HE should beef up efforts to produce indigenous coaches

For the first time in the 92-year history of the FIFA World Cup, the five African teams participating at World Cup Qatar 2022 – Morocco, Tunisia, Senegal, Cameroon and Ghana – are each led by an indigenous coach, a welcome break from soccer federations’ habit of hiring foreign coaches.

This turns the spotlight on the role of African sports universities in developing sports coach education systems to increase the number of qualified coaches proficient in African-oriented coaching practices.

Local coaches in the lead

The five African coaches at the tournament are Ghana’s Otto Addo, Morocco’s Walid Regragui, Tunisa’s Jalel Kadri, Cameroon’s Rigobert Song and Senegal’s Aliou Cissé. The Confederation of African Football (CAF) described the move as “historic” and “a source of pride for Africa” as it represents “a massive step for the growth of African coaches and a giant step towards the development of African football”.

This is enough proof that local expertise can also work well when and if given a chance, the CAF said on its website.

Of Africa's five qualifiers for the 2022 tournament, Morocco has become the first African side to reach the semi-finals by beating Portugal on 10 December. Although it lost to the 2018 World Cup winner, France, in the semi-finals on 14 December during its campaign it also beat Belgium, ranked second in the world after Brazil, and 2010 World Cup champion, Spain. 

The other teams also did well. Senegal reached the round of 16 but lost against England, Tunisia pulled off a stunning victory over the 2018 champion, France, in the group stage and Cameroon has become the first African nation to beat five-time champion Brazil during the tournament.

Status of coach education systems

According to Professor Jimoh Shehu of the department of sports science at the University of Botswana, football coach education systems at African sports universities rely too much on “dubious” short coaching courses and outdated coaching curricula. There is also a lack of competency and scenario-based coaching education programmes.

“In Africa, universities still have a lot to do to streamline the coach education system,” Peninnah Aligawesa Kabenge, head of sports and recreation at Makerere University in Uganda and the first woman vice president of the Federation of Africa University Sports as well as president of the Association of Uganda University Sports told University World News.

“For example, with reference to Uganda, my territory coach education system is more or less non-existent in universities,” Kabenge said.

Africa faces many challenges

These are several challenges that face African sports universities in the process of developing coach education systems. These include a shortage of specialists in sports coaching science. A solution could be to sponsor graduate studies in sports coaching as well as establish sport coaching departments and research programmes, Shehu said.

“The challenges also include bureaucratic red tape. A special task force to fast-track coaching education programmes and policy implementation is necessary,” he said. At the same time, the “colonial mentality” of assuming foreign or foreign-trained coaches are always better than local coaches could be dealt with by advocating for local capacity building and support for home-grown graduates and indigenous coaching professionals.

“Sports speciality rivalry could be tackled by making an effort to cooperate and collaborate to build a comprehensive and holistic sport coaching education system instead of creating a toxic environment to advance one sport discipline over the other,” Shehu said.

Expanding on further challenges, Kabenge said: “Legislation and policy formulation that provide guidelines for African sports universities to embed coach education in their structures must be instituted.

“The red tape within the majority of African sports universities structures to adopt changes is a challenge while funding for initiatives to develop coach education systems does not come in easy,” Kabenge said. “This can be dealt with by working on the mindset of those in key decision-making positions in Africa.”

Building coach education systems

Dr Gerard Akindes, sports management researcher and consultant with a focus on Africa and an adjunct faculty member at Northwestern University in Qatar, said that, without endogenous coaching education, Africa lacks quality and culturally competent coaches to educate and provide appropriate training to millions of young players across the continent.

“All categories of coaching curriculum, sports science research, psychology and many other fields exist in universities. They should be developed to enter the coaching field with regular, consistent, and accessible coaching education, which includes research in the African context,” Akindes told University World News.

“One of the challenges is the ability to develop curricula accessible to a wider audience of learners who do not have a capacity for higher education but want to coach. But university-level coaching education must exist, leading to a degree,” he said.

He added that it is vital that universities, in collaboration with practitioners, develop training for all football or sports lovers willing to coach. This initiative should be collaborative, including federations, clubs and sports ministries.

Shehu said African sports universities should take several measures to boost and build coach education systems. These include working with sports federations to develop, pilot, and adopt continental coaching qualification frameworks and licences for different sport development levels, offering coaching diploma and degree programmes that have been benchmarked against international standards, and developing joint coaching qualification programmes with international universities and reputable sports academies, he said.

“In addition, ensuring that the technical aspect of coaching is adequately complemented by developing non-technical competencies such as communication skills, leadership skills, decision-making skills, observational skills, analytical skills, feedback skills, motivational skills and stress-management skills. Staff and student exchange programmes in physical education and sport coaching should also be strengthened,” he added.

Shehu also advocates for sports coaching research grants at national, regional and continental levels. This could boost cutting-edge research and evidence-based coaching models for continuous professional development and improved coaching systems, among other benefits.

Collaborative centres for excellence

Kisaka Thomas Mboya, a consultant in the sports and recreation industry, said universities in Africa should develop centres of sports coaching excellence where expert soccer coaches could be produced.

“Once the centres are established, they should collaborate with the country’s soccer federation and international bodies such as CAF, Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), and Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) to provide experts who will train the coaches based on the relevant content and current soccer trends, fitness methods, dietary needs, sports medicine, and FIFA laws,” Mboya said.

Chantelle Nkala, a research fellow at the University of Johannesburg and a strength and conditioning coach at Spark Athletic Centre, agrees with Mboya. “An integrated centre will help universities achieve their objective in terms of coach education programmes,” she said.

Asiimwe Ismail, lecturer in sports science at Gulu University in Uganda, also supports this view. “It’ll definitely be of great importance to invest in developing local human resource capital for coaches in Africa. This centre should also focus on training instructors who will, in turn, be able to part with knowledge and expertise in coaching education.”

University-led coach education network proposed

Nkala said that, since coach education programmes already exist within sporting federations, both at national and international levels, universities may face a unique challenge with getting buy-in from aspiring coaches to opt for university programmes as opposed to federation-approved coaching levels.

To overcome such barriers, universities need to collaborate with sporting federations to integrate and improve current coach education programmes to adequately equip coaches with the skills to apply knowledge to practice, she suggested.

Dr Nana Adom-Aboagye, acting head of the Centre for Sport Leadership (Maties Sport) at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, told University World News that “it is imperative that our universities provide coaching education to our African coaches beyond the international federation certification”.

She said they plan to work on this at the centre.

“Given the interdisciplinary nature of coaching, it may be worth African universities collaborating with national, regional and international professional bodies along with global higher education institutions to learn from best practices, especially what content knowledge is used in their curricula and how it is structured,” Adom-Aboagye said.

“To do that, African sports universities could link to national football associations, African coach academies, the CAF, FIFA, and the International Council for Coaching Excellence along with Western sports universities to set up an educational network for coach development,” she pointed out.

“Such a network will develop Africa-orientated coach education programmes for producing African coaches that could compete on the global stage.”

Focus on African women coaches

She said the network should also focus on designing specific programmes for producing women coaches to tackle the shortage of women in sports coaching in Africa.

As an example of women’s under-representation in African coaching: at the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations football tournament staged in Morocco in July 2022, only three (25%) of the 12 teams were coached by women. In contrast, the Women’s European football tournament, which was held concurrently, has six female coaches (38%), out of 16 teams.

This article was updated on 11 and 15 December.