Baine happy to see female coaches in schools before leap

Baine is happy to see the sport of hockey grow naturally. PHOTO/MAKHTUM MUZIRANSA 

What you need to know:

The long awaited weeklong Uganda Hockey Association (UHA) Pearl of Africa Women’s Day Tournament starts on Monday.

The long awaited weeklong Uganda Hockey Association (UHA) Pearl of Africa Women’s Day Tournament starts on Monday.

Our reporter MAKHTUM MUZIRANSA caught up with UHA executive member Bridget Baine, who also plays for Kampala Hockey Club (KHC) Swans and doubles as the team manager for the women’s national team Hockey She Cranes, for a wide ranging interview on the state of the women’s game in the country and here are the excerpts.

There is a lot of talk and there are many posts about the women’s day tournament. Why is there a lot more excitement about this tournament than any other?

We are rebranding the women’s day tournament and running it this year under the theme: Embracing equity for the future of the female athlete. That is in line with the theme of the International Women’s Day celebration for 2023.

In previous years, it was organised by clubs but we (UHA) now want to own and run it annually.

Why is that?

We want to build our calendar for the year and give clubs more in terms of competition than the Africa Cup of Club Championships (ACCC).

We want to turn this into an international tournament where they can compete with more teams coming from outside the country and off the African continent.

So who is eligible? And what teams are participating?

Only women’s teams are eligible. But we have two categories; schools, clubs.

We sent out invitations to at least two (hockey playing) countries per continent.

Unfortunately, for us, the ACCC was moved (from November 2022 in South Africa) to February 2023 in Nairobi, Kenya).

So most of the sides coming from Africa are saying they have just left Nairobi and do not see the money coming very fast. But they have also not said that they are not coming.

(In the past, Kenyan clubs have turned up for the Easter Open without much prior notice).

However, we will draw fixtures for the local teams that span the whole week with the exception of March 11 when we have the Smack (St. Mary’s College, Kisubi) Open.

(The women’s day tourney fixtures should be an improvement on all existing tournaments as teams probably play full 60 minute games. Usually, during the one or two day tournaments, they play a maximum of 20 minutes).

Don’t you think the tournament is in the middle of a very busy period on the hockey calendar? I mean ACCC happens anywhere between November and February the next year. You have the Easter tournament in March or April every year where you also look forward to inviting foreign teams, especially from Kenya.

When you look at the international hockey calendar, it is packed and you have no specific period that you can look to fix a tournament.

However, we want to have a highlight event that will make people think, in March we want to be in Uganda.

Five years from now, we envisage a tournament that various schools and clubs all over the world are looking forward to participating in. Maybe even national teams because hockey does not have a tournament that is open to all countries in the world as most of them have high qualification standards.

But we also want to have an impact on society. Activities that will help with things like boosting tourism and improving the environment.

Anyway, how do you hope to utilize the entire week now that you imply the teams will be fewer than expected?

We hope to start on Monday (tomorrow) with an official opening ceremony and registration.

Then on Tuesday, NCS (National Council of Sports) has a few activities on the pitch in the morning. But women hockey players have been running their own training session every Tuesday evening and we hope to improve on it by holding a longer clinic the entire afternoon.

We want to see ladies get beyond their club rivalries and start working together in larger numbers. Hopefully, that will also improve the national team.

We want this session to help the girls embrace training and work on their skills. If you watch the men’s games, you can see that they dedicate more time to training.

On Wednesday, we shall have the secondary schools’ competition because it is a public holiday and schools have other programs running during the rest of the week.

We hope they turn up early so they can have enough time because we also want to introduce them to the new format of playing quarters rather than halves.

However, when we interacted with some of the teams, they advised that we should discuss some things like; reproductive health and sex education, life skills and values, safe spaces and sports psychology to improve our community and we shall do this on Women’s Day too as clubs will not be active and the schools can benefit from the lessons too.

We think that this could be impactful if we involved some experts – voices from outside our community.

Unfortunately, we will not be able to run an FIH (International Hockey Federation) certified technical course this year but we want to have it for the future editions as we need to increase the number of female umpires and coaches too.

We do not see any female coaches in the league.

The challenge is that most of them are also players. But I was happy to see Teddy Aciro and Doreen Asiimwe try to help out Wananchi HDF (Hockey Dreams Foundation) whenever their coach Martin Okello was absent during the league last year.

They put themselves in the line of fire to feel that pressure and I commend that.

On the national team level, we have had Sandra Namusoke while at the grassroots, we have a bit more.

I would want to see them try coaching in secondary school games as it is not easy to test yourself at primary school or foundation level.

What is the overall state of the women’s game in the country? Can you sustain your own tournament?

We were indeed tempted to allow the men’s teams to compete too. But we eventually agreed that we should push the women’s clubs and schools to grow.

If you look at the recently concluded (Kampala Hockey Club) Schools’ Festival, we had only four girls’ schools while for the boys, we were fighting on how to crowd their games into the little time we had and even had to play after sunset.

We have many girls’ schools that play hockey but do not attend tournaments. We want this one to be one of the events they look forward to.

But to answer your question, the progress is very slow for the ladies. If you look at 2013 and 2014, the league was basically played between Kampala and Weatherhead. They had to play with each other several times.

By 2018 or 2019, the teams had grown to five with Rhinos (Wananchi and Deliverance Church of Uganda).

Unfortunately, Rhinos did not play the 2022 season (and are not on the fixtures for the 2023 National Hockey League) due to financial hiccups and maybe lack of players.

They are invited for this tournament but you can see that the trajectories of the women’s teams are much more difficult than for the men’s.

If one women’s team goes under, what are the chances that it will come back?

That takes me back to the discussion on numbers in the game. I see women’s teams just trying to get by; just 11 players on pitch on a good day with no substitutes.

What is happening? Why can’t hockey retain female players?

One of the reasons is that ladies get challenged with other aspects of life that might not keep them committed to the sport along the way.

Most of them are on bursary in secondary school and if that does not come at tertiary level, be it university or vocational training, there is a challenge.

Some of them have to fend for themselves while some have to leave far from Lugogo which is our centre.

We have also had some of our budding talent start families while a number have had to choose career over the sport. Some careers like engineering and medicine are really demanding but that is not to say we do not have those that are doing their best to strike a balance.

You have young players at their peak that go to start families but how can they be protected against these societal pressures?

I believe it starts with sensitisation, for example, on the advantages of an advanced education vis-à-vis starting a family at say 20.

More importantly, we need new and better things to look forward to as a hockey playing community.

Playing the league and winning it cannot be the only motivation for one’s hockey career. We need to start looking at regularly participating in the ACCC and even this Pearl of Africa Women’s Cup. We need the activity that will keep us from indulging in certain behaviours early.

Also government needs to show more presence. We spend a whole year competing without seeing someone from government coming to get to the bottom of what is lacking or what can be improved on in sports.

Apart from the four points they give sports students entering university, what else is in the structure to reward students that participate in sports and also stay in school till they finish? These are the kinds of discussion we want to have with our policy makers but they must be present to assess for themselves too.

In terms of what to look forward to for the girl child, how important is that move that Doreen Asiimwe (former Wananchi captain who now plays in the paying ranks in Galatea) secured to Italy?

Very important because we had not had a lady play at level.

But Doreen is also a coach for so many younger girls and in sports or even in life in general, we always get inspired by someone we regularly interact  with.

You look at your favourite player or coach and you want to be like them. She has been coaching a very young generation and many will want to follow her.

I am also sure that we have the players with the talent to play at that level and once it sinks in for them that it is possible for them to go, they will probably double their efforts.

Now that you speak of the potential of Ugandan players, let us rewind the clock a bit and discuss what happened in Ghana. (Uganda made its debut at the Africa Cup of Nations last year in January last year and had an awakening of how fast the game was growing on the continent without her).

First of all, it was our first time and it would really be unfair to think that such a team was going to compete or return home with a trophy.

However, we were optimistic that we would get some results but we did not.

Before we got there I was worried we would be embarrassed by South Africa but we restricted them for long periods even though they beat us 10-0.

But we were able to utilize all our players and test them in different positions they were not used to and opened their minds to new ideas.

The biggest challenge was that we had not exposed some of the girls to such a vigorous training level which is also not implemented at club level and one that we had previously not implemented at national team level.

But I was personally happy with what we achieved.

I had hoped that we would improve our ranking by at least beating Zambia in the final classification match but it did not happen. However, if we prepare adequately at national and individual level, we should be able to show drastic improvements at the All Africa Games as we know what to expect from the teams. (All Africa Games that were due in July in Ghana and would double as Olympic qualifiers have been postponed to a yet to be determined date).

Women's Hockey Clubs: Thunders, Rhinos, Weatherhead, Wananchi, Kampala Hockey Club, Makerere University, Deliverance Church of Uganda

Pearl of Africa Women's Tournament

Monday: Open registration 

Tuesday: Hockey clinic

Wednesday: Secondary Schools Games

Thursday - Sunday: Club Games