Colorado Rush Technical Director Erik Bushey recently had the opportunity to conduct a coaching education course in The Gambia in Western Africa. Erik shares his experience below:
T.I.A. – This is Africa
This phrase, T.I.A., may have many definitions depending on when it is used and who is using it. In many cases, the phrase is used to explain why things work (or don’t work) the way they do in Africa or to prepare a foreigner for appropriate expectations. As a result of a recent trip of mine to The Gambia where I conducted a four day Rush coaching course, I thought I would share just what T.I.A. means to me. Below are some thoughts after my stay in Bakau, the local community which hosts the Rush Academy.
Beautiful – The country is beautiful. Where it is true that many roads through town are dirt and rock and in some areas trash and rubble are an all too dominant backdrop, the country side can be breathtaking. The foliage throughout the country and the beaches can take you away to a different world. The animals add a different dimension altogether. Though my itinerary did not allow time for a true African safari, my journey did provide the opportunity to experience a glimpse of African wild life and they are images I will not soon forget. (Whether it is petting a crocodile or hand feeding a monkey who has leapt from a nearby tree to the landing pad of my shoulder.)
Poverty is prevalent in The Gambia but so are humility and dignity. The people might provide the most beautiful back drop of all. The smiles are ever-present and contagious. Life is simple in nature for most. At least this is how they make it look when in fact for a great many, there can be nothing simple about their life as finances are hard to come by, electricity comes and goes and death and illness are quite simply an all too dominant part of everyday life. However, if family and friends are nearby, all of these other things can seem to be a distant memory. The women of The Gambia are lovely. Bright and magnificent traditional African dress is common day attire for many of them. The youth are endearing and adorable. The people in general are caring, giving, grateful and full of life and spirit.
Players – The Gambia Rush players I was fortunate to work and play with are talented. In fact, this is an understatement of tremendous proportions. From the 13 and 14 year olds I trained throughout my week-long stay to the senior youth players I saw on the beach and in training, the individual light that shines through these players is blinding. There is an overwhelming level of skill displayed no matter the conditions. Training is predominantly executed on fields of sand. Not dirt mind you, but deep, draining beach sand where a shoe can get lost. Speaking of shoes, the players are lucky to have their own as players will often swap and borrow shoes (and socks) immediately before or after a training session. And where their desires would have it much different, rare is it that a complaint is uttered. However, neither the conditions nor the equipment can dampen the passion with which these players play the game. Even an empty stomach cannot stifle the natural fuel these players have for their football. Their bodies move with elegance. Their feet work with a combination of grace and power. Their names and identities are altered to mirror those of their idols and those players they hope to play alongside of or follow in the footsteps of one day. (While there I played or coached Andy Cole, Michael Ballack, Stefan Effenberg, Claude Makelele, Christiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Juan Riquelme and many others.) Their footballing dreams guide them through multiple sessions and long hours of training every single day.
These are but a few of my many thoughts and observations. I feel compelled to share one more personal anecdote or thought. Here at Colorado Rush we were blessed to have hosted four Gambian players over the last two years: Baboucarr (Mal) Jammeh, Seedy (Deco) Bah, Abdoulie (Aimar) Jatta and Famara (Baba) Bojang. I am forever grateful that all four of these young men were at home in The Gambia during my stay there. Of all my many special memories attained during my visit, there are two that will be permanently engraved in my heart. The first is of a dinner we were able to share together. We watched Barcelona play on one of the few TV’s in the area while enjoying dinner at a restaurant that though only a few minute walk from their homes, they had never frequented. The second memory is that of an evening on the beach where we started in the afternoon on a dry beach with two twigs as a goal on one side and a piece of cement and an old milk jug filled with sand as the goal on the other side. We recruited a few other players from a beach filled with local footballers to make up a 4v4 game and played until the early evening and 2/3 of the field was covered by water from the incoming tide. The ocean was not out of bounds but rather just another condition that forced the player to utilize a new skill to manipulate play and achieve success. Walking through town and visiting their homes provided a sense of the life these boys led prior to moving to Colorado but playing the game that forced fate to bring us together in what is truly their back yard and in conditions that just do not take place in the states was quite honestly one of the most wonderful moments of my life, let alone my soccer career. I am forever touched and influenced by my experience with these four young men and my expedition to their homeland.
So, the next time you hear the phrase “T.I.A. –This is Africa” perhaps the connotation will take on a slightly different meaning. I know for me it will.