As we continue to celebrate the centenary of our late former President Nelson Mandela people around the world were called upon to do just 67 minutes of good in commemoration of the life of a man who spent 67 years fighting for a democratic South Africa.
The Dutch ministry of Foreign affairs and the Royal Dutch Football Association teamed up with the South African Football Association to coach the coaches.
100 coaching hopefuls were selected by SAFA to receive training.
The first 34 were put their paces by the Dutch World Cup finalist Johan Neeskens in Johannesburg last week, with 66 more to be trained in Pietermaritzburg and Cape Town before the year is out.
The young coaches spent the week learning the basics of coaching and ended the week by receiving their SAFA D Licence which is essentially an introduction to football coaching.
Neesken, who scored the opening goal of the 1974 World Cup final against West Germany before going on to coach at Barcelona as an assistant had one important message for the young coaches.
“They have to learn how to train with the younger kids. How and why? Because you have different age groups and every age group requires a different emphasis. Different age groups are coached differently,” explained the former Mamelodi Sundowns coach.
Neeskens comments are telling, especially when considered in light of the football success that the Dutch have been able achieve over the last half a century.
All too often in South Africa well-intentioned but undertrained teachers are left in charge of coaching of 6 to 12 year olds. That is the critical age group because that is where the foundation is laid for future football success.
“What is important for very young boys from 6 to 12 years is the technique. So the coaches have to know that they are doing. Not a carpenter, with all the respect, who coaches just because he has free time. In Holland a coach can’t coach kids if he doesn’t have a licence,” said Neeskens.
As detailed in the 2016/2017 Eminent Persons Group report, one of the most significant challenges facing school sport in South Africa is the lack of qualified coaches. And when one considers that there are just less than 8000 football coaches in the country with over 25 000 schools it is clear that less than a third of South African school children are being coached by qualified coaches.
If the department of Sport and Recreation and the department of Basic Education are to achieve their collective goal of reviving school sport in South Africa then urgent attention must be paid to those that will be working with especially our primary school kids. These coaches must be well paid and well trained.
Mandela Day may have come and gone but the efforts of Neeskens, SAFA and the Mandela Foundation will surely leave a lasting impact on the future of South African football. Madiba’s love for children was celebrated, a love which surely stemmed from an understanding of the need to invest in future generations.
My hope is that by the time the 18th of July rolls around again some of the 100 coaches trained by Neeskens and SAFA will be employed in schools to coach the next generation of Bafana Bafana stars to represent South Africa at the 2038 FIFA World Cup.
Whitehead is a sport broadcaster and writer.