by Daniel Roodt
The ability to obtain a formal coaching qualification from the South African Football Association (SAFA) in the Sarah Baartman district is an extremely challenging process. The introductory SAFA D-license courses are few and far between and as one rises up the qualification ladder, opportunities don't necessarily improve.
As a result, many of the coaches in Makhanda who are tasked with developing young players have been left without an official qualification. As of 2018, the official number of coaches in Makhanda was 25 and only two of those had any formal SAFA qualifications.
While this does not hinder their ability to officially coach teams, it presents questions as to why so many local coaches are unable to obtain these licenses. It also hinders their ability to pursue coaching as a viable profession.
Akhona Heshu, the Makhanda Football Association Secretary, asserts that there are several reasons as to why this is the case. He explains that many of the local coaches work in the informal sector, and as a result, they cannot afford to take large amounts of time off work for something that won't improve their livelihoods.
This presents a problem for obtaining a SAFA D-license as the course is run over five days. Therefore, attending these courses could present a significant loss of earnings. Furthermore, according to Heshu, a lot of the coaches are semi-literate which means that they shy away from these courses because the courses do not cater to them.
What further compounds this problem is that SAFA runs very few courses in the area and when they do, coaches are usually alerted at the 11th hour. As a result, by the time the dates of a course have been announced, coaches have usually made other arrangements.
This is a view echoed by Simphiwe Twani, one of the few coaches in the area with a SAFA D-license. Twani said that he did his coaching course in Newcastle in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) because of how difficult it is to obtain a license locally. He also plans to do his SAFA C-license in KZN.
Twani talks about why there are so few coaches in Makhanda, "In our district (Sarah Baartman), we don't have a person who has powers to make things happen for us here in Makhanda hence we find it very difficult to get [the] qualification."
However, according to Gavin Callow, who did his masters research in the area of local football coaches' learning, the few coaches who attended these courses did not learn a significant amount.
Instead, many relied on informal methods of learning, such as reading articles, watching YouTube videos and relying on their prior experiences as players. Lungisa Nqina, who is another local coach and in charge of development, explains that he improves his skills by joining online coaching programmes.
He is also part of several WhatsApp groups and is in contact with several English football coaches. Furthermore, Nqina reads about specific ideas at the local library as well as downloads videos if he needs to explore something specific urgently.
Callow explains, "A key benefit of these more informal learning experiences is that they speak to the context within which coaches work." As a result, "They are able to address problems that they face in a more effective manner."
It is interesting to note the mixed success of specific schemes implemented by SAFA to improve the quality of football in the nation. The main idea behind these initiatives is to enhance the viability of pursuing coaching as a profession, as well as increasing the number of qualified coaches around the nation.
The first is the 2010 Legacy Project. Callow explains, "SAFA has since the 2010 World Cup set a goal of getting 10 000 football coaches around the country qualified through the various workshops that they offer."
Locally, according to Akhona Heshu, there have been several improvements as a result of the 2010 Legacy Project. He explains that there are a lot more players involved in the game than before 2010. Additionally, the winners of the local under-17 tournament participate in the provincial Engen knockout tournament. The 2010 Legacy Project has also led to the creation of more structured divisions ranging from an under-13 level to more senior divisions for adult players.
[ABOVE: Action Photo: In 2017, local team, City Pirates finished runners up in the Port Elizabeth Engen Knockout tournament. (Image via Grocott’s Mail)]
However, this improvement is not just as a result of efforts by governmental departments. Rhodes University (UCKAR) has provided immense support to the Local Football Association. Heshu explains, "Rhodes helped establish a schools league and purchased playing kits for all local clubs thanks to the Lotto funding they applied for on behalf of the LFA."
Despite these local and national efforts to try to improve grassroots football, many players and coaches in Makhanda struggle to find success outside of the town. Heshu asserts that many administrators, coaches, referees, and players mostly participate in the game for fun. This is a view shared by Simphiwe Twani, another local coach who argues that the majority of those involved have no ambition to succeed outside of Makhanda.
Furthermore, the players who have the talent and ambition to make it outside of the town often struggle to further their careers. As a result, they often return to Makhanda after one or two years. Lungisa Nqina echoes this sentiment. He says that many young talented players are coming through the system in Makana, but when they turn 17 or 18, they don't see any opportunities. As a result, they stop taking football seriously and essentially end their promising careers.
This is reflected by the fact that neither Heshu nor Nqina know of any players who have gone on to join the academy team for any top South African side. This includes Port Elizabeth-based club Chippa United, who currently competes in the Premier Soccer League (PSL).
[ABOVE: Port Elizabeth club, Chippa United at the start of one of their Absa Premiership games. Despite being the closest professional club to Makhanda, they have not been a gateway for talented local players. (Image from Supersport via Gallo Images)]
It remains to be seen whether newer initiatives like SAFA's Vision 2022 project, which is aimed at improving the national standard of football, will have any impact on Makhanda. However, there needs to be significant rethinking in the way SAFA runs its lower-level courses. Currently, in districts like Sarah Baartman, they do not cater to those whom they are aimed at. If SAFA wants to fulfil their Vision 2022 plan of lowering the number of players per qualified coaches, they will need to change the way they run these courses.
*SAFA failed to comment.
All names mentioned in the article.