Think competition for field space is tight here? Try having to shoo several aggravated vultures off the pitch in order to start training, as we did at Ethiopia’s national soccer stadiumlast month.
Feathered football fans were among the many fascinating close encounters our delegation experienced during Phase II of a coaching-exchange program. sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and the Academy for Educational Development. Three of us from DC Stoddert Soccer—Mohan Telfer, Hannah Wenzel and I—rolled into Addis Ababa on June 15. Joining us were Richmond Strikers coaches Erwan LeCrom and Carrie Webster. As our driver navigated the capital’s crowded streets, we narrowly missed cows, goats, people, and donkeys – in addition to the ubiquitous blue minibuses.
What a change from Washington, D.C., where the exchange program kicked off in March. During that first phase, a small group of Ethiopian coaches took the USSF ‘D’ License course conducted by DC Stoddert’s Director of Coaching Len Oliver and me. (Click here to read about the March session.) They then traveled to Richmond for a sports-leadership course at Virginia Commonwealth University and observed club operations and training of the Richmond Strikers.
Based on the material covered in their U.S. training, these coaches helped us conduct a four-day coaching-education course in Addis for 45 local coaches. Our sojourn also included cultural events and official visits (with the U.S. Embassy, the Ethiopian Ministry of Youth, Sports & Culture, the Ethiopian Football Federation, the Addis Ababa Youth Sports Commission and the Addis Ababa Football Federation). Our last day featured a town-hall meeting.
All five of us from the U.S. were pleasantly surprised at how interested the Ethiopian coaches were in our observations. Their main concern was their inability to beat the other African nations and their lack of presence in the international soccer arena. The local coaches said that they were confused as to why Ethiopia couldn’t win international games when we kept telling them how technically gifted their athletes were.
We saw the Ethiopians as much more creative and comfortable with the ball than their U.S. counterparts, but thought that they rarely broke out of the “street soccer” style (a short passing game) to play long balls over the top. We though that they showed wonderful aptitude for dribbling, passing and receiving, but lacked sophistication in their finishing techniques and attacking-third tactics. The 3-5-2 was the formation of choice for every team we saw playing, but we believed that often led to a static rather than to a fluid game.
Two problems with the teams in Ethiopia directly relate to the substantial poverty that afflicts the nation. Lack of food and improper footwear (too small, too big, poor quality) contribute to fatigue and injuries, making the players less effective in 90-minute games. There is much we can do to help the Ethiopians on this front.
All of us came back to the United States with profound gratitude for what we have in our country, but also with an appreciation for the rich culture, pride, and generosity of the Ethiopians. We made some very good friends in Africa, and we promised to foster these friendships and to look for ways to help their game progress.
My first errand upon arriving home was to gather up some old uniforms and cleats from the DC Stoddert office and send them to our new friends. I know a group of children who will be very happy to have them.
To help with the Ethiopian outreach, please contact Travel Director Kate Samsot