• CAC’s Magical Words

    November 28th 2015. SDL Coach Nora Dooley blogs from Tanzania about our fifth year working with our very supportive partners at the Njombe Town Council.

    What role do foreigners have in the development of rural towns in countries like Tanzania? That’s a big question. Let me come back to it.

    At Coaches Across Continents we love to say, “Solve your problem.” Those three magical words are translated into scores of languages around the world. And to all who utter them in the CAC context, they mean much more than finding a single solution to a single problem.

    At our recent training in Njombe, Tanzania the sentiment was expressed in Kiswahili: “Tatua shida zenu.” And, indeed, we had some problems to solve.

    Throughout the first day of training we had several communication difficulties, and in one game at the end of the day the participants struggled to move in our desired rhythm for the game. This was a key moment for self-directed learning – both for us as training leaders, and for the coaches and teachers we were working with. Even though we may have an image in our mind of how a game ‘can’ and ‘should’ look, that image does not play on a CAC field. We present the rules as clearly as we can, we answer any instruction-related questions, but if the group can answer a question themselves, well: Tatua shida zenu.

    This method of educating often presents uncomfortable challenges. When you think you know ‘the’ answer as a coach or teacher you often feel it is your job to help your players or learners come to this/your solution. With self-directed learning your job leans at an opposite angle. It is to create a space where all involved feel comfortable exploring their own visions and come up with different solutions individually and collectively. In this manner, your students will surprise you at every stage – even if you have played a game 100 times and never seen it done just so before.

    It can also be uncomfortable for those who are learning in this space, especially if they are older and have already been through a system of education where learning was entirely directed by everything but the ‘self’. We see this often with CAC participants early on in a week of training. Their upbringing and education background tells them to resist such a radical notion as not being given the exact formula to solve an equation. And most of us at CAC can relate, coming up through education systems influenced by similar autocratic teaching philosophies. We believe the best thing we can do is celebrate the struggle and see what new ideas it bears.

    On the second day of our week in Njombe the participants surprised us. They came up with a solution we had not seen in a game that teaches about making responsible decisions with your money  (money = footballs). We celebrated their triumph just as we celebrated the struggle. And on the final day we were fortunate to witness the ease with which they were solving problems on their own, listening to each other, overcoming disagreements with nonviolent communication, and having fun all the while.

    So what role do foreigners have in the development of places like Njombe? That’s a big question. If I was going to attempt an answer, I’d say it lies somewhere in the realm of creating spaces for Self-Directed Learning.


  • Solving Problems in Tanzania

    November 27, 2014. On-Field Coach Kelly Conheeney writes about our recent program in Njombe, Tanzania, organized by the Njombe Municipal Council. 

    As I was passing a classroom, I wondered why all of the girls’ heads were down. One set of eyes peered up at me as I walked by and I smiled to her before our gaze was interrupted by a sharp smack. Curious to find out where the sound had come from, I looked through the glass window once I made it outside. They were in the principal’s office, otherwise known as detention. This completely unacceptable form of punishment in the USA is common practice here in Tanzania. It’s called corporal punishment. If a child misbehaves, doesn’t finish his/her homework, arrives late to class or does something that the teacher thinks deserves punishment- they are physically hit with a ruler on the fingertips. My first thought – how are children supposed to learn in such a hostile environment? Intimidated to try something new, make a mistake or stand up for what they believe in? My second thought – how will the teachers we will be working with adapt to this new concept they are about to learn called self-directed learning?

    Two of the participants we are working with this week in Njombe, Tanzania are football coaches – the remaining 30 are school teachers. 4 women and 28 men. Every afternoon the coaches played our games with the children that came to the field from surrounding schools. Aside from a few of the coaches that lived more than 50 km from the field, all of the coaches were able to attend the afternoon sessions. It was crucial for them to watch their peers coach as well as experience the coaching themselves. At the last practice of the week, the pitch was filled with 60 children yelling out Messi and Marta skills that could be heard down the dusty Njombe road.

    All week Markus and I had emphasized the importance of letting the children solve their own problems, encouraging them with positive reinforcement, as well as the importance of children using their voices. The biggest challenge the coaches faced was allowing the kids to solve their own problems. In the first afternoon session, the teachers played a game with the children called Messi for Health and Wellness. In this game, there are 2 teams and between the groups there is an area filled with cones, half are right side up, the other half are upside down. One team’s goal is to flip all of the cones so they are faced one way, and the other team’s goal is to flip all of the cones so they are faced the other way. Players take turns flipping the cones and switch every 15 seconds when the coach calls out their number. A simple yet clear example of letting the children solve their own problem would be to tell them to get into 2 equal teams. The coaches however took a very long time to divide the group into 2 equal teams and individually number them one or two.  When the game finally began, it was important for us to stand back and watch instead of intervening; only through your own mistakes do you learn to look within yourself to find the solution to your problems and become a self-directed learner. We used this example when talking with the participants during our daily feedback sessions. If you always step in and give the answer to your students or players, they will never find solutions to their own problems.

    Through thorough feedback sessions and practice throughout the week, the coaches learned plenty of games to add to their coaching folders and their yearly curriculum. The coaches are one step closer to becoming self-directed learners and I am hopeful that they will implement the games they have learned into their “sport for development” segment of learning in their respective schools. Watching the participants coach the kids was the highlight of my week. Every session the children lit up with joy when they played the games. The smiles and laughs shared by both the coaches and children created an atmosphere that every child should have the right to in this world; a safe space to learn, grow, play and fail without fear of what will follow.


  • CAC Back in Njombe, Tanzania

    P1040952October 18, 2013.  CAC coaches Sophie Legros, Danielle Foxhoven and Becca Meierbachtol left Zimbabwe after three weeks of programming and headed North to Tanzania. Tanzania was host to the first ever Coaches Across Continents program in 2008. They were met at the airport by one of CAC’s best community impact coaches, Nico Achimpota and some of his team members. They headed out the next morning on an 11 hour bus ride from Dar Es Salaam to a smaller city in the mountains called Njombe.

    Tuesday morning they got right to work as they met all of the education department members  in the Njombe community before starting the daily 4 hour morning session. Every afternoon was spent coaching a group of girls from a primary school. What a great experience for the team! The coaches covered new skills and averaged 7 new games and social messages every morning!

    Our CAC staff and the community coaches ended the Njombe program with a 45 minute game between coaches and what a competitive and fun match it turned out to be! Nico, despite having suffered a potentially week ending pulled hip flexor, had his glory moment as a foul was called on the edge of the penalty area which he converted on a beautiful free kick!

    After the game was over the head of Njombe’s education department gave a well worded speech inspiring everyone to work hard to implement the games and social messages that were covered throughout the week. Needless to say we are excited to see what the teachers and coaches in Njombe can do over the next year!

    Lastly, the day was finished with CAC and One World Futbol leaving 4 balls with the community to get them started on the games until a shipment can arrive for all of the primary and secondary schools in Njombe. It was the perfect ending to a great week for our CAC coaches and the newest members to the educated CAC coaches!