Why sound education is inseparable from sports success

WHEN the latest crop of Serengeti Boys, expected to represent Tanzania in the continent’s African Youth Championship (AYC), slated for April, this year, first demonstrated their prowess in the CECAFA tournament, the Tanzania Football Federation (TFF), President, Wallace Karia, promised, in public, that the federation would organize academic studies to be conducted at night after training whenever the boys were in residential training.

Now that was many months ago, and I had expected to read a story on the progress of the promise that was, but as you read this piece, I have yet to come across such a story. 

However, having flirted with this profession called journalism in this country for over four decades now, I’m not surprised by the absence of such a story, and this is because of our kind of journalism which is allergic to follow ups on our stories.

Indeed, had our journalism included, what is actually supposed to be locally and internationally, follow ups on pronouncements made daily by officials from all socio-economic sectors; our print and electronic media would not have been turned into what they are today, namely, events journalism.

But that is a subject for another day and not in this genre as it requires separate treatment. However, for today, let me review the TFF President’s promise which is likely to have been made in the heat of the moment, not to find out whether or not the promise was implemented, but rather on the importance of such pronouncement if it was implemented.

Simba Sports Club on the other day spoke about their intention to establish soccer academy within the precinct of their club, a pronouncement that ought and must be emulated by other clubs, especially those in the premier league.

But whichever club embarks on such a novel idea, it must also ensure that the children are also exposed to a strong, academic education on account of the fact that there is no meaningful success in sports today without sound education.

But because the centre of such soccer academies is going to revolve around soccer, the children should be exposed to what could rightly be described as foundation subjects for science and arts, mathematics (for science) and Kiswahili, English and any other strong international languages, French etc. (for arts subjects).

In short, any efforts in search for a highly trained, qualified and experienced soccer coach or coaches should be as vigorous as the search for highly trained, qualified and experienced Kiswahili and English teachers on account of the importance of the two subjects for those who fail, after the age of 14 to make it to professional soccer rank.

And because soccer coaches would be as good as Kiswahili and English teachers, those who fail to meet the demands of a professional footballer could easily be allowed to pursue normal education programmes. And, because they would be very strong in Kiswahili, English and mathematics, it would not be difficult for them to continue further with their studies outside football.

But why do I insist on the introduction of foundation subjects like Kiswahili, English and mathematics in soccer academies? In the event of a child being found to have what it takes to become a professional soccer player, it would be easy for him to communicate with non-Tanzanian soccer coaches both at home and abroad. 

As I have had occasion to note in my columns in the past, I’m strongly convinced that apart from wrong attitudes, one of the reasons we still have problems when it comes to our soccer teams’ participation in regional and international tournament is that most of our local soccer players have problems in understanding foreign coaches most of whom have working knowledge in English.

And, failure to understand a coach, automatically leads to failure to understand the coach’s technique and tactics that translates in turn to defeat. Of course, one may argue that language may not be a problem because of the presence of what is referred to as football language which is done through demonstration.

However, there are times when the coach is supposed to give a lecture on the possible strength and weaknesses of the opponents and how to overcome whatever challenges expected from their opponents. And here demonstration does not work as the player is supposed to listen and understand what the coach is saying; and that is where problems usually start.

One of the tell-tale signs about the existence of language problem between our players and foreign coaches is best illustrated by the failure, on the part of our players, to play according to what they had been advised by their coach. 

More often than not you would hear foreign coaches saying; ‘I told them to play a particular formation, they did, but only for a few minutes…but reverted to their individual way of playing, and that eventually led to our defeat.’

For a player that understands and appreciates what instructions mean or entail; he would also know where such instructions fit in, in the game’s big picture in terms of what formation to employ where, when and why.

Let us change and embrace sound education in our soccer academies. We don’t need to burden our children with many subjects. Just get Kiswahili, English and mathematics, and if the three subjects are taught well, we would be surprised with how soccer is going to be transformed in this country. It is now or never.

● Attilio Tagalile is a journalist/author and media consultant based in Dar es Salaam and can be contacted through 

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