USA Soccer Hall of Famer Seamus Malin Talks About Planes, Rains and Cones
US Soccer hall of famer, experienced commentator at World Cups and Olympic Games, and Coaches Across Continents board member, Seamus Malin, writes about his first ever time On-Field with CAC in Zanzibar and Pemba, Tanzania.
May 21st 2015. When it comes to travel it has been said that “getting there is half the fun”. Who exactly said that anyway? Not sure I would like to hear any other nuggets of wisdom from that source. Why? Well let’s just say that getting to Zanzibar, for me, had its moments of drama. In Muscat, Oman on board the flight to Zanzibar we were cheerily told that we would be diverting to Jeddah for refueling as our journey was being lengthened to avoid Yemeni air space where some folks were hurling bombs about! Good call, Oman Air Lines!!
After a spectacularly successful week on the playing field with CAC staff and fabulous local coaches as well as a charming experience of that exceptional island it was time to head for another island of Tanzania, namely Pemba, for the second week of the program. Back in a plane again, this time a ten seater single engine item from the Air Salaam fleet. Sitting right up front near the pilot I had more experience that I ever want of first hand exposure to a driving rain storm, making an ear-shattering din on the windshield, as we ducked in and out of heavy storm clouds, and our fearless impressive Tanzanian pilot took us through the thirty minutes to the tiny landing strip on Pemba. “Half the fun?”……NOT.
The soggy arrival was a precursor to a week of continued stormy conditions with lots of intermittent heavy rain, but the silver lining, as it turned out, was that our promised playing field (the local stadium with artificial grass) was suddenly not available, and our substitute space was a large indoor facility built by Japan for Judo instruction and in fact used for multi-sport purposes. Provided originally as a disappointing second choice to an excellent outdoor facility it turned out to be a gift which we appreciated every rain-drenched day. The floor was covered by scores of thick heavy judo pads, each about 3×5 feet which had to be lifted and stored – a first chore for all the coaches as well as CAC staff and which was an instant bonding experience. (Another benefit of our new facility was the nap-time now on offer thanks to these pads piled up on a large stage at the end of the hall and which some staff and participating coaches utilized during our lunch time breaks. Why not?)
Then we finally got down to the nuts and bolts of the program, with a new and enthusiastic set of coaches, all but two of whom were male, about which more later. The expertise of Nick and Kelly in our new echo chamber of a facility (the roof was metal, the floor concrete) was put to the test as communication was a challenge, but they rose to the occasion wonderfully. The same can be said for Nick’s mother, Judith, along for the two weeks and a vital contributor with her own seminar sessions on hot button topics of Health and Wellness in the Zanzibar context as well as the vitally important area of Respect for Children and the curse of Abuse- a world wide blight, regardless of how “developed” a nation may claim to be.
Also along for the two weeks was Nick’s father, Bill, a constant source of encouragement to and appreciation for the local participants, as well, of course, as a walking, living, breathing example of Middlesbrough FC who are, we were daily reminded, the “greatest football club in the world”. Chelsea, Schmelsea!!! Happily Bill and I had a brilliant two weeks of participatory fun and tons of evening laughs over dinner and at football matches on the hotel lounge TV. As a tribute to our Senior Citizen status Bill and I were duly appointed “CONE BOYS” by the head honcho, young Nick!! We were given the massive responsibility of setting out cones properly for the CAC games, being sure the proper supply of balls was readily at hand, and even later in the week awarded the added privilege of tacking up multiple sheets of poster board on the walls with all the notes that Nick, Kelly and Judith had composed for the coaches. Bill and I were all over these tasks; we were a bit frustrated though that the “senior” staff could never seem to understand the subtle difference between “cones” and “discs”. Something they need to work on! Bill and I are not going to be around for every program, you know!!!
Another challenge that Bill and I had to cope with was the notable slant in the concrete floor at one point carrying out from the center to the Northwest corner. When a series of balls was set up, they needed strict watching, since, if you turned your back, they would slyly start meandering their way into their favorite hiding corner!! They got away from us once, and sat there in the corner looking smug. We whipped them into shape from then on, I assure you. We also were hard pressed in our poster board duties as the rain was so heavy at times that a few small leaks would appear and the water trickling down the walls loosened the adhesive taping. We supervised this closely (I am downright exhausted now thinking of all the mighty duties that Bill and I handled. I may need a nap. Wish I had one of those judo mats nearby).
Most importantly, the attending coaches were fabulous, charming, engaged, enthusiastic and willing to take risks. None more so than the two women who began somewhat overwhelmed but who quickly caught the spirit of the program and allowed their inner enthusiasm to become manifest without self-consciousness and in a massively engaging manner for all involved. That was inspiring, deeply moving and memorable. In addition, the whole group gave it their best shot when it came to creating their own games based on what they had experienced as well as implementing the principles CAC tries to convey and inculcate. I will never forget the simple but evocative exercise that one of the women developed in which her children players would finish their football drill with an exercise of finding their way home safely through various societal threats all enacted by the other participating coaches as she had creatively set them up. Meanwhile at the other end of the building the other woman coach was leading all the guys in a series of innovative stretches before her program, illustrating confidently despite the constraints of her traditional somewhat limiting clothing. Hugely moving experiences, both.
Also highly memorable were the literal hours of time many of the participants spent taking notes in their own notepads, sitting on the floor by the walls where the large sheets were hanging. Often we would find them arriving early for this purpose, as the large sheets were left there overnight , and indeed during the lunch breaks they accomplished the same feat , moving around from wall to wall until finished. This enthusiasm and commitment speaks volumes for their passion to contribute in meaningful ways to their own world and most especially to the children coming behind them. This bodes so well for the future, and I feel hugely grateful for the opportunity both to have witnessed and participated in such a moving, heartwarming and immeasurably important journey of life.