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THE COACH

I am a reluctant Coach. The first time I tried coaching was in school. I was the tertiary institution’s Basketball team captain and we had a non-official Coach; a short middle-aged fellow, who was not a staff of the institution and only lived behind the school’s main campus. We were not sure he had played the game competitively himself and tolerated his feeble attempt at guiding us out of respect. I was looked up to by my fellow team mates, and most especially by the female Basketball team.

I liked that. If getting all that attention from pretty girls came with it, why not? It was just a game I played then. Not the Basketball, but the coaching. The presumed remuneration was cosy and quite good! It came in doves of willing babes, hyped up campus status, popularity, travelling and fun. It was unlimited fun my parents paid for with my school fees. It was free fun like campus life always would be and life never ever is.

The second stage of my Coaching-hood dawned on a prolonged holiday. In the pigs ‘invaded’ slump my father housed our entire family in, was a group of young men who played amateur soccer. Out of idleness, not even youthful curiosity and certainly not professional pursuit, I teamed up with them.

I was the least skilful of the whole lot, but was respected mainly because my family had a posh status in the ghetto community, and also because of my higher education and maybe also my relative advanced age. I was allowed to play, even in competitions. Though my knowledge of the game exceeded my physical display of it, I gave a good account of myself with the number of goals I scored and the lots more I ‘almost’ scored.

One day, the oldest and most experienced leader of the team; who we obviously called Coach, suddenly named me his assistant. That was it. My first solo assignment was to handle our junior male team. I made a show of it, encouraged some idle girls to join in on the fun as well and started a female team too. This time though, these girls were a lot younger and I was sincerely interested in only improving myself as a soccer Coach with the work I did with the younger players. This I continued to do pretty well, while I finished school and waited to farther my education or get a job, still much the reluctant Coach.

The third stage was longer. My young female team played in its first competition. We did well and got rewarded with a friendly match against a State sponsored side. Afterwards some of my players were asked to play for the State side and I was asked to join the managerial crew of the team. The State team did well, but it soon got off-loaded by the State and a group of tradesmen took over the players. I willingly stayed with the players on a part-time basis, while I worked and schooled full-time.

We won a National competition and did well in another National contest. This brought me and the team a drop of national recognition and I was offered a regional role in a National programme by a prominent National soccer Coach.

I would work at my job as well as pursued a full time advanced course in the city’s polytechnic on week days, while at weekends I spent hours coaching young children under the National soccer programme. I was able to polish my coaching abilities under the tutelage of an ex-professional player, now an established seasoned soccer Coach. Taking it one day at a time, I managed my time according to my prevailing priorities. It was always work first, school next and coaching last.

I had made it the quest of my reluctant coaching career during this period to improve the general lives of all the young players I handled. My principle was simple: ‘Sports is recreational and recreation is temporal.’ Hence, I ensured that all my wards pursued a more permanent career alongside sports. Mainly it was schooling, but some learnt other trades too. My quest became a means of recreation for me too. And though by my actions I had assisted in ensuring that the aspirations of many families for their young ones were achieved, it was always a past time to me too. Soon it developed into something special as I simply dedicated myself more to it. It became more important to me than actually coaching soccer. I will coach for a lucrative package when I got the chance, but I am still a reluctant Coach.

THE PLAYER

It was a secondary schools’ female soccer competition match and our team was winning with four goals. But though our team was five goals up by half time, we were still worried about a skilful, natural left footed girl in our opponents’ midfield. She had repeatedly dribbled, waltzed and shot through our entire defence line like we were playing against her alone and not another team of eleven girls. We won the match by a whooping seven-nil, but everyone was looking at that talented girl like she had netted all the seven goals we scored against her team.

I wanted her in our team and I tried to get her by every legal means conceivable. Every attempt to get her interested in our school was foiled by her then handlers. I got to know that she had played that match illegally because she had not even been a student of the school she played for and had indeed dropped out of an entirely different junior school two years earlier. It only made me even more interested in her.

I tailed her home from her local training field one evening and met her parents with my very ‘palatable’ offer. Unknown to me, they were prepared for me. The girl’s then handlers had falsified some details about me and warned her, and her parents about me. They had been told that I was a profiteering schemer who wanted to deceive them, and that I had no good intensions for their daughter. I was then disappointed that I had probably seen (maybe) the most talented female soccer player ever identified in my country and she was wasting away, out of school, hawking sugarcane, flirting around and utterly poorly handled.

She could have very easily been schooling on a full scholarship in one of the best schools in the country like I had offered her. She could be polished and managed into becoming an educated success in both sports and in any other career of her choice. It hurt me, but there wasn’t much I could do but wait and hope.

I didn’t have that long to wait though. In sports two years is not a long time. In sports we remember and forget too easily. I had stopped to change a flattened wheel and habitually responded to greetings from behind me, as I changed the punctured tyre. At first I didn’t recognise any of the girls sitting behind full trays of neatly stacked well cut sugarcane sticks, they were selling.

When I finished changing the tyre and had put the flat tyre away in the car’s rear compartment, one of the girls came over with some water for me to wash my dirtied hands with. It was then I recognised the talented left footer. After holding up the water for me to wash my hands, she insisted I took at least a stick of her sugarcane with me. Before I drove off she shyly asked me if she could come to see me sometime. She claimed to know my office and pleaded that I gave her a few minutes when I could. I gave her an appointment, drove off whistling. Patience does pay.

She came early, in time. I gave her something to drink, which she didn’t touch eventually. She wept as she told me how she regretted not joining our school and what a mess her handlers had made of her prospects as a promising talent. She then wanted to join up with us but didn’t have the courage to face me until she met me recently. Though I knew it was too late to get her admitted into the private school where I coached part-time, after the proprietor had given seventeen girls from my team admissions on full scholarship. Since he died in a car crash on his way for an inaugural meeting of a federal sports panel, the school hadn’t taken any more students on sports scholarships.

I was so thankful that his family held up to their end of the arrangement and still allowed all the girls (and some boys) to complete their studies on full scholarship. To request for an additional space, at that time, was asking for too much.

I however asked her to return with photocopies of her most recent academic credentials and lied that I will try to get her accepted into the school. I had however explained to her the difficult situation truthfully. I just wanted her in our team first, so that I could have a shot at handling her properly. I was certain I could make her an outstanding future star.

THE SPORT

A year passed and she was now fully part of our team. I finally had to get her settled into a public school and assisted her ‘struggling’ parents in paying her school fees. She blossomed into a wonderful team player and she travelled with our team everywhere, playing in both local and national competitions for the private school’s team too. She was the toast of every match she played in and I started getting doves of hugely promising requests for her from big professional club sides.

My refusal to accept any of these offers started a feud with her parents. They had been told that their girl will earn a lot if she joined a professional side. Though this is partially true, I had my reasons for refusing. This I explained to her parents. But against my best advice her parents soon insisted she joins a professional club. I had two reasons for not wanting her to go just yet. Firstly, I thought she was still rather young and inexperienced in the dirty ‘game’ behind the sports scene.

Secondly, she had to finish secondary school to enable her continue her education any farther. If she is to have a decent life after her very limited sporting career, then furthering her education was paramount. This I considered was appropriate then and not at any other non-feasible time in the future.

I lost her, but happily not her trust. Her parents made her join a big club in the south of the country for their own selfish reason. I was given some money to sign her mandatory release papers, which I took and did. She was gone for only one calendar year and though she is an incredibly talented player, she never got to play in even one competitive game for the club. She was not even registered for the national league in two abridged seasons.

It was soon revealed that one of her Coaches there wanted sexual favours from her and the other considered her a threat to his most favoured player. Then she broke her leg in training and had to return home untreated and without any savings to fall back on. Her folks had used up every dime she had sent home. I got a specialist to treat and manage her leg. And in those eight months, while she healed and rehabilitated, I got her re-admitted to finish her secondary education in her last school. I paid for her extra lessons and her examination fees too. She was able to resume training exactly nine months after she returned home.

Three months later, her results were out. She had passed averagely and it coincided with her regaining her previous playing form. By the time we started processing her admission into a tertiary institution on a sports ticket; she had healed completely and was thrilled to have attained the ‘form of her life’. Then she did the unexpected. You just never know with young girls and lying cute good looking boys. She called to tell me that she had ‘run-off’ with her mechanic boyfriend, who just got employed into an engineering firm somewhere in the biggest city in the west of the country. It was a huge blow.

The necessity of sports in teenagers’ lives can not be over emphasised. It makes them burn up their excess energy, tow the line of good behaviour, stay healthy, imbibe important values in their characters and provide an immediate alternate means of livelihood, and if they are among the lucky talented few. Sports could also ensure a comfortable life subsequently.

I had always insisted that my players get a proper education, the highest possible when obtainable. The risk and luck involved in making it in sports hugely out-weights that involved in making it straight from a proper education. I pursued the same course myself; thus I subjected all my players to the same pursuit. Most turned out well, but a few derailed. She was no exception, though hers hurt me a lot because of the promise she personified.

Five months later she returned, visibly pregnant and sent away by her boyfriend, who she told us had moved in with another girl. Her father came to me and I followed him. Amidst her entire family’s continuous onslaught of curses, I insisted she is allowed to pick up her life and not discouraged by our disappointment or indeed hers; not even considered. I was secretly certain that this experience will serve a good purpose in the future; for others too, through her.

THE GAME

To keep her mind off things and in an attempt to give her some confidence, I got her enrolled into a Computer school. She finished the brief course just in time for the birth of her baby. Three months after her son’s birth, she started a two years course it a tertiary institution in our town. Eight months later she was back in training, her son weaned and in her mother’s care, most of the time. She made the institution’s team to its biannual national competition, which they won. She was a member of the State’s team to the national sports festival, a team I was given the privilege of handling.

She was simply so brilliant at the tournament that she couldn’t be ignored by our country’s junior national team selectors. The two years of her course ended swiftly and she was invited to join the junior national team in preparing for the world cup. Everyone was excited but I advised that she took her final exams first and wait for another chance in the future. She was still young and officially eligible, even if she should be younger. I expected some resistance but I got none as she readily agreed.

I however made her understand that it had to be her choice, not minding that I was assisting her with her education. She replied me with what is the most touching response I have ever received from any of my players. She said I was her guiding angel, sent by God to steer her through life. She added that she was not the only person I handled, but I had dedicated most of my time, effort and money to her and her troubles.

She did not go to that juniors’ world cup. Instead she finished her academic course and proudly got a National Diploma. It was afterwards easy for her to get into a National females’ League club side. The next two years were quite great. She actually won every competition she was featured in.

The National female soccer league and The National Football Association female clubs’ tourney, The National Sports Festival soccer and a women soccer tournament in Europe were all won by her teams that year, with her playing a very prominent part. She was to later play in the very next edition of the junior world cup she had missed previously, and later won a female soccer continental championship. She became an instant big star and was well off with her financial earnings now.

I sort of managed her affairs for her back home and supervised the construction of the two residential flats she built. Her parents moved into part of the building, leaving the rented abode they had been living in all this long while. She had the other flat fitted and furnished for her own private use.

She agreed with my suggestion to buy a small commercial bus for her first vehicle, instead of the family utility van her father preferred. This was a sore point between her father and I, but she saw the sense in generating money with the vehicle to maintain itself, while it still served the family’s needs. When she returned for her annual holiday, I suggested that she changed her club so that she could farther her education while she still played actively. She did. She was now a big star and it was easy to get into just any other club she so desired.

So she moved to another club, secured an admission into an institution in her new club’s home city and in another two and a half years, she graduated with a university degree. I went for her graduation alongside her brother and father, in the same vehicle she bought. Then she changed clubs again, this time to the city she was posted to for her mandatory National Youth Service. In those two years she made the senior national team, won the continental nations’ cup, and featured in the Olympic Games and in the senior female world cup.

She was soon engaged by a small club in Europe for a two years contract. One year into the contract, her contract was sold by the club to a much bigger club in a different European country for a heart warming sum that was assessed a world record for a female player then. Her new personal package was quite huge. I asked her to take an insurance policy for disability and retirement, and with the assistance of her new foreign club’s secretary, she did. It was such a great idea as the unfolding events that soon followed was to show.

Returning home for an off-season holiday, her plane had to make an emergency landing. As a result of the ensuing crash, she was among the few that got injured when her right femur was fractured in two places. She had stayed behind at home since then. The insurance company paid up and with the statutory settlements she got from her big European club and the Airline’s insurers, she had enough to retire many times over.

She healed well in four months and wanted to play again, but I made her realize that her whole soccer career will end eventually and she would then want to start off in another field. She might never make more money than she had already made and it was a perfect time to start off in a life long career that will define her future status as someone other than just an entertainer.

We looked at all the options opened to her and concluded that she invests most of her considerable fortune in landed structures and pursue a career in the field she already studied. So because she had read Banking and Finance and had a favourable public image, we had; with a little persuasion, got her employed as a junior manager in a bank she had also invested heavily in. She bought a small store and built a small office structure, which she rented out. Now her son is doing very well in the private school she couldn’t get into and I am as proud as a stuffed bear.

The Coach isn’t selfless but human too,
He is the person with a plan for everyone.
With abilities as experience all learnt anew;
He is an optimist, patient as sure as the sun.

The Player obeys the norms and urge,
Enjoying the dreamt up living, yet real.
Dancing to all songs with a new surge,
Blinding days are lit with a light to feel.

The Sport is heartless and demanding,
All companies it keeps are envious of it.
Consuming lust filled, never satisfying;
On its sure ride it will keep every bit.

The Game is simple and easy to chase,
Embraced in choices to choose and make.
Stages of gains at every level of the race
Made the whole thing Sports for players’.

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