George Ojwaya has been a teacher and coach at Waa girls since 2012. He is an IT graduate, but he says that football is and will always be his first love. He had dreams of becoming a professional player, but a grisly car accident left his leg injured and his dream shattered. Unable to play competitively, he decided to switch to coaching.
For three consecutive years, his team at Waa Girls has reached the National level in the ball games competitions. He signed the girls up for Chapa Dimba and the team has never been the same again. Though he is not paid to be a coach, he says that nothing is more fulfilling than being in a position to change the lives of the girls and to give them new opportunities.
We spoke to him about his childhood days growing up on Rusinga Island, his brief career as a footballer and how he ended up becoming the coach to the Kwale Queens.
Tell us a little bit about yourself
My name is George Ammington Ojwaya. I was born in a small village in Rusinga Islands. I went to school there and I remember I always loved football. My father used to play too. I was introduced to the game while I was still very young. In primary school, I was the captain of the school team. When I went to high school, I was already playing for a team in Kisii called Kamachoge FC so I would go and play over the holidays.
When I was in Form Three, I was picked by the Kenyan Military Ulinzi when they came to play against Rusinga United at the Rusinga Cultural Festival. I briefly joined Ulinzi after clearing high school after which I dropped out to go for college to study for IT.
I later came to Mombasa and played for Shimo Strikers in Shimo La Tewa. While still in college I got an injury that couldn’t allow me to continue playing. It was then that I got interested in coaching through my friend coach Bob. I briefly coached the college team where I was also a student. After graduating from college, I got employed at Waa girls as a teacher and it is there where I seriously picked up coaching.
Before you got the injury, did you have dreams of playing for a big club one day?
Yes, I certainly did. When I was spotted by Ulinzi back in Rusinga, I expected that I would one day play for Ulinzi Stars in the Kenya premier league and ultimately play for the national team Harambee Stars.
I didn’t get injured in the field. I was involved in a car accident and suffered severe fractures to my knee and ankle. After the accident, I really tried to get back to form and play competitively but the injury had taken a huge toll on my leg already so for the sake of my wellbeing, I chose not to continue playing. My hand also got injured in the accident so every time I pushed myself beyond the limits it became quite painful.
Was it difficult for you to abandon your hopes of one day becoming a professional player?
Once a footballer, always a footballer so it was never easy to accept. I still go to the field to play but it is not the same anymore because my dreams were shattered. It was a major setback, I needed to talk about it for me to finally come to terms with reality.
The fact that I was ageing was also another factor that I had to consider. Getting a job as a teacher meant that I could no longer pursue those dreams, so I eventually had to make peace with the fact that playing professionally was now a distant dream.
What do you teach at school?
I went back to college and took a course in education and now I teach computer studies at Waa girls. Also, I am also the football coach for the girls.
Did you receive any formal training to be a coach?
As I said earlier, I used to be a coach and player when I was in college, so I applied the experience I had gathered along the way and used it in coaching. I also got a lot of information from YouTube. I watched a good number of coaching tutorials and downloaded coaching manuals from the internet. In 2010 while still playing for Shimo La Tewa, I did my first basic coaching course that had been organised in Mombasa by the former FKF officials.
How did you come to be the football coach at Waa girls? Had you coached girls before?
I had actually never coached girls before. It is interesting because when I was employed at Waa girls as a teacher, I was still involved with the Shimo la Tewa team. Every Friday at 2 pm I left Waa girls to go to Shimo la Tewa and train with them. The teachers at Waa Girls noticed my interest in football and kept telling me that the school had a good football team. I had not taken much interest until the time we had a football match between the teachers and the students. It was then that I realized that the team had something special about them.
Their coach at the time was a lady called Madam Grace. As the team was going for the District competition, she fell ill, and I stepped in for her. I observed the girls play that game and got really interested in helping them play better because it was obvious that they had immense talent. They didn’t have any real tactics; they were basically running all over the field without direction. So, I introduced a formation to their game where each player had an assigned position in which they were supposed to play all through the game. That year the team got to the provincial level for the first time and competed against St. Johns school which had the best team at the time.
We got knocked out at the semifinals because many girls got injuries because they had not been training effectively. When we came back, I took full charge of the team, organized a tournament to identify more talent. In 2014 we got to the regional levels which were held in Malindi high school. It was around that time that I also did another basic coaching course which was organized specifically for coaches who coached girls’ teams.
In 2015 I had a very complete team and we started serious training in tactical formation, and ball control using the chest, head and feet. The quality of our game has greatly improved since then and I am very proud of my team. Since 2016 we haven’t missed a spot at the national competition. Those are three consecutive years.
As a coach, Is there a difference between training girls and boys?
As a coach, you need to be very aware of everything that is going on because girls can be very emotional compared to boys. Sometimes they can be extremely moody, so it is upon you as the coach to learn about their psychology and know how to handle them.
Unlike boys, the girls don’t enjoy training without the ball. You, therefore, need to have a couple of balls in the field during training so that they can learn from the session and also enjoy it. When girls like something they direct all their energy into it, unlike boys who tend to be a little distracted sometimes.
What about the challenges?
With girls, of course, the issue of the monthly period can affect training in one way or another. Sometimes a couple of them are on their period at the same time and as a coach, I have to be open enough for them to feel free to open up to me during times like these. The important thing is not to treat them harshly. Simply listen to them and when they are feeling under the weather, just give them some time to rest.
You have to establish strict boundaries with the girls because they can tend to be too free with you to the extent that they don’t want to train in the right way. I guess this applies to both boys and girls, there needs to be proper boundaries for them to listen to you as a coach. For instance, we are currently training with the Kwale team for Chapa Dimba and I am dealing with around forty girls. Without the boundaries, the girls will just want to play around, and no work will be done in the end.
The coach tends to assume the role of a father to the team. You, therefore, need to be as approachable as possible because girls may sometimes be going through personal issues from home or at school that might be affecting them at school. Girls can be notorious about gossiping and in a team, that can be very dangerous. It is up to me as a coach to really know my players and understand all their personalities so I can know how to deal with such issues. I don’t think I would have managed to connect with my team as much as I have if I didn’t have my training as a teacher. Being a teacher has certainly made me a better coach.
What is the age group of the girls in your team?
The girls I coach at school are between the ages of 14-20yrs because that is the standard age group for high school students.
Have you met people who think that girls should be coached by women?
I do. Some people seem to think that I shouldn’t be coaching the girls, but the results always speak for themselves. When they see our journey as a team, they appreciate what we have managed to achieve. Women coaches especially, tend to be bothered by me being a coach because they feel like I am occupying their job.
Why did you change the name of your team from Waa Girls to Kwale Queens?
When we started our journey in Chapa Dimba, we started it as just Waa girls. There was a rival team from Kwale Girls’ school, and we decided to merge the two teams to form one strong team that would compete at the Chapa Dimba competitions. We called the team Kwale Queens because both teams are from Kwale county.
Being that the girls are from different schools, we had to ask the parents for permission through agreement forms which allow the girls to come for practice and play during the holidays. We also had to get permission from the County Director of Education and both of our school principals so that they were all aware of what we were doing. During the holidays, we usually camp in a school for two weeks while we train.
Tell us about your journey with Chapa Dimba.
Chapa Dimba wanted their competition to include boys and girl’s teams. They knew that we had a good girls’ team, so they contacted me and asked if we were interested in joining the competition. I took their request to our principal and she consented to it.
The registration process for the first edition was a bit difficult because I didn’t know my way around and not all girls had the required documents. Chapa Dimba requires that all participants submit original documents and not all parents were willing to allow coaches to handle the original copies of these documents. The Chapa Dimba age bracket is 16-20 years. Some girls in the team are over 18 years but don’t have identification cards while it is mandatory that every participant above 18 years must have an id.
How has Chapa Dimba improved the team and the girls’ lives?
Chapa Dimba has been very beneficial to the lives of the girls, in the first edition, the team won a Ksh. 200,000 cash prize. Each girl took a total of Ksh 10,000 plus a mobile phone. Most of these girls had not even seen a smartphone at home. It was good to see them get rewarded for their good performance.
In last year’s edition of Chapa Dimba, two of the girls in our team got the opportunity to travel to La Liga despite the team being unfairly disqualified as we were headed to the finals. Luckily, the Spanish scouts noticed that our team had the most talent and went on to pick the two girls even though we were not the actual winners of the competition which is where they would normally choose the girls from.
The trip to La Liga must have been a huge boost for the team.
When the two girls came from Spain, we were playing school games. They really encouraged their teammates because it was a dream come true for the local girls to get on the plane, travel all the way to Europe, play with white people and come back. After the girls came back from La Liga, we saw a lot of other girls showing interest in the game and wanting to join football as well.
The teachers and principals who once questioned the team and why we were investing so much to train the girls finally saw the benefits. The people in Kwale are mostly Muslims and in the past, they were very hesitant about allowing their girls to play football but after seeing the success we had achieved, they slowly started to warm up to the idea.
With this year’s edition of Chapa Dimba Semi Finals around the corner, what are your expectations?
It is a two-day event; the semis will be on a Saturday and the finals on Sunday. I hope we get to the finals this time (they did –Kwale Queens storm Chapa Dimba final) and better still, I hope this time we can win the competition because the girls have been working very hard and they deserve it. If all goes well, some members will be chosen to go to Spain for training and should they see it fit for me to also go, I will happily join them. We hope for the best.
What would you say is your greatest achievement so far as a coach?
The thing I am most proud of is signing up the girls for Chapa Dimba. Like I said, they won mobile phones in the first edition. Some parents of these children didn’t even have phones themselves. Facilitating that kind of progress to a family is something that I do not take lightly. Girls who could not even afford Ksh. 200 for pocket money now had ten thousand shillings in their pocket. Money which they had worked for and earn from their good performances.
These girls are now known worldwide. I have two girls who are playing football abroad. One is in Germany and the other is in Iceland. There is a girl that joined the team when she was in Form One and couldn’t even dribble the ball but today, she is one of the best players at the Thika Queens Football Club. These are the things that I am most proud of as a coach.
Looking back to the days when you were in Rusinga, did you even think that coaching a girls’ team would have propelled you to these heights?
It was never in my plans. This is something that simply came out of nowhere. Even as I joined Waa girls, I didn’t have any plans of coaching the team. I just know that I love watching and playing football. Coaching is something that came unexpectedly and the more I do it the more I love it. I would say it is a calling because I have never been paid to be a football coach since 2012. We do get allowances here and there plus prize money when we win competitions but not a salary.
Moving forward, what dreams do you have for your players?
I would wish that one day a team from Kwale County will get to play at the national level. We can only impact these girls’ lives when they are here with us. Once they leave school after Form Four, it would be good to know that there is somewhere they can continue to sharpen their skills and further the footballing careers. It would give me a lot of joy as a coach to see my players playing football competitively in the league and making a living out of their talent. The FKF and other stakeholders should give these girls the opportunities they need to make themselves better.
Brian Muchiri is a passionate writer who draws his inspiration from the experiences in his own life and of those around him. He is candid and he seeks to inspire society to be more pro active and vocal about the social issues that affect us. Brian is also actively involved in pushing for awareness and inclusion of people with disabilities through his foundation; Strong Spine.