Areej Alhammadi is a female footballer on the UAE National Team who is seriously inspirational. Just this week she has been awarded a Guinness World Record for the most ‘hotstepper’ football tricks completed in one minute (86!). She is also a super successful Creative Project Manager and aspires to encourage female representation in sport. We caught up with Areej to talk football, career advice and teamwork.
On her career journey so far Areej tells us, “I have worked in broadcast (Dubai Media Inc.) for seven years, where I started off as an Assistant Director at Dubai One for a few years. I then moved into the Creative Services department as VizArtist and then Art Director. Currently, I’m a Creative Project Manager at Expo 2020 Dubai. I love it! It is a great honour for me to be part of this mega event and that a great source of national pride as well”.
She tells us that she balances her football career alongside her professional career, after taking the opportunity to play whenever she could, “football has always been a passion for me ever since I was a kid. There wasn't many opportunities for girls in the game growing up, so I had to take my opportunities where ever I found them. Be it playing with family or any tournament that allowed women’s participation. I started playing with my university’s women's team when I was in my 20s participating in community leagues like the Dubai Women’s Football Association. There, I was scouted for the national team back in 2015 and I have been playing with them ever since participating on a national level and club level with Abu Dhabi Country Club currently. Women’s football in general isn't at a space yet where you can pursue it as a career independently. So for me an many of my team mates we have to balance our working career with our athletic one”. Werking harder than Beyonce!
Areej has a super-close connection with her teammates and describes them as being like her family. “The passion for the game and the pride we share representing our country creates a special bond between us and creating a unity as if we’ve known each other since childhood”, she tells us, continuing “they are all really amazing and talented women, from the youngest ones to the veterans. They are hard working on and off the field, many of them are committed to their day jobs, studies and never miss a training with the team. They’re truly inspirational women who have great achievements under their belts on and off the field, and many more to come. It’s special to share the same passion because you understand each other’s goals and aspirations, you push each other to become the best version of yourself, and you always want the best for your team. We enjoy discussing the development of women’s football, we praise each other when we win and pick each other up when we lose”.
We asked Areej what her career advice to Cosmo readers would be and she tells us, “It can be difficult especially when you’re trying to excel in two things at the same time. But when you set your mind on a goal or a dream, you will realise that you are really capable of achieving anything one small step at a time. It requires some patience and resilience but hard work always pays off. I never had the opportunities when I was growing up to play football at the level I do now because women’s football was not developed in the region yet."
"I kept dreaming and working on myself till the opportunity presented itself to me. As for my career, I always look for a path that is meaningful and gives me a sense of pride because when times get tough I can remind myself why I’m still doing what I do. It’s important when you have a busy life to be mindful with how you feel. To take the time out and mentally relax otherwise you can feel burned out. Sort of like mentally checking into yourself to make sure I am prioritising what I should be at the time, be aware of what’s happening around me and acknowledge what it’s all for. Being self-aware of how you feel is really important in staying motivated”.
Areej is also super creative individual; her Instagram bio reads “creative by day, footballer by night”. She uses art and creativity as a form of expression, telling us “it is an exercise for the mind and sports is an exercise for the body as well as the mind working together in harmony. Art helps me look at things differently, to solve problems and create with artistic expression. Sports helps me learn to become resilient and mentally strong by pushing my body to physical feats you didn't know you were to achieve but your artistic side can spill over into sports where your creative problem solving can be applied in football by seeing things others don’t and sliding passes no one was expecting”.
She continues, “my work requires me to be creative and the National Team requires me to be fit, they both balance each other out. But I do get creative in my own time as well, I enjoy playing music and taking on artistic projects on the weekends. I also like having fun with sports like hosting social media challenges with my friends and well taking a crack at sports challenges as well like the Guinness World Records. All and all it’s important to have fun and enjoy what you do, it keeps you vitalised and it is also fun and entertaining”. Words to live by!
Areej has big future plans too, and not just for herself. She has big ambitions for the world of female football as a whole. "My future ambitions are to raise the UAE women’s football representation to the professional level it deserves to be on. We are a great country that has achieved so much in a short period of time, I dream to one day see that success applied in women’s football for the UAE as well. I would love to see my country represented in the FIFA women’s world cup one day, I want to be a part of that”.
“In addition, I aspire to change society’s perception towards women’s participation in sport. Our representation in sport is often met with cultural boundaries and gender roles that regress their potential to making a meaning contribution throughout our sporting careers. I want to play my part in changing these perceptions and educating society on the health and mental benefits of women participating in group sports in as a whole”, Areej tells us. “In my view, we should have the opportunity to practice a sporting career we desire without any cultural frictions and with the full support of society. This is my dream for every girl and women in the UAE.”