• Panono Panono

    July 13th 2014. CAC coach Jamie Wheaton blogs on his first week coaching with CAC in Zambia.

    I blinked to clear my eyes of the sun as I stepped from the van that had carried us to the pitch. The words “Konkola Mine Police” emblazoned on the side had caused some confused glances as we traveled through the market place. Perhaps the locals thought we were new recruits. While the thought of playing in the Zambian league was an entertaining one, I found it hard to laugh due to the amount of butterflies in my stomach. I thought that I was prepared: I had read the field guide, reviewed the games that we would be teaching (if you count frantically checking through half-scribbled notes written 15 minutes before departure as “review”) and rehearsed in my mind possible questions that would be asked of me. I hoped I was fully prepared to be a productive member of a team, all of whom had more experience than me: thus began my first day as a coach.

    I needn’t have worried. My team members immediately went to work. After waiting the customary 45 minutes for an appropriate amount of people to arrive (the grace period we affectionately refer to as “Africa time”) we began with quick introductions and a brief description of what the following week would entail. Faced with a crowd of 30 or so adult coaches, some of whom had played at a professional level, I felt a moment of self doubt: who was I to teach them about social issues? Some of the men were twice my age! I quickly realized however, that I had much to teach them, and they to teach me.

    We worked with a great group: all of them were eager to learn, quick to laugh, and quick to focus again. While there was a brief language barrier, (particularly noticeable during the preliminary questions, where one coach would raise his or her hand and those in the area would immediately copy his example) this was quickly solved by having one of the coaches with more fluent English translate our more complex and lengthy lessons to Bemba, the local language. I learned some of the more basic phrases in Bemba, which might make for a good party trick later on. For example, I learned how to count to four (camo, tubide, tutatu, tune) how to say “slowly” (panono panono!) and “stop” (lakeni!). These phrases made themselves useful in the games we played that day. We started off with the basics, as this was a first year program. “Circle of friends” proved itself to be an excellent warm up, and always started off the day for the whole week. It was especially rewarding to watch the coaches come up with their own variations of the exercise towards the end of the week.

    While teaching the coaches our games in the morning was entertaining and interesting, my favorite part of the week was always in the afternoon. After taking a quick lunch break after the morning session (some sort of meat wrapped in a pastry, every day) we would head over to a local field and work with the children and watch their coaches use the skills we taught them that day. These sections really highlighted the difference between the community in Chililabombwe and at home.  In spite of the fact that they were playing on a bumpy pitch made of dirt and dust, the kids’ interest and excitement was contagious. While we introduced the older kids (14-17, usually) to the wonders of Circle of Friends and Ronaldo skills, a crowd of little ones would watch our every move. When I found the opportunity, I always tried to spend some time with them. Constantly giggling, the young children could be entertained for an hour simply by making different faces, or mimicking an animal. My single favorite moment of the entire week was taking requests of different animals to imitate: my repertoire quickly expanded to include monkeys, elephants, lions, warthogs, and snakes, which gave my teammate Layla quite the fright. I could stand there for hours keeping these kids laughing, and I would have too, if the bus hadn’t had to leave. However, there was also a side that was a little bit frightening: if they noticed something happening, they all surged towards us. Having 40 screaming kids storming towards you, all of them looking for a high five, would make anyone a little nervous. For the most part, they were content to laugh.

    Overall, the most impressive part of the week was seeing how much fun the kids had. Their infectious attitude of hope and excitement quickly spread to my teammates and I. In a town where 75% of the population ends up working in the local mine, the students were quick to tell us of their aspirations of becoming a doctor, or a professional footballer. They had us laughing at their crazy dances, which they all seemed to know. Most of all, they attacked all the new games with an enthusiasm that I had never seen before, which inspired me to stand up to their expectations of excellence.