The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Macalester, Uganda, united by a soccer ball

By Jamie Macpherson

Almost four years ago, U of M student Jens Omli traveled to Uganda to learn about coaching soccer. It was from this trip that the International Sports Connection (ISC), was born. ISC is a program funded by the SportsUnited Division of the U.S. state department, that looks to encourage friendship and conversation among “individuals, tribes, and nations.” This spring, Omli was told that four coaches from Uganda would be coming to Minnesota to learn advanced coaching techniques, and was asked if there were any other coaches he wanted to bring on board. His first thought? Macalester men’s coach, Ian Barker.”Given Macalester’s commitment to international engagement,” he said, “It is not surprising that it’s soccer coach would be eager to participate in a coach education program aimed at building soccer capacity and helping communities develop.”

The ISC was started a little over four years ago when co-founder Jens Omli, a University of Minnesota alum with a PhD in Kinesiology, visited Uganda upon the recommendation of a friend. There he met future ISC co-founder Stone Kyambadde head coach of the Wolves, a youth soccer program in Kampala, Uganda.

“I got [to the field], and he said, ‘All right, you’re a shirt,” Omli said, laughing. He got the idea to create an international program by watching how Kyambadde coached his players, simultaneously teaching them ball handling and life skills. “In the U.S. we’d like to hope that sports build character. You can see that in Stone’s program.”

The Wolves attracts boys from all over the country, teaching them how to play soccer, in addition to mentoring them and teaching them important life skills.

“I love young people, I love the game,” Kyambadde said. “I use it to see that I touch them and take them to the next level.”

The program is based on four pillars of learning: teaching, training, managing and mentoring. The first two look at the physical aspects of soccer, looking at ball skills and fitness. The two “m”s deal more with how soccer can help create a more well rounded person. Kyambadde emphasizes the important role a soccer coach has as a mentor to his players, if only so that they will have something besides soccer once they can no longer play.

“We have to look beyond the players and see them in the next moment. most of them will be has-beens,” he said. “As they come in, my eyes are not on the ball, I’m seeing them as men. I’m looking beyond.”

Kyambadde and the three other Ugandan coaches- Nyiima Jackson, Richard Amatre, and Mathias Lule- were pleased by their reception from Macalester. The four coaches, along with Omli, toured the Leonard Center facilities, and met with trainers and coaches trading stories about training styles and coaching curriculum.

“We received a warm welcome from the department which invited us,” said Jackson, coach at the Ugandan Christian University. “The nice and modern facilities impressed us a lot. Another topic that we found very, very important was the prevention of injuries.” Injuries were a major concern, he explained, because first aide is not always so easily accessible.

Macalester was a fitting choice, said Omli, not only because of Macalester’s worldview, but also because of Barker’s experience as a coach in the international circuit.

“It is a great honor to collaborate with Coach Barker,” Omli said. “Having trained coaches around the world, Coach Barker has a global perspective on football that is essential to the ISC. His vast experience has provided him with the expertise needed to teach technical and tactical aspects of the game at a high level, and as importantly, the heart to do so in Uganda.”

Later this May, the ISC plans to travel to Uganda to train 160 coaches in their philosophy of “teaching, training, managing and mentoring.” These coaches are then expected to pass what they learned on to at least seven coaches in their districts. Omli and Kyambadde hope that in this way, the ISC will be able to help raise the next generation of players as stronger, more conscientious individuals.

“In East Africa, a soccer ball is a powerful magnate, which attracts children to a place where they can receive consistent contact with a caring adult mentor,” Omli said during an interview at the U of M. “As the leader of a soccer team, coaches have an opportunity to teach skills and strategies that will prepare children for future responsibilities that they will face, on and off of the field.”

Coach Richard Amatre agreed, saying the ball is a magnate, drawing people together.

“With 22 people kicking around a useless thing, what can you hope to get out of it?” he said. “You can get a lot out of it. it’s just because of this round thing that I’m here in the U.S.

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