How to deal with Uganda cranes’ never-ending woes

Mr Lewis Ainebyona 

What you need to know:

  • I believe proper investment in the grassroots most importantly in the facilities and coaching education will propel us in that direction of tournament success.

One’s talents are discovered at a tender age. Parents get to notice their children’s interests as they grow up, be it at home or at school. Some get to like art and music while others get engaged in sports. Research has it that early specialisation in a certain sport increases a child’s chances of becoming professional.

Literally, most of the greatest sportsmen in the world, if not all of them, engaged in sport at a very early age. In developed countries, parents enroll their children in academies as early as  six-years-old. These academies follow a curriculum designed by the governing bodies that guide the coaches on what to teach these children. 

The football academies follow a structure that is divided into three phases: foundation, youth development and the semi-professional/professional stage. These academies offer a holistic education that involves both practical sessions and the theory classes where they are taught quite several life skills as they are well taken care of. 

A case in point is England where the Football Association (FA) along with Sport England are responsible for planning all this. They offer coaching courses, provide funding to start up teams, support local football clubs and construct football facilities. Our Football Federation (FUFA) has done the best it can considering the funding it gets but unfortunately, we’re still quite far from hitting our desired targets.

Having coached in the grassroots, I’ve noticed several challenges from pitches being scarce, facilities being non-existent, negative attitude from parents about football, children joining the sport late in their teenage years, coaches being old-fashioned and sticking to the old coaching methods, unqualified coaches, football agents manipulating kids promising heaven and earth but the main problems being lack of facilities and quality coaching. 

Most African teams that keep representing the continent at the FIFA World Cup have an influx of players playing abroad. These players have attained quality coaching as most of them having grown up in Europe but at the same time there are top academies in their respective countries that have good structures and partnerships with football clubs abroad especially the Francophone countries for example, Academie Generation foot in Senegal.

Most of our players in our local leagues even lack the basic football skills as they are just scouted from communities playing street football or local tournaments without having gone to a proper academy that monitors their development as a player until they reach the semi-pro/professional stage. That’s why it has taken us a long-time qualifying for major tournaments or getting kicked out in the group stages at the senior level. 

We’ve had quite some notable success with the underage groups U17s, U20s however it’s very hard to keep the same group of players till the senior team which distorts the philosophy as the coaches must find new players to fit into the playing style which all goes back to the grassroots. If the children are well trained and facilitated early enough, then there is assured continuity and progress.
Once we have quality players, they’ll be scouted by top clubs most especially in Europe which is the most preferred destination for professional players. The quality of our local leagues will also improve thus attracting many sponsors and top clubs within Africa which increases the players’ wages and welfare with one thing leading to another. 

Senegal has just won three major continental football tournaments in AFCON, beach football, the just concluded CHAN in Algeria and other notable performances like their quarter-final finish at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and are also AFCON U-20 champions. 
Both their local national team players and those abroad have gone through proper structures and attained the necessary skills at every phase which has enabled that progress.
I believe proper investment in the grassroots most importantly in the facilities and coaching education will propel us in that direction of tournament success.

The author Mr Lewis Ainebyona is a Football Studies Graduate, Solent University, Southampton and Grassroots coach.