“If you have fun, you will always have the power to chase your dreams,” – Nikhil Khunteta

Nikhil Khunteta has been around with Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools (BBFS) for over a decade now. He is the Head Coach of the BBFS Barnes Residential Academy, and the Technical Lead of West India for the organization. Nikhil’s journey is filled with various challenges and achievements.

Growing up in Mumbai, Nikhil was not very interested in football but was into other sports. He was active, always playing something or the other. His interest in football started when his friend introduced him to Manchester United in his late teens. He fell in love with the game while watching the Red Devils in action.

David Beckham and Ruud Van Nistelrooy were his idols as a child. Within a few months, from a fan, he became an active footballer. 

“When Nikhil started, he was figuring out his goals. He was certain about one thing; he did not want to be a guy running in the rat race. Instead, following his passion seemed a better goal. 

I have seen so many coaches over the years, and for the first time, Nikhil made these young U-8 players fall in love with him. It is not easy to coach the young ones.

Today he has become one of the top coaches that I know. He has improved significantly and become a coach educator as well recently.

As friends, we have spent years together, making innumerable memories. I have learned so much from him, both as a person and coach. I am proud to have a friend like him,” says Ashutosh, one of Nikhil’s closest friends.

Switching from engineering to football coaching

Initially, Nikhil wanted to become an Aerospace Engineer, he dreamt of it day and night. At age 19, unfortunately, he was diagnosed with a vision deficiency. During that time, he felt lost, and his dream of getting into aviation failed. However, all this while football remained his constant. He decided to pursue it seriously. He joined Indian Tigers Football Academy in Mumbai.

“I started playing football in my late teens. I realized that I was decent. Although I moved up the ladder quickly from playing Third Division in Mumbai to playing Elite Division in 3 years, I figured that there was no substitute for hard work and that I need to work harder than any of my teammates to take my place. I would get injured very often. The learnings from my injuries helped me bounce back and return to the game,” says Nikhil.

Nikhil could not continue his professional career because of injuries like an ACL tear. But his love for football drove him to start coaching. If not playing for the country himself, he wanted to contribute to producing players who would. His coach believed in him and forced him to get into football coaching, which enabled his coaching career. He completed his AIFF ‘D’ License course in September 2013. He joined BBFS in December of the same year and has been in the academy ever since.

To have taken football up as a profession, his parents were not content about it. They continued to pester him to do his master’s to get a stable job and income. In the initial years of his coaching career, he was made fun of by his family members for the income he had. This did not stop him from pursuing his dream. Nikhil continued working harder with the support of his cousins, who would visit him often to check on him and spend time. 

Nikhil has faced various challenges throughout the years, which made him more determined. He has gone through a variety of experiences working at BBFS. 

One of the difficulties was spending time away from his family because coaching demands you to be with the players throughout the season. He believes it is a part of the job to reach the top. It involves traveling for various purposes, which takes a toll. Sharing his time and having fun with his friends and coaches who he had around helped him get through the monotony of football coaching.  

Over all these years, he had multiple moments that he is proud of. 

 “I had a 5-year-old child in my team who had a medical condition. It caused difficulties for him to match with the others. He had problems with simple things like walking and running. His confidence was very low. When he came to me, he would not even make eye contact, would not speak at all, and had no expressions whatsoever. It was like talking to a tree. We spent some time together, a few months passed and he made some friends within the group. Eventually, he spoke to me as well. 

The breakthrough moment was when his mom shared an incident from his class. The child had started speaking to his classmates and made friends. The look on his mom’s face was beyond what words describe. This has to be one of the proudest moments, and I want to build future generations the same way,” shared Nikhil. 

Another proud moment for Nikhil is Riba’s induction into the U-17 Indian women’s football team. She is a BBFS Barnes Residential Academy player and has been training with him for years.

Developing self and building the future stars of Indian football

“After all these years, to have finally completed the AFC ‘A’ license, which is the second-highest coaching license in Asia, feels good,” said Nikhil. The next step for Nikhil is to pursue the AFC ‘Pro’ License, the top license in Asia, and then further his learnings with the UEFA certifications. 

 Nikhil’s urge to learn, develop and pass on the learnings to his players remains paramount. As a coach, he deals with multiple personalities. For Nikhil, understanding the player first is imperative. For him, sharing the good and bad moments with them builds a bond. While studying the mental models of different players and finding a solution to them, Nikhil has developed a keen interest in Sports Psychology and aspires to pursue a Master’s in Sports Psychology. Nikhil believes alongside talent and hard work, one of the most important aspects that a player needs to work on is their mind. 

Since the completion of his D license, he wanted to work with BBFS because it is one of the biggest football brands in India. After spending a decade with the organization, Nikhil believes he is just getting started. It is the vision that this organization has which is to help young talents, that resonates with him as a person. Not only the vision but the people that work here, right from the CEO to the Technical Director, are wonderful and inspiring personalities.

Nikhil wants to develop the youth football ecosystem in India. Women’s football has been close to his heart since the beginning. He is proud that after many years, a girls’ residential program has started at Barnes School & Junior College. He wants to work and create more opportunities for young girls to take up football.

A personal note by the author…

Nikhil sir has trained me for around two years now. He is one of the best coaches I have ever had in my playing career. Not only is he my coach, but a best friend and mentor. His training sessions are impressive and fun to be a part of. He plans his session well in advance so it runs smoothly with no leisure time remaining. I look up to him for his confident personality, optimistic vision, and relationship with his players. Over these years, I have learned so much from him about football and life. He deeply understands the problems of his players and speaks about them. The way he deals with these problems, and the way he solves them, truly inspires me. I want to continue training under him and absorbing all the knowledge he imparts. Also, I want him to achieve all his dreams. Because he deserves the best of everything! 

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