Women in Sports: Turning the Spotlight on Female Coaches in Bhutan

They are leaders, motivators and teachers. These coaches are working tirelessly in molding the future athletes of the country and, while they’re at it, passing down their passion for sports.

Written by Sonam Pelden       Edited by Karen Lim

Taekwando coach Pem Chuki

When Pem Choki first took up taekwondo in 1999, there were only a few girls in the group, but the encouragement from her friend motivated her to stay in the sport.

Soon, opportunities to take part in competitions outside pushed her to see the sport as a platform she could work on. Slowly, her performance and hard work began to inspire many other girls to learn taekwondo.

Today, she trains young boys and girls in the sport with a dream to mould future athletes of Bhutan.

“I consider myself very fortunate to be able to coach our youth. Moreover, I also feel that the fact that I’m a woman will also encourage more girls to join this sport.” says Pema Choki.

Coach Pema believes that the Bhutan Olympic Committee (BOC) is playing a vital role in enhancing the Taekwondo Federation by developing external links with taekwondo federations outside, and also by emphasizing on inspiring more girls to join.

Taekwando is not a ‘hazardous sport’

Pema talks about a time when women in shorts were criticized when they were in sport fields that generally demoralized the girls – an experience that she went through personally as well.

“There still are certain notions that girls practising taekwondo will have problems in the future in terms of delivering babies and that it is a hazardous sport, but to me, martial arts can be very empowering especially for young girls who are deemed weak.”

Coach Pem Chuki has been dedicated to taekwondo for almost 18 years and says that it helped her lead a fit and healthy life. Moreover, she states that it’s easier for delivery if the woman has been active and playing sports for a long time.

“I am very much thankful to grand master Yonten Tharchen for believing in me and nominating me as a coach and also happy to know that BOC now has a Women in Sports committee which further encourages girls to play sports.”

As a huge group of young students enter the training hall, she concludes by saying that her passion for taekwondo will keep her going and she will serve the Taekwondo Federation until her body is ready to retire from the sport.

“Even if we do not win medals during international competitions, we feel proud to represent our nation and raising our national flag high in a stadium of thousands gives us the greatest pride.” concludes coach Pem Chuki.

Olympic archer Dorji Drolma

Dorji Drolma couldn’t study beyond 6th grade. But when she heard about the Olympic archery on the radio, it was the start of a whole new life for her.

She had no idea what Olympic archery was but a nagging feeling in her to want to try it began to grow. Luck was on her side when the only condition required to register was to be a grade 6 pass out, and just like it was meant to be, she got selected.

Dolma was an Olympic archer for 15 years, representing Bhutan in many countries and winning medals. With her mother by her side to help her with her baby girl, Dolma got through a divorce and stayed strong in her game.

She is now happily married with two more beautiful kids and coaching in sixteen different schools around Thimphu and Paro.

“Archery isn’t for girls”, says parents.

Alongside Dolma, there are a few female archery coaches in Bhutan, some coaching in two or more districts. What they all find disappointing is very few girls sign up for archery in school.

Drolma says some parents discourage their daughters to get into archery because it’s ‘not’ for girls and some schools don’t want archery as one of their recreational classes, unless they are provided with some amount of funds.

Bhutan Archery Federation provides interested schools with arrows and bow samples so that the school can make handcrafted bows just like the traditional compound bows. The bow samples can get pretty expensive to craft, which is one of the reasons why schools don’t really want to initiate archery classes.

However, Dolma loves seeing students show up for her archery class, especially interested girls. You will catch her smiling brightly and laughing with her students on the practice grounds. Her students call her the ‘good-hearted coach’ because she’s known to be nice to them.

Dolma’s goal in life is to train her students the best she can so that someday they can compete in the Interschool Junior Championship and win a medal.

“Girls need to do more of what they want to do and not hold back. It’s not all for the boys.”

Olympic shooter and coach Kunzang Choden

When Kunzang Choden held a rifle and was shooting it at the Olympic Games, she got many people in Bhutan talking. You see, it wasn’t something people would see everyday, especially here in Bhutan.

She used to be that one girl playing archery and khuru (darts) among the boys, while the other girls played with kitchen sets and plastic dolls. She always had a fondness for archery and guns, but when Kunzang saw on BBS TV that BOC was announcing their plans to train shooters and archers, her interest for shooting and archery became more serious.

However, seeing that pretty much no girls were signing up for shooting, it only  helped to motivate Kunzang even more.

Kunzang was a shooting athlete for 10 years, after which she started coaching young shooters. Being a mother of two kids has not been a problem for Kunzang – all she needed was some good time management and a pinch of discipline to keep her life on track. Her husband being the head shooting coach made it easier for her.

Training students of Zilukha Middle Secondary School and a couple more at BOC, Kunzang finds very few girls interested in shooting.

Bhutanese girls hold highest scores in shooting

“People think girls can’t handle a gun but that’s really not true” says Kunzang.

Girls in Bhutan hold the highest scores in shooting yet.

Science too proves that women hold a distinct advantage in long distance shooting, due to the way a woman’s body is built: Their wide hips and lower distribution of weight helps with balance and control. This may not really be an advantage in other sports like football and basketball, but for sports like rock climbing and shooting, the female anatomy seems to have more advantages than the male’s.

Kunzang is proud of the few girls whom she trains today. Being a national coach brings a lot of pressure on her. She fears athletes won’t put in so much effort if they think they are not getting anything out of it in material terms.

Surprisingly, Bhutan never held a shooting tournament, except for a school competition last year.

Kunzang plans on training more students and initiating more shooting competitions in the schools of Bhutan. Her main focus right now is on Lenchu Kunzang (shooter athlete) for the 2020 Olympics. She doesn’t expect any medals but hopes for Lenchu to get through the qualifying stage so that she gets to represent our country.

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