I was told that Namibia would be sending a female soccer team to the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing the day I arrived in Windhoek, and I have been excited about it ever since. Now that preparations are complete and the team has arrived in China, there’s nothing left for me to do but wait with baited breath to hear about their experiences!
For the past two months I have been the assistant coach for Namibia’s U15 Women’s Youth Olympic soccer team; it has been an incredible and eye-opening experience to say the least. This is my story:
I first approached the Football Federation to see if I could assist with team preparations for Nanjing, where they then welcomed me to attend a practice. When I arrived, the coach brought the team together, told them God had sent them a blessing, and then proceeded to have me run the first hour of the training session and referee their game. Needless to say, I was stunned.
From then on a routine fell into place: the coach would tell me what we were working on for the day, I would create drills and run the first half of the practice, and then he would take over and run the second half. I have to thank my years of soccer experience, my coaches, and Google for many of the training sessions that I ran. Coaching at the elite level is new to me and I have to say, it is challenging! Transitioning from athlete to coach is not always the easiest but I have started to understand the reasoning for some coaching decisions that I did not agree with when I was the athlete.
This is what went on in my head during most days:
- Will they still respect me if I demonstrate and do something stupid?
- Where is the line between friend and coach? (especially when I look their age)
- How do I keep the attention of eighteen 15-year old girls?!
- When they stand there and say nothing does it mean they understand what I’m saying?
- Why don’t they listen to every word I say?
- How far can I push them before they yell back or stop listening?
- Will she puke if she runs more; will she show up tomorrow?
- How on earth do I get the girl all the way over there to hear me?
- I had a tough day at work, and I have no energy to run practice.
- How do I console one of the best players when the only reason she’s not going to the Youth Olympics is because she’s born in 2000 instead of 1999?
This was definitely the biggest coaching responsibility I’ve had to date, and it was definitely the most rewarding. It’s hard to describe the feeling you get when your countless hours of drilling a specific skill or tactic into the team’s memory are then flawlessly demonstrated back to you during a game. As a team we had our ups and downs, but overall I’m extremely proud of the girls and what we have accomplished together. At one point, I wondered if I was actually making a difference, but a conversation with the team manager alleviated my doubts when she said “why on earth would I pick you up and drive you to training everyday if you weren’t having a huge impact?!”
Fortunately for me, the NNOC understood the importance of this project and allowed me to leave the office early three to four days a week to help train the girls. I also attended most of their games, sometimes as their coach, sometimes as their ref, and sometimes as their cheerleader. Occasionally I was utilized as their flexibility and stretching coach, and personal massage therapist.
The weekend before the games I joined the girls in their guesthouse for a training camp and it was refreshing to see them outside a soccer related situation. We took them go karting for team bonding, ran motivational sessions to get them excited, and I taught them how to pack (most of these girls have never left the country!) I’m going to miss them over the next few weeks but these girls are ready to show the world what they have to offer and I’ll be cheering them on from Namibia. 🙂