Mark Dawson: Football Coaching, Playing and Sports Psychology in Ghana
Having completed my BSc in Sport Psychology I was keen to continue with my education, the next stage required an MSc in Sport Psychology to keep on the road to obtaining chartered status. Variables out of my control meant that it worked out much better to take a year out from studying before applying for my MSc and so I looked into a number of options for my gap year.
My desire to help others improve their sport and become the best they can be is the reason I searched for sports orientated gap years, and at this time I stumbled upon an organisation that specialised in sports coaching projects in Africa and South America.
Three months in Ghana turned out to be a defining experience for me. While my career aspirations have remained the same, my desire to help others less fortunate has increased dramatically. Living in Ghana opens your eyes to a world where everything we take for granted, is not necessarily readily accessible. From running (and drinkable) tap water and electricity, to timetabled public transport. Ghana (and Africa in general I have since found out) runs to its own timetable. ‘Just now’ and ‘I am coming’ have an entirely different meaning in the UK and it is the African mentality and attitude that keeps everything so relaxed, if not infuriating on the odd occasion.
Clean and safe running water in the village outside of Accra I worked in does not exist. Water must be purchased from local shops in either bottled water form, or in plastic sachets which are treated at filtration plants to make them suitable for drinking. It is these, the most basic human rights which make life so difficult in the poorest parts of the world. However, the football team I worked with there were the most committed and motivated kids I have ever had the pleasure of working with. The one thing you could always count on with these players was that they would be on time for their coaching sessions, and that they would always be smiling.
Ghanaians, despite all their hardships, are undoubtedly the friendliest people I have ever met. Their hospitality is second to none whether it is simply cooking a meal, or a stranger dropping everything they are doing to show you where your bus station is, often taking you there themselves.
Following my three months in Ghana I returned home to complete my MSc with a great deal of ideas for my advanced project, as well as supplementing my CV, which helped my application to conduct my chosen research at a professional football club to be accepted. After returning home I was also given the opportunity to earn a little extra spending money, which as a student I found invaluable, by doing presentations and gap year events in my local area (I was at University in the north of England) for the gap year organisation.
I have since begun working for Sporting Opportunities as a travel advisor based at our project in South Africa, whilst also allowing me time and further experience in Sport Psychology which enhances my CV further, and is eligible to count towards my chartered status as a professional Sport Psychologist.
Beyond the impact it had on my CV, the chance to coach football in Ghana gave me an unforgettable experience which has made me not only appreciate what I have, but also allowed me to grow in confidence. The experience was the biggest challenge I’d ever had — emotionally, intellectually and physically, but it was also the most rewarding, and I am still in touch with many of the young footballers I worked with through their sporadic use of the internet.