Mel Wilkinson: Football Coaching and Playing in Ghana
There are so many life-changing experiences available for gappers that I had great fun researching options for my gap year. I not only wanted to travel, but to adapt and live in a totally different culture.
Having always played sports, I thought the football coaching placement in Ghana organised by Sporting Opportunities sounded different and amazing – being outdoors in the sunshine all day and being able to interact with another culture through sports!
Initially, I had minor worries that a girl football coach would not be respected, but as soon as I got there, this illusion was proven very wrong. I was based at a football academy along with other gap year sports volunteers. I worked with the Young Schweppes Football Club, in Nungua, a poor area in the city of Accra. I coached under-12, under-14 and under-17 boys from poor and rural backgrounds. The training pitch was a dusty, bumpy patch of land surrounded by waste, sewage and wooden huts. Taxis and goats casually made their way across the pitch during matches. Rubber tyres elbowing out of the ground acted as the spectators’ seats. On match day the boys sprinkled white charcoal to create the pitch lines. Street children swarmed from all directions to join the buzz of football training.
Schweppes FC trained from 6am to 9am and 3pm to 6pm every day, religiously. My challenge was to add a different perspective and new ideas to the training sessions as well as educate the raw, already talented boys with the more technical rules and disciplines of the game. Facilities at training were painfully limited; no cones, no bibs, no nets… I coordinated training sessions with thirty or so boys with merely a few torn, deflated balls and a whistle. Many of the boys played in bare feet and without T-shirts, but their passion for the game outshone their restricting poverty. Training is serious and tough. Attitudes towards sport are tremendously dedicated unlike the beer-fuelled Sunday League teams in England! For thousands of Ghanaian children football is their life, their religion, a doorway to relief from poverty. The atmosphere at Nungua training pitch is of a hub of passion for football. A group of seven-year-olds kick around a coconut shell at a side clearing of sand; the under-14 team effortlessly run around the pitch; the older boys are practising kick-ups and volleys; some stretching, some sprinting, some praying in the corner.
The weather was extremely hot so I coached early in the morning and in the evening to avoid the midday sun, but I got used to the weather. During the day I went home to snooze, sunbathe, chill or read on the balcony, looked round markets or went to the beach. My diet was basically chicken, rice, sauce, yam, beans, fresh pineapple and pawpaw.
I had a once in a life time experience with Sporting Opportunities and they even arranged for me to have a game of football with the women’s National team. Where on earth would you get another opportunity like this. Thanks to all that made my trip one I will never forget.