an important tool that can change lives."

Jordanian player Yasmeen Shabsough on top of Mount Kilimanjaro