This teenager breaks records in football and trains with the boys

Danella Tan discovered her football talent by accident.

At just six years old, he joined a football club in Singapore where his brothers played every Saturday.

“I felt alone at home… so I asked my parents if I could join,” Tan said.

He scored 12 goals in his first grade – an impressive performance that was just the beginning of his sporting achievements.

Last month, the 18-year-old made history as the first Singaporean woman to play in the Europa League after making her debut for London Bees.

What made the night sweeter for Dawn was the only goal she scored for her team.

The young athlete shares her thoughts on success, sacrifices and important life skills with CNBC Make It.

Not just a men’s sport

Tan took some convincing before even stepping foot on the field – due to his mother’s initial warnings about the sport.

“Maybe it’s not a sport that girls play,” she said.

The notion that football is a “man’s sport” is not new, but Tan said he believes that is changing.

“I think that women’s football in general is developing rapidly, top three [attended] Games in Europe it’s the women’s games – it’s going in the right direction and it’s great to see.”

Since then, Tan has received full support from his parents to continue his professional career in football.

“I knew that my development as a player would be stunted in Singapore. If I wanted to achieve my goal of becoming a professional footballer, I would have to move abroad,” he added.

Danella Tan (pictured here aged 12) scored 12 goals in her first lesson at the age of six – an impressive feat that was just the beginning of her sporting success.

Danella Tan

In early 2022, Tan decided to move to London and has been attending Mill Hill High School ever since – she is also the first female player on the football team.

“When I first joined, there was no girls’ team… My original intention was always to join the boys’ team to make sure I could challenge myself,” Tan said.

This means he has to “work harder” than the rest of his team.

“At one age, they’re a lot more physical and faster, so I have to think faster, move the ball faster to match that physicality,” he added.

Tan never saw this as a disadvantage. Instead, he saw it as a reason to give up.

“Growing up, I wasn’t the most talented or the fastest. I think I worked really hard, kept my head down and kept working,” Tan says.

“It’s about not settling for less.”

Snakes and Ladders

I’m only 18 so I don’t know where life will take me. I always think of life as a game of snakes and ladders.

“I never thought about it. I’m only 18, so I don’t know where life will take me. I always think of life as a game of snakes and ladders,” he says.

“Most of us probably want our journey to be linear and you’re always improving. But it’s up, then down, and then you can go straight up the ladder, and later you can snake down.”

One of his most difficult experiences was being sidelined for four months after tearing his ligament.

“The whole rehabilitation process was incredibly long … You don’t even [set] Feet on the field, you don’t touch the ball,” Tan said.

“I had a really good support system. A lot of my friends, especially my family, helped me get back on track.”

But one thing is clear: The last thing Dawn wants is to be “stagnant” in her journey as an athlete.

“Can I be Singapore’s all-time great?” [best] goal scorer or can I be the top scorer in my club? I just want to strive for more and strive for more.”

Discipline and sacrifice

Juggling a sports career and school is no mean feat. A typical day in the morning starts at 8 in the morning, and classes last until 4:30 p.m.

“Then I usually do strength and conditioning after school for an hour and a half to two hours,” he said.

Practice with the London Bees after dinner.

“I usually get back to the dorm around 10:00 p.m., shower, do laundry, dry my hair, and then usually spend some time reading before bed.”

I don’t think there is anyone in the whole world who gets motivated every day… It’s routine. He does it even when you don’t want him to.

When asked what drives him day in and day out, Tan said it’s not “motivation” but “a lot of discipline and sacrifice.”

“I don’t think there’s anyone in the whole world that motivates me every day. I want to go to bed and go on Netflix. But I don’t have time for that,” he added.

“It’s discipline. He will do it even if you don’t want him to.’

The biggest sacrifice is being 11,000km away from my family and friends in Singapore, which Tan says “can get a bit lonely”.

Nevertheless, he emphasized that discipline and making sacrifices for important things are “very important skills” that will be needed later in life.

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