Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Conversation With A Soccer "Braniac" Pt.1

 It is so refreshing to see Africa's ex-international players take up positions in  soccer and excel at it. Countries such as Nigeria,Namibia,Kenya,Zimbabwe among others have female coaches at the highest level of their women's soccer program,a sign that women have found a place in this male dominated world of soccer but  there is room for more women in this rugged arena of women's soccer.

A while back, I wrote about a female coach I chanced upon in Ghana,whose work i admired so much but lost track of over the years. Thankfully through my usual sleuthing,I found her and had a lengthy conversation with her,snippets of which i will share with you.

Women's Soccer Africa : Coach Eunice,I hope you don't mind me calling you Coach.Thank you so much for this opportunity.I have been following your career until you suddenly dropped off my radar. Can you tell me how it all started ?

Eunice Kitcher: I don't mind you calling me coach but I prefer going by my first name.(chuckles) Where to start,well, i was a tomboy through and through, I first started out running around my neighborhood as the only female amongst the guys much to the chagrin of my parents.Infact I used to sneak out to play soccer with the guys.It wasn't all fun and games because I had to endure a lot of ridicule from the neighbors who couldn't stand a female playing soccer.

My family were not accepting at all you can imagine the scolding i got whenever i came home sweaty from playing soccer.Thankfully in the early '80s the organizers of an annual soccer festival in the town i grew up in decided to include women's soccer in the program,of course the intent was for entertainment purposes but the impact was immense.

I was talked into participating in the game,which i did reluctantly because obviously,the girls in my neighborhood were not good players actually most of them had never kicked a soccer ball before. We were able to come up with two teams and that was when i drew a lot of attention as a player.

WSA : I know you played for your country as well,how did that happen ?

EK: After playing in the end of year inter-sites competition as it was called,some other communities caught the women's soccer bug and so women's soccer teams were formed which led to the formation of the women's soccer league.Then in 1991 the FA called up the best in the nation to form the first national women's soccer team. We played our first ever international game against Nigeria,it was a world cup qualifier i believe and we lost both legs.That's a gist of how i first got to play for my country.

WSA: Now,to your career as a coach,how did you begin ?

EK: My soccer career was blighted by injuries which forced me to retire prematurely but before then,i used to train with a juvenile team when i was actively playing,you know, my coach at the time used to moon-light as the coach of this juvenile team and he was also my boss at work,so when i quit playing,he took me under his wings and i gradually learned the technicalities of  soccer,i guess he saw something in me at the time and so he made me the coach of the under 14's.

With time i was called by the national sports council to attend a prelimnary coaching course, then a CAF coaching course and a sports management course of which i was the only female participant.At the time there were no female soccer coaches so I had a lot to prove to myself and to my male counterparts that i had what it takes to be a coach.

WSA: Did you encounter any hardships being a female in a male dominated field ?

EK: Yes i did.Even as a coach of a male youth team,many wrote me off and never took me seriously.I heard lots of derogatory statements made whenever i was at a game or at practice with my boys,there were no opportunies coming my way however the few men who saw my potential supported me through it all and i owe them a ton of gratitude.

WSA: I watched you a couple of times at training and at one of your games and to tell you the truth i was impressed and suprised. Why did you leave Ghana ?

EK: That's a difficult question. Well, i had to further my education first of all so when the opportunity came for me to do so, i jumped at it. Secondly i left out of frustration.You could say,i didn't see any light at the end of the tunnel for me in terms of making a career in Ghana at the time.Don't get me wrong, I did my best and worked hard at the colts level,something i really enjoyed doing however,i had to leave for the reasons i mentioned earlier.

WSA: Did you ever coach a women's team ?

EK: Yes I did briefly. I coached the club i used to play for  before i branched out to coach the U14 and U17 male youth teams.

WSA: Lately we've seen ex-internationals at the helm of affairs as coaches at the national level and as policy makers in women's soccer.Have you ever been approached by your country or have you ever been offered a job as a coach for your country's national team ?

EK: Yes I was contacted in 2003 after the world cup in the USA,unfortunately nothing concrete was agreed upon.

to be continued....

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