Series / 4 min read / by Khrisha Shah / Dec 20, 2017

What’s it like being a millennial in sport? 22 year old Mohammed Umar shares his inspirational journey

In conversation with Mohammed Umar, a professional Futsal player, a Pacer at the Nike+ Run Club, and a Licensed Football Coach, based in Mumbai. Already a fitness influencer, he’s looking to collaborate with more brands and individuals who work in health and sport. If you’re interested in discussing opportunities or learning more about his professional journey, chat with Mohammed Umar on Dysco

Today’s youth are more open to exploring their skills and passions, and increasingly pursuing less conventional career options – not just traditional ones like accounting, engineering, marketing or medicine. With the rise and spread of social media, talented individuals can even use their ‘hobbies’ to establish themselves as thought leaders, influencers and consultants. When we heard about 22 year old Mohammed Umar making headway in the fitness industry, we were excited to know more about how he navigated his way through to the top, and learn what it’s like to be a millennial in sport. Mohammed Umar plays Futsal professionally, he’s participated in the Asia Futsal Cup, where he represented India in Melaka, Malaysia in 2014, and was a member of the Kerala Cobras team in the Premier Futsal 2017. He also is an active Distance Runner, which led him to become a Pacer at the Nike+ Run Club. His passion for sport doesn’t end with playing sport, he also enjoys teaching others to hone their skills, as a Licensed Football Coach. Mohammed Umar shares more about how he identified his professional goals, the transition from having aspirations to making them a reality, fighting the obstacles that came his way and some advice for others who want to consider a career in sport. We were inspired when we heard his story, and believe that collaborations and conversations with Mohammed Umar can go beyond just product placement for social media. As an individual who’s beaten the odds and fought his way to where he is, he’s a youth icon for millennials chasing their dreams.

This is one of our first interviews with a professional sportsman, we’re intrigued to know how and why you got into the sports industry?
Since childhood I’ve felt restless inside the house, and loved spending time outdoors. I used to play a lot of games until I got injured and had to give outdoor games and activities a complete rest for a while. It was actually much after this, that my interest in Football really developed. I was in the 10th grade, when I saw my classmates playing outside, and I felt a desperate urge to be as good as them when I stepped out onto that pitch. I wasn’t physically fit enough back then, but that set the stage for a new beginning, which came with plenty of new experiences and challenges. It involved going to sport academies; playing with all sorts of diverse people at private tournaments; not getting selected for teams; not winning a lot of times; and even plenty of complaints from the complex about me playing all the time – it all became quite common. But I kept playing, and by investing time in building up my endurance and stamina, was what eventually got me into running.

It was difficult to strike a balance between education and sports.

It couldn’t have been an easy journey, can you tell us more about the challenges you faced and how you overcame them?
Undoubtedly, many challenges came along the way, which I hadn’t fully anticipated. One of the biggest ones was a police complaint against me playing in my building compound, which ended up taking a lot of time and effort to deal with. Not only did I have to find somewhere new to play and practice, but it also meant that the other kids were afraid to play with me, or even play by themselves, in fear of getting reprimanded.

A while after, I was selected to play for an NGO, but they wouldn’t let me play in any tournaments, but they only let me train for myself – I stayed for a while but had to leave them as well in search of better opportunities. Next came a Third Division Team that took me in and kept me as a substitute on the Bench, but I was hardly given any game time. The season was over and so was my time with them. Various similar situations came and went, as did criticism – both constructive and unconstructive.

It was difficult to strike a balance between education and sports. My parents kept motivating me to achieve the greatest heights of professional and educational success, while simultaneously encouraging me to play to my heart’s content. When I got an opportunity to play Futsal internationally, they covered my flight expenses which I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. I felt encouraged and was hopeful when the Premier Futsal League came to India in 2016. Everybody was expecting me to play, but I didn’t manage to make the cut – which was a blow to my motivation and self-esteem.

I managed to keep pushing on, and I kept on playing until 2017 when I finally made it to the biggest Futsal League in the country, and I even scored a goal! I felt overwhelmed with the experience, because my goals and purpose feel like they’ve been fulfilled – to be one of the 18 individuals selected from all over India playing alongside legends like Scholes and Ronaldinho.

Being approached by a brand like Nike was a dream come true

Tell us how you began associating with brands, and how you got your biggest ‘break’?
Well, I worked with a few sports companies while I was still in college, but there was one opportunity that shines out amongst others. In 2014, Nike picked me from the Manchester United Soccer Schools, to feature in a documentary. It was like a ray of hope for me and my family, because for someone trying to go pro, being approached by a brand like Nike was a dream come true. I’m grateful to the man at Nike who actually selected me from the 60-80 kids competing. He made me believe that I can achieve my goals. Given that I’ve always loved the brand and used their products much before being professionally associated with them, getting a chance to be a Pacer for their Run Club in 2016 was another cherished milestone for me. People started recognising me, as I continued running and playing football, when out of the blue in 2017 I got selected to be a part of the League. Honestly, it was the proudest moment for me and my family, who supported me at every step along the way.

What does it feel like having reached so far? What’s next on the horizon for you?
It’s amazing. I have learnt to believe in myself and ignore all the noise that used to hold me back. People and players who played alongside me now look up to me, and I’m proud to be one of those who made it. It’s easy to get carried away, as people start treating you differently and their perspective changes, but I try hard to keep my feet on the ground, and stay away from all negative vibes! I enjoy making videos of myself practising skills and tricks, and I share them online so I can engage with my fans. I can also find new opportunities and ways to keep working in sport, and be much much better – maybe even be player of the tournament in Premier Futsal Season 2 and manage to go and play abroad!

What advice would you give to other young enthusiasts, who are trying to make it in this field?
I’ve seen a lot of people who played with me, not make it to the bigger leagues. And the cost of not making it, is very high in a country like india. You might be a good enough player, but injuries come unexpectedly, so yes, complete those degrees that will get you a job later when and if you need it. My suggestion would be to KEEP TRYING, to never give up, and to always have a back up plan. It’s worth having a steady financial backing, to generate money while you chase your dream, because whether you make it in the field of sport or not, you can maintain the good life that you deserve. Have a backup plan. Never forget where you come from, or your family, and the people who always supported you.

What kind of people or brands are you looking to collaborate with? Any specific opportunities you’re looking for?
I am currently looking for opportunities that allow me to enage and work with those in the sports I’m interested in, and find ways to utilise and explore my full potential. I did something interesting with both a nutritional supplements brand and Smaaash, and I’ve also worked as a social media influencer for quite a lot of health and fitness products. Although I actually believe that athletes can do much much more than a social media post or a 2 hour event, so I want to find opportunities that create value for both me and the brands or people I associate with.