Rory Hubbard – Football Coaching in South Africa

During the 5 weeks that I spent in Port Elizabeth working with United Through Sport and my fellow volunteers, the impact that we had on the kids lives, and that they in turn had on ours, was immeasurable. The experiences that I shared with the group of volunteers that I was with meant that I made some really great friends, and helped us to deliver some great coaching sessions for the kids. The one image that will stick in my head for the rest of my life will be the one that money can’t buy: the first time you see the kids at the school gates when you drive into the school in the minibus and they are all screaming, dancing, smiling and waving at you. Then when you get off the bus, all they want is a hug. That image was my motivation throughout the trip, and will be now I’m back in the UK.

The structure of a normal day goes like so; the minibus leaves from the accommodation anytime between 8am to 10am, it depends on how far you have to travel to reach the schools where you will be coaching at. You will coach 3 primary schools Monday to Thursday and 2 on Friday. You will have to make your own packed lunch, with the food being provided by the Mama’s whom also prepare dinner and wash your bed linen for you. At the schools you normally will have 1 hour and a half to coach the kids. I helped to coach football. There were approximately 6 football coaches out there with me, so we all worked together to create the best environment for the kids to learn the beautiful game in.

In the first week, we started teaching the kids the basics of football i.e. heading, passing, dribbling and shooting. As the weeks went on, we introduced more difficult skills for the kids to try, such as crossing, 1 vs 1 situations and introducing the concept of pass and move to them, the latter being the most difficult as at the age we were coaching, they don’t exactly understand positional discipline on a football pitch. Due to the fact that we had approximately 6 football coaches at most, if not all, schools, this allowed us to give each individual kid that we coached more attention and so their skill level improved impressively over the 5 weeks.

One of the most challenging aspects of coaching the kids was, firstly, getting their attention and maintaining it, and, secondly, getting them to understand us as they spoke English as a second language, with Xhosa and Afrikaans being the dominant languages in the Eastern Cape Province where we were working. This meant that we had to think outside the box when it came to showing the drills that we had planned out for the kids. We decided that it would be best if we as the coaches demonstrated the drills to the kids, with plenty of pointing and emphasis placed on certain words, such as ‘run’, ‘pass’ and ‘dribble’. If that wasn’t working, we asked the kids that spoke the best English to translate for us, and finally the message got across!

The kids themselves were keen to learn and show off their skills as a footballer and were very keen to learn new techniques and apply them in game scenarios. Sometimes, they would be hard to settle down and it would be a struggle to maintain their attention, and these were the times when you are tested as a coach, but at the end of the day you have to remember that they are kids, so it’s to be expected!

Whilst I was in South Africa, there was the opportunity for me and the other volunteers to teach in one of the local primary schools in Port Elizabeth. I took up this opportunity as teaching is a career which I am considering going into and I thought that the experience that I would take from teaching in the school would help me to make the right decision when it did come to the time that I’d choose my career. The teaching experience, in my opinion, was more eye-opening than the coaching mainly because it confirmed to me what I had thought from the moment we got taken on a township tour by our minibus driver, Ashy. My previous expectations of South Africa was that it was one of the more economically developed parts of Africa, and this may well be true, but I soon realised that, South Africa is still miles behind the level of infrastructure and development in place in the UK. I suppose that this shouldn’t have been so shocking for me, as we’ve all seen the Comic Relief video’s and we know that poverty exists, however, seeing it for yourself makes it more real than any edited charity appeal can do.

The School that we taught at was called Emzoncane Primary School, and was based in the township of Zwide, and I taught there once a week. The difficulty that the school faces, along with many other schools in the area, is that despite South Africa being economically developed compared to the rest of Africa (it is the second largest in the continent), the budget crisis that South Africa faces, means that money is scarce and schools such as Emzoncane face a struggle to earn enough money to adequately provide enough teachers for the amount of kids that they have in their school. Also, the teachers that do work at the school are underpaid and the training that they undergo isn’t as rigorous as it is in the UK.

Where myself and the other volunteers came in was as a classroom assistant at first, but eventually we did end up taking some classes ourselves. I ended up in the Grade 3 class when they had English and Maths lessons, and when they had Xhosa lessons I checked with the teacher if it was ok for me to take a couple of kids at a time to the Library, to help improve their reading skills, and considering that the average class size at Emzoncane was 35-40 kids, they were always happy for me to take a couple of kids off their hands. The biggest challenge with the kids was, due to the sheer size of the classes they were in, they hadn’t been paying attention to the lessons and so they had missed out on understanding some key mathematical concepts such as multiplication and division, plus the exercises in the books they had went from easy to difficult questions within a heartbeat.

Therefore, I and the other volunteers found ourselves frequently trying to explain a mathematical concept so basic, that we had forgotten how to break the process down and therefore teach it effectively. Also, it didn’t help that the students’ grasp of English was at a basic level, so communicating with them was a difficulty. There were also a few culture shocks to contend with, most notably the ease of which the teachers resorted to shouting at the children to get them to sit still and pay attention, a losing battle with the size of the classes that they were teaching meaning that there would inevitably be some kids who would be up to mischief, as that’s what kids always do!

However, the whole 5 weeks wasn’t just work, work and more work, there were also several excursions on offer to us, so that we could experience as much of what South Africa had to offer us. There were a total of four excursions on offer at our accommodation, with more available to be experienced, such as SCUBA diving and whale watching boat tours. I took up the opportunity to go on all the excursions on offer, which included Sandboarding/Surfboarding in Jeffrey’s Bay, Shark Cage Diving in Mossel Bay, Game Drive Safari in Shamwari National Park and finally, Bungy Jumping off Bloukrans Bridge, incidentally the biggest Bridge Bungy Jump in the world at 216 metres high.

Being known as the ‘Surf Mecca of the World’, Jeffrey’s Bay clearly has a reputation for fantastic surfing conditions all year round, and has an abundance of gorgeous white sandy beaches. Unfortunately for us, when we went to try out sandboarding, the weather meant that the sand wasn’t dry enough for the boards to slide down the sand dunes just 10 minutes down the coast from where we were staying. Nevertheless, we still had a great time, as the place that we were staying at had a bar which was showing the Springboks VS the All Blacks, as a World Cup warm up game, so that was our evening sorted!

Mossel Bay provided one of many memorable moments in the form of coming eye-to-eye with the Great White Shark, an experience which I will never forget. Before we went out to sea, we were educated on shark poaching and were taught a bit about how sharks attack their pray. We were told about how the fins that are the target of the poachers’, end up, predominantly, in shark fin soup, a soup which due to its high mercury content can actually kill humans! The talk was very informative and interesting, however, we were anxious to get into the cage and meet the sharks. Being in the cage, was scary at first but after a while you became accustomed to it and started to appreciate the sharks more. Despite this, I know that some people in the group didn’t enjoy it as much as I did, and different groups had the sharks slamming into the cage at different speeds, which made the experience all the more surreal.

Shamwari also had an educational aspect to it, as we started the day off in the animal rehabilitation centre, discovering more about the impact that poaching has been having on the White Rhino population. After this talk, we went to have a look around the centre at some of the animals that are being rehabilitated by the rangers to be reintroduced to the wild. After this the game drive began in earnest, and on the drive we saw leopards, cheetahs, a giraffe, lions, rhino’s, zebra’s and the occasional Springbok. At the end of the day, we were taken to a big cat enclosure where leopards and lions that have been mistreated by humans have been saved and are recuperating in the enclosure. Unfortunately, due to the fact that they have been taken from their natural habitat, they can’t be reintroduced into the wild, as they wouldn’t be accepted by the lions of Shamwari. Shamwari, in itself, is spectacular and we were quite fortunate with the weather as we were in South Africa during the winter months, but the whole day, was awesome particularly seeing the King of the Jungle in its natural habitat.

Bloukrans Bungy Jump Bridge can’t be put down as a cultural experience, but can be put down as an amazing experience. Being someone who isn’t completely comfortable with heights, the build up was probably the most nervous 10-15 minutes of my life, as I contemplated the prospect of 3-4 seconds freefall, hitting speeds of up to 120kph and the general idea of jumping off a bridge. Needless to say I survived and the Face Adrenaline team at Bloukrans kept their 100% safety record. The bungy capped off an awesome 5 weeks in South Africa, an experience that I would recommend to anybody!

The entire 5 weeks was a whirlwind adventure which I thoroughly enjoyed and I didn’t want it to end. I would like to thank everyone at United Through Sport in South Africa, plus the United Through Sport team in the United Kingdom team for helping me to organise the trip so quickly and effectively.