April 18, 2011

A Proud Father

The experience at Nationals was a good one. I was in a difficult position because our five girls were on the team, but I needed to be impartial and treat everyone the same.

Looking back on the past ten days, I can't explain how proud I am of our five girls. They performed very well on the field (all of them were starters). They weren't the most talented players in the starting line-up, but they were the glue that held the team together on the field and off the field. They played so unselfishly, passing to everyone (unlike some of the more talented players who only passed to certain people). They didn't overdribble and they worked hard on the attack and also dropped quickly on the defensive end, running the entire field. They played football the way it was meant to be played.

Off the field, they made friends with everyone. They got to know the other girls from different areas and regions and did things to help them out. They were disciplined and respectful to all of their coaches, teachers and chaperones. They were the first ones volunteering to help in the dorms or on the field. They took up responsiblities to help give out and collect uniforms. They didn't complain when things were not so good. They didn't quarrell with their teammates. So many of the other teachers and coaches gave me many compliments about their behavior.

It made me very proud and I realized that the way we are teaching and coaching them within the club is helping to form their character into a Godly one. They are far from perfect, but they are growing up as responsible, hard-working and respectful teenagers. I think I was more proud of them off the field than on the field (though I was pretty darn proud of them on the field too!)

April 17, 2011

National Players

I have been coaching our school team and club team and also teams from our area all the way up to the Provencial level for the past 4 years, but this is the first year I was asked to assist the Provencial Team at the National Level. Since five of the girls from our club were selected for the team and because we were closing the school term, it seemed like a great idea.

So, after two days at home, I was back on the road headed to Nyamira (Kisii) to help with training for a couple of days before leaving for the tournament. It was a little akward because I didn't really know the head coach very well and my few interactions with him had not been very pleasant. I was a little worried and wanted to have a very humble approach. After I arrived, we had one practice and then he informed me he was going home to see his family for a day and I was in charge of the team. I hadn't selected the players and didn't know any of them except for the five. It was not easy, but turned out ok. The coach was very receptive to my help and we made a good partnership and friendship.

After training camp ended, we boarded the bus at midnight, ready for the 12 hour journey across the country to Meru, at the base of Mount Kenya.

In the previous ten years, Nyanza Province Girls Football had never even reached the semifinal stage against the other seven provinces. When you think of all the excellent girls in our area, that is difficult history to believe. I think in the past a lot of the problems were because of poor player selection and also poor fielding (not picking the right players and putting them in the right positions). I learned that another problem in the past was tribalism. Our province mainly consists of Kisii and Luo. Though the tribes normally get along well, sometimes in younger kids they find it hard to interact with each other, especially when they are so used to speaking their tribal languages. It leads to mistrust and quarrells and other problems. And honestly, sometimes girls can just be a little catty.

In my opinion this the player selection still wasn't very good this time; several good players were left behind while some others were taken that didn't deserve it. This made fielding difficult also because we didn't have anyone to play certain positions or any good back-ups at other positions. Some players had to play out of position because of the lack of depth. In the preliminary stages we also had some conflict and some selfishness by some of the players who would only pass to certain players, but the teamwork continued to improve as the time went along.

We won our first match 2-0 and then drew the next two matches 0-0 and again 0-0 to finish as the runners-up in our pool. We marched into the semifinals and soundly beat Coast Province 2-0 with two second half goals. Our whole team with all of our fans marched up the street to the main venue singing and chanting. Once we reached the stage, they began playing a song familiar to our region and we danced for quite a while, savoring the big moment.

That win set up a rematch in the National Finals with the defending champs, Western Province (our neighbors). We had drew with them in the last preliminary game the previous day.

As expected, it was a very intense, hard fought match. They had speed and power. We had skill. Our goalkeeper made a few good saves to preserve our defense's scoreless streak in the tournament. We also had a few chances, especially on two free kicks just outside the box, but neither team scored in regulation and we went into extra time. Unfortunately, our goal keeper bobbled a long shot that fell down in front of her. There was some confusion as the Western fans started shouting behind the goal, and before we knew it, the ref signalled that the ball had crossed the line and called it a goal. Since he was standing at halfway across the field when the play happened and with our goalkeeper in perfect position behind the ball, I still find it very hard to believe it was a goal, but the referee's decision is final. So the game ended like that. Everyone was heartbroken. Things didn't improve either in the boys final when our boys lost by a goal also.

The girls were much happier when they received their silver medals and a big trophy to bring back to Nyanza, though it is painful being that close and coming up short. Considering the history of girls football in the past ten years, 2nd place is a big accomplishment. It was a great experience for me and the entire team.

April 6, 2011


The last part of March and first part of April in Kenya are filled with primary school sports, including football, volleyball, netball (twisted version of basketball), handball and gymnastics . It starts at the school level competing against the other local schools. After that competition, they choose the best players to form a new team and move on to the next level. They continue to have tournaments where they select the best players who continue to move on through the different levels, including school, base, zone, division, district, regional, provencial and finally national. So it is about 8 different levels they pass through until they get the best players in the country to compete at Nationals.

I have been coaching the different teams through each level for girls football. As we move to the different levels we compete against other members from our Suba Lakers Girls Football club. After competing against each other, then we join together to compete at the next level. The players from CGA and myself coaching them have managed to emerge victorious at each of those levels.

The latest success came as our Mbita District team destroyed the competition at Regionals in Ndhiwa, winning each match by a large margin. After the success there, twelve of our girls were selected to represent the region at Provencials. There were only two players selected from other districts. So after training for three days we travelled to Kisii with the other sports teams from our region to take on the other regions in the province. The Mbita girls (all Suba Lakers) once again shined brightly, drawing the praise of the fans, officials and other teams.

With four goals coming from Leah Ongojo and two from Caren Akeyo, the team won both preliminary games by scores of 3-1. In the semifinals we met a very strong Kisii team. Towards the end of the first half, Alicent Awuor crossed the ball to Sharon Akinyi who struck the ball into the top left corner to put us ahead 1-0. Defender Peninah Akoth made a great goalline save and we held on in the second half for a hard fought victory. In the finals Lucia Awino scored in the first few minutes of the game to put us ahead and we never looked back. Defender Lydia Awino kept the other team's top scorer in check the entire game and goalkeeper Winny Adhiambo made some great saves to preserve the win. The first time our county or district has won the Provencial title. We have reached the finals for the past three years, but each time lost narrowly.

For their success, five of our players were selected for Nationals, including Alicent Awuor, Raisha Achilla, Lavenda Achieng, Leah Ongojo and Lydia Awino. We are very proud of them. Their hard work within the Suba Lakers Club has paid off. People all over the country are recognizing their outstanding talent and ability. They will get a chance to compete and train with the best players in the province and against the best in the country next week in Meru. They will also receive National Certificates that will greatly benefit them in getting into colleges and even getting jobs in the future..