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.