Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Spotlight on Africa's Female Soccer Coaches-Nassra Juma Mohammed

From the early days of  women's soccer on the continent of Africa, club and country has been predominantly managed by men. However the tide is gradually turning with female coaches taking the reins of the sport.
On a hot Saturday afternoon in 1997 as i drove through the streets of Tema, a soccer crazy coastal town in Ghana, a crowd caught my eyes so I stopped to satisfy my curiosity. As i inched closer  I realized it was all about a game of soccer,played by boys under the age of 17.

A quick inquiry about the names of the battling teams from a spectator, drew the names Hearts Babies versus Great Ambassadors.Soon it was half time,and since there were no dressing rooms available,players of both teams made themselves comfortable on the pitch as refreshments are served to them. Boy ! was i in for a surprise. A young woman begins to instruct the players,laying down technical and tactical plots for the second half. Another inquiry and I'm told she is the coach,an ex-international and the only CAF certified female coach in the the whole of Ghana. I was so impressed by  her poise and the discipline exhibited by her team.

Of course,i would have loved to engage  her in a conversation but time did not grant me that opportunity. I managed to soak in a few minutes of the second half,then headed back to my car.As I drove,I couldn't help but think about this female soccer coach. I hoped to watch her in action once more. Ever since, I have developed an interest in female soccer coaches from all over t he world. I dream of the day a female coach will be given the head coaching job of a male team at the highest level.- Well, we all have the right to dream !
Nassra Juma Mohammed (right) receives her coaching certificate from Germany Embassy Cultural Affairs

Out of the handful of female coaches on the continent of  Africa, Nigeria's Eucharia Uche is the most popular with her historic exploits with the Super Falcons.Others are quietly carving a niche for themselves.One of the female coaches whose work is highly recognized and admired is Tanzania's 49 year old Nassra Juma Mohammed.A recent encounter with Nassra by Tanzanian sports journalist Nasongelya Kilyinga threw more light on Coach Nassra Juma Mohammed's work as follows:

Nassra, head coach of Zanzibar national women's team ‘Zanzibar Queens’, successfully participated in an international training course for football coaches, which was held last month in Hennef, Germany. It is after this course that Nassra now thinks that she could double her efforts to take women football in Tanzania to another level. She is the only highly qualified woman football coach in the country. 

Nassra, at once a hard tackling defender and tireless worker for the national women soccer team ‘Twiga Stars’ played an immensely important role for the team that featured for the first time in the African Cup on Nations qualifiers in early 2000. She scored a goal against Zimbabwe, despite being eliminated by the Southern African side. 

After a mixed fortune with the team (Twiga Stars), Nassra hung her boots, but it was in no sense the end of her passionate affair with the game, a fact of which the Tanzania Football Federation (TFF) and Zanzibar football Association (ZFA) seem to be well aware of. She went for coaching training and attained two diplomas in coaching and her qualifications and skills inspired the Confederation of African Football (CAF), which picked her as an Instructor. She also attended several FIFA courses. She was also picked by ZFA as Chairperson of women technical committee. 

After collecting several coaching badges, Nassra retuned to the big stage. She was tasked with coaching the Zanzibar women soccer team. She is frequently also involved with the Twiga Stars’ in technical aspect, though not so much as she would love to be fully involved. “People outside respect and recognize my expertise than it is the case at home. I’m a bit disappointed that they (TFF) have not fully utilised my coaching abilities but will always be ready to offer my support whenever I’m asked to do so. 

“I know the day will come when I’ll fully practice my coaching knowledge in Tanzania,” Nassra told the ‘Sunday News’ in an exclusive interview. The fate of women football in Tanzania As women football now enters a new era in Tanzania, Nassra still thinks that much is needed to be done to give women more of a favorable condition to compete at the same level as men. “Our level is now improving. We have recently realized achievement in the game but still we can do better, if we are really serious about developing women football in the country,” Nassra who is an employee of the immigration Services in Zanzibar says. 

“There is impending growth in women football in Tanzania, you can see it, feel the passion for it,” she says, adding Twiga Stars qualification for the first ever African Cup finals in South Africa last year was a testimony that women football is going places. She says Twiga Stars failed in South Africa just because they lacked experience but said physically and mentally players were up to the task. 

“We need to give Twiga players more international friendly matches in a bid to instill the much need experience on our players,” she notes. Nassra is however not happy with the lack of tangible women football development structure in Tanzania. “It is sad that we don’t’ have structured league in Tanzania from which, we could identify and pick a pool of players for the national team, this is unhealthy for the development of the women football. 

“We need to do something because it is a big shame that even in Mainland Tanzania where people think that women football is flourishing the story is quite different. The actual fact is that the game is only active in one district of Kinondoni in Dar es Salaam, no where else. If we continue like this we’ll not reach anywhere,” she observes. 

The Zanzibar women football situation 

Nassra is eager to let known to the public that football is not reserved to men alone—it’s rather a ‘unisex’ game. 

She is a true sportswoman. Her movements, the way she speaks and act communicates nothing but the word –football. She regrets that the Zanzibar women league introduced way back in 2004 has since collapsed. 

“The problem here is how to get players. I believe there are so many young girls in schools who would love to play football but they just don’t know where to start. Majority are volunteering just to train informally. We don’t have a clear structure that would guide us to get players. 

“I asked the government and ZFA several times to introduce women football in schools but nothing has happened so far. We don’t have resources that will help us put in place viable grassroots programmes. I think there is fear from the government officials to speak out and start formal way of women football in Zanzibar, this makes me feel very uncomfortable,” she complains. 

She calls on the authority in the isles to understand that football can provide an ideal opportunity for hundred of girls and women to develop their personal confidence and skills and to receive vital health education as well as enjoying a safe social environment. 

How she started 

Because of love of the game Nassra started playing football at the age of 12. She was playing with boys because very few girls could come out to play the game. She was barely out of her teen when she played in the game that she will never forget. That was way back in 1970s. Eventually that match forced her to hang her boots temporarily after her crude tackle on a boy she could not recall his name, left the young lad’s leg broken. 

“I couldn’t stand it and was very afraid. I decided to call it quit. But my premature retirement from football didn’t last long because my friends persuaded me back into the game and it was way back in 1988, when I got involved in a first non official women’s international friendly football match,” she recalls. 

They played against a Swedish team—Terresso FC and the Zanzibar combine ladies lost 0-15. However, her involvement with the team had a lasting effect on her personal life as she would later go on to play for several teams including men’s side. 

After the match against the Sweden girls Nassra recalls that their coach, the late Hammier asked the young ladies who would wish to continue with a career in football to keep attending training everyday at Mao Tse Tung ground. She said under their coach, they formed a team called ‘Woman Fighters’ a name that she came up with, referring to frequent fighting and arguments that would occur between the young ladies and their boys counterparts, as they each fought for a ground to play. 

“It really was a fairly tale for most of us. We were just little girls, and football at that time was practically among the only sport that we could enjoy outdoors. I enjoyed every bit of it and never imagined that it would allow me to travel the world. 

In fact she says the ‘Women Fighters’ team was still active and they have just recently, introduced men’s team. She is the team’s coach and owner. “I’m still playing though much less and would love my 11-year old son Mohammed Mselem Omar to take up a career in football,” she says. Apart from football, Nassra also had another well established career in other sports. In fact, she won an award as the best sports personality in badminton way back in 1980. 

Coaching training in Germany 

After she successfully participated in an international training course for football coaches, which was held last month in Hennef, Germany, Nassra is determined to see the country minimizes the norm of men coaching women and girls in football instead, let more women coaches take that role. 

She is readily available to pass her knowledge to other female coaches in the country, insisting that it was important to train female coaches, who would be responsible for the training of their fellow women and girls than letting the job be done by male counterparts alone. 

“A critical mass of trained female coaches is essential in Tanzania so as to minimize the norm of men coaching women and girls in football. I believe women coaches are in a better position to understand the inner problems of the women players’ quite well than those from the opposite sex,” she says. 

“I really loved and enjoyed my stay in German. It was a wonderful experience in which we had three weeks of tight learning and training schedule. Not a single day passed without having a meaningful activity. The three-week course for football coaches from at least 29 different countries, covering a wide variety of African, Asian and South American countries was organised by the German Football Association (DFB) and financed by the German Federal Foreign Office. 

According to Nassra, coaching standards were high and competition was tough. The participants were required to hold the highest coaching license of their country, to be in excellent physical health and to speak English fluently. The German Federal Foreign Office supports cooperation in the field of sports especially with developing countries. 

The aim of the course was to enable coaches to pass on the latest knowledge on football coaching within their association and thus raising the quality of football coaching within their respective country. Germany is set to host women’s World Cup from next month, in which at least 16 best national women's teams will be competing for the silverware. The matches will be played in nine German cities. 

“Despite all the achievements, women football, when compared to men football, is struggling in terms of sponsorship, marketing and media coverage and I would like to appeal to the companies, The media and NGOs to come forward and support women’s football,” Nassra pleads.

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