Knowing the rules of a sport, and being physically fit, is only half of the story when you play in a team. Rapport with teammates, positive attitude and absolute dedication to the game are also necessary to succeed. Football player Ashwin Mahtani is an impressively decorated sportsman, yet he understands that there is more to a match than what happens on the pitch – not to mention the value of downtime.
The 17-year-old KGV student has been playing since he was four. He had a lot of energy, so his parents signed him up for soccer practice at Kowloon Cricket Club (KCC) to try to wear him out. As well as providing an avenue for Ashwin’s active streak, the sport also offered the footballer the perfect release from schoolwork and a way to make close friends.
“My favourite thing about playing soccer is the atmosphere and the team support during matches,” he tells Young Post. “I love hearing players shouting for the ball, calling fouls and celebrating goals because I know that the other 21 players on the field take the game just as seriously as I do.”
Ashwin is quite the role model at his school, having represented Hong Kong internationally on the pitch, attended US camps and trained with Real Madrid coaches. But he got to meet his own hero, Chelsea FC player and fellow winger Willian, while on holiday in Summer 2014 in Cancun, Mexico, where they were staying in the same hotel. Instead of just signing an autograph or posing for a selfie, the Brazilian player chatted to Ashwin every day at breakfast.
“After meeting him, I trained harder and played with more passion,” says Ashwin. “He taught me a lot and made me a better player and person. That’s why he is my role model.”
That inspiration was a huge boost, which came in useful a few months later when KCC’s U16 team headed to Borneo for a tournament. They took on teams from all over Asia, including Indonesia’s national U20s and a club from the Philippines. KCC came fourth out of the 16 teams competing.
“It was a good experience because we got to know what the soccer style is like outside of Hong Kong and I believe it made the whole team (KCC U16’s) improve,” Ashwin says.
Accepting losses and moving on is vital to staying sane in sport. Ashwin remembers this year’s International Schools Sports Federation Hong Kong (ISSFHK) final in April. In preparation, he went to the gym three times a week and cut down on junk food to be in top physical form. After a seemingly unstoppable undefeated streak, KGV got through to the final.
“We played amazingly throughout the whole tournament thanks to great communication,” he says. Then they took on rivals HKIS in the final and lost 7-3.
“It was a really bad defeat. I was really unhappy and angry at myself because whenever I lose I always kick myself and say ‘why didn’t you try harder’,” he says. Yet, ever the optimist, he saw the positive side: “At the end of the day we got to the finals, which I was not expecting us to do, and I was really happy about that.”
Training takes up a lot of Ashwin’s weekly routine, but he also makes time to round out his CV by making short films, designing clothes with school friends, and working with a local charity to visit people living in nursing homes, cage houses and orphanages with donations of food and useful items.
“I always feel good whenever I can give back to the less fortunate,” he says.
Perhaps one day it will be Ashwin lighting up a fan’s life – whether that’s on the pitch, with a kind deed, or spending time to chat over a hotel breakfast.
What song/movie title best describes you when you’re playing your sport?
Song: Summer by Calvin Harris. I always listen to it just before I play a match because it gets me in the zone.
Movie: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Although this is a comedy, it illustrates freedom and determination in what you really want to do, and when it comes to playing on the field I always like to express myself through playing football, to show my “freedom”.
You can take the abilities of any animal during one competition. Which do you choose and why?
A tiger, because tigers are agile, strong, fast, majestic and determined. A football player must be strong to hold off opponents, fast to reach the ball, and agile to whizz past defenders.
What’s your favourite thing to eat before a big event?
I love to eat pasta with tomato sauce, two chocolate chip cookies, fruits and Gatorade because these foods all give me long-lasting energy.
Who would your dream teammate be?
Channing Tatum because he is funny, easy-going and determined to be the greatest.
10 years in the future, you are a famous athlete. What company are you a spokesperson for, and what product do you promote?
Nike, so I could start my own clothing line with them. I already have experience in the design field and I think I could produce quality gear for Nike.