June 16th, 2011. From Dean, Brian, Sophie, AJ and Alicia in Namibia. Namibian culture seems relaxed and unhurried, but our 10 days here have gone by quickly. Now, at the end of our collaboration with Special Olympics Namibia, we’re looking back at our enjoyable time spent working here.
From the start, our objective was two-fold: to offer our blend of soccer training and social engagement and to advance the cause of Special Olympics, particularly in
the realms of acceptance and inclusion. Soccer was the agent, the force behind our two organizations, and we tried to inject plenty of soccer coach training into each session with Olympic Namibia (SON) coaches. We addressed lots of points of methodology in our daily sessions, such as:
- When you’re talking to players, ask
them to stand in front of you so that they can hear you.
- Face the sun so that your players don’t have to.
- Listen to your practice as well as watching it: laughter is a good sound and good feedback for you.
- Use a strong voice.
- Try to avoid activities that involve straight line running.
- Recognize that learning takes a lot of repetitions.
- Always make a plan before practice – and bring it with you.
By themselves, these might seem like small points, but a good coach is in command of
them all, and others that we talked about this week – and they contribute to effective, enjoyable practices.
On this past Thursday, towards the end of the week’s training, we asked the SON coaches to pair up, prepare a game (that was Wednesday night’s ‘homework’), and then coach
that game using the other coaches as their ‘players’. The sessions were very good: they showed good methodology, solid instincts, excellent demonstrations, and earnest effort. All week long the coaches impressed us with their high spirits, friendliness, and open-minded approach. They were a remarkable group: young coaches and older ones; women and men; British university student volunteers; the irrepressible Mojo; Bethuel and Felix, leaders of the Namibian homeless World Cup team and the Namibia Second Chance Street Soccer Project; Deon, a Global Messenger at the SO World Games – every coach distinctive in his or her own way, all drawn together by soccer.
Of course, the social messages were at least as important as the coach training details
and the pure soccer learning. We continued to assert many ideas all week, including:
- Sport should be for everyone: all people should be able to participate and play, regardless of physical/mental limitations.
- There are so many things that can keep us apart (race, tribe, religion, cultural beliefs, etc.): we have to work to stay together.
- Violence, exclusion, racism, threats to health and safety have no place in sport – or in life in general.
- Soccer is a powerful cultural force that can be both an enjoyable game and a means of addressing and solving some of society’s deepest problems.
- Special Olympic Athletes are all individuals, but they have in common an ability to rise to challenges and show bravery.
In all our endeavors over these last 10 days, we have been inspired by the ideals of Special Olympics Namibia. On Friday, Esther Kambala, the director of SON spoke eloquently to all the coaches about the structure and mission of Special Olympics, the largest amateur sports organization in the world:
Among her many insights:
- Katutura was one of the first six sites in Africa chosen to receive a Football for Hope Centre, as part of the legacy of World Cup 2010.
- “The pitch is our diamond.” It’s the only artificial pitch in the
- SO is an international organization for people with intellectual disabilities – people who need special attention. We offer year round training for athletes:
and local, regional, and international opportunities to compete. (A soccer team representing Namibia has been training at Katutura and will leave next week for the World SO Games in Greece!) It’s important that they have
opportunities to compete – to demonstrate courage and experience joy.
- SO is global, important, a movement and a business: it’s about all of us.
- For SO, words matter: they can open doors or make barriers. Demeaning
language robs people of their individuality.
We had the opportunity the very next day to see SON in action. They held a “Special Smiles” day: free dental screenings offered by local dentists who were volunteering their time. SON also offers “Opening Eyes” and “Fit Feet”days. We organized several soccer stations through which the athletes could circulate as they waited for their check-up. For us this was community building at its most beneficial.
We finished our collaboration with SON on Tuesday the 14th of June, after
offering three clinics at local schools designed for students with intellectual
disabilities. We were happy to see, at the schools we visited, many of the athletes who had
been at our sessions last week. One of them greeted us with a wave and a “Marta 2!” – a reference to a move we practiced last week.
Many thanks to Esther Kambala for her inspiration and for enabling us to partner with Special Olympics Namibia.