Girls In Sport: The Emerging Female Coach

The female coach continues to be a rare occurrence, though there is recent claims of a significant increase through instituted policies by sports organisations and governments. We look at what the emerging female coaches experience when they enter the mainstream, and what is considered their biggest strength, as they take their place in teams and establish themselves.


Meet Justin Kim

11 year old rising tennis player, Justin Kim has qualified for the North Carolina Championship Team – State Track at the USTA-Spring JTT and will play the finals on the 13-15 July 2018 at Cary Tennis Park. We interviewed Justin at practice, and here are his comments.

Question: When did you start playing tennis?

Justin: I started when I was 4 years old, having fun with Coaches Jose and Nina, at Brier Creek Country Club. but I didn’t get serious until about 8 and a half years old.

Question: What changed then?

I was playing golf a lot with my mother, Gina Lee, and my sister Jenna Kim (currently a competitive junior golfer), but I felt I wanted to be more active. I also wanted to spend more time with my dad, Charles Kim, who plays a lot of tennis. My dad would go out with me on weekends and we would hit together.  I’m really lucky that my dad knows how to string my racquets and I enjoy playing with him on court.

Question: What would you say you love most about tennis?

Justin: Winning!

Question: Great, what makes you think you could be a good competitor?

In the Fall of 2010, I won a USTA L5 singles tournament, as well as a doubles tournament in one weekend. That convinced me that I could become a really good player. After that, I started to do weekly practice at Brier Creek with Coach Chris Fletcher.

Question: How has working with Coach Liz Odera helped you?

Justin (smiling): I’m really pleased with my first serve: I used to suffer a lot in matches because my serves were very unreliable. She helped me build a powerful kick serve, and it can really hurt my opponents. She has also improved my backhand, my slice and consistency. . She encourages me to plan ahead and trust myself when playing. We prepare for every match together, and go through the results of the last match and focus on what I could use to have an advantage in a match. This has helped my become a more confident player.

Question: What are your next goals?

Justin: I hope to tryout for the varsity team at my school (Durham Academy) when I get to 7th grade, and further on, get to play for a high school team.


When I got my first major leadership position, I was excited about making an impact. I was put in charge of a staff of 27 members, many who had more on the job experience than my own age. I tried my best to build teamwork, prepare schedules that would suit individual strengths and programmed in individual and group training. Our performance shot up steadily and by the end of the second year, other competing units began to sit up and take notice. But even then something else was happening that would ultimately show me how much success can be dangerous to the leader.

In an effort to keep up the steady improvement in performance, I attended various seminars, where I learnt how important it was to “know your staff individually”. I took it very seriously, and deliberately assigned time to meet each member of staff regularly. I felt pleased when, after some time, I would be invited to special family activities: kids’ graduations, christenings, and birthday parties. A couple of the senior staff members, Samuel and Jonah, and I often met as members of the same club, and played football together. However, after a while, I began to notice that Samuel was coming to work increasingly late, sometimes by as much as 2 hours, while Jonah kept rarely submitted his weekly report by the Friday deadline, instead shifting it to late Mondays or Tuesdays. I requested for change verbally and eventually through a memo. They came to my office, apologized, and soon went make to their bad habits. It was beginning to affect the behavior of the rest of the staff.

Then three weeks later, for reasons that no one could gather, Samuel and Jonah could never agree on anything. I tried to bring them together, mistakenly thinking that I could broker a truce and, eventually hold the already fractured staff together. That was the biggest mistake I ever made. If I mentioned that one person was right, the other would take it that l was taking unfair sides and this would lead to resentment. There was no peace.

Eventually, both Jonah and Samuel quit their jobs in a huff and taking some of their supporters with them. I was distraught. Our results plunged for the first two quarters of the year, and it looked like the rest of the year was going to be disastrous.

I learned on valuable lesson: I may have self-discipline, but I had failed to instill discipline amongst my staff consistently, in an effort to be accepted. The fact that staff was now more familiar with me should not have meant that they could act in the disrespectful manner that they had adopted. I had lost the ability to control them.

During the next three months, I engaged new senior staff, and helped them engage the lower cadre officers for their respective sections. I also set new conditions and trained all staff on their doe of conduct. By the end of the year, we succeeded in beating our targets, and once again our unit topped the performance charts.

Here are some of lessons about discipline and leadership:

  1. Set up golden rules of behavior and stick to them. These rules will often stem from your organizations Code of Conduct or similar documents.
  2. Do not operate under two separate rules where you have discipline, yet your staff can get away with breaking expected code of behavior. Make it a practice to train your staff and then ensure that they know that you will act to discipline poor behavior. Take action immediately a staff member fails to follow the required ethic of behavior. This ensures consistent acceptable behavior modification.
  3. As a leader, you always have the option to drop undisciplined staff, and seek support to recruit and train new members. Even when you do not have direct responsibility, seek the necessary support from those in charge to support your section to act immediately.

If you wish to learn more about becoming a stronger leader, or exchange views, please write a comment below

Does Building African Tennis Stars For The World Stage Make Sense?

Africa hopes to arrive on the world stage with growing numbers of tennis players around the continent. These are exciting moments, only just a few years ago, a Kenya-trained player from a small but unique sports centre (Sadili Oval, next to Kibera), Burundi-born Hassan Ndayashimiye, made it to the world stage, coming through the qualifiers and reaching the second round at Wimbledon Juniors. Hassan has since joined college in the USA, after a successful stint at the ITF Centre in Pretoria. Sadili Oval also completed 2011 with Henry Ayesiga (a beneficiary from the slums of Kampala Uganda) earning second place in Africa in the Boys Under 14, nurturing him to through the next two years, finally saying a fond goodbye when he became a student at Cerritos College, USA. They are not the first product of our academy, we accept poor children from around Africa, and provide them with education and tennis training, with 7 playing college tennis on scholarship in the USA, 14 are top in the region and 9 have scholarships awarded to them in UK high schools. Amongst them are:

  1. Kenya Open 2010 Triple Champion (won ladies singles, ladies doubles and mixed doubles), Aziza Butoyi, who is the first from Buyenzi slums in Burundi, to enter university, having gained a tennis scholarship to Olivet Nazarene University, where she almost single-handedly carried her team to NAIA Nationals in 2011, and later became All American
  2. Maurice Wamukowa (Kenya) who graduated from Florida A &M where he went on a tennis scholarship, Maurice has played for both Kenya and the ITF Africa team in his junior years.
  3. Joab Odera (Kenya), Captained Malezi School (the academy school) to win the national tennis title throughout his high school, earning a tennis scholarship to Winston Salem State University where he graduated cum laude in Molecular Biology. He is now on a PhD Program in North Carolina Central University.
  4. Rahab Mbugua (Kenya), was the region’s top girl for about 4 years.
  5. Teresa Odera (Kenya), who is an honors student and player at Northwestern College Iowa, where she has won accolades. She was the first Kenyan to win a silver medal at an Under 14s ITF event (she was 10 years) and went to help her school win the national schools title for 6 years. She is now taking a second degree in software development.
  6. Yasin Shabani (Tanzania), an orphan, who ended 2011 as the top Under 18 player, but also the second highest ranking senior player in his country. He is now a coach.
  7. Amadi Kagoma – has consistently won singles and doubles at the national school games, and is currently ranked in the late 700s worldwide. With more support, Amadi, who is currently at Cerritos College in California, and later graduated to University of California in Bakersfield.
  8. Jamin Luvembe – who was the first boy form Kibera to play the Davis Cup for Kenya in 2013. He is a tennis coach and a DJ in the Kenyan Coast of Mombasa.

As you can see, from the examples described, although they had great talent, and used it to open doors to future outside professional sport.

The Effort Is Great – Is The Reward Requisite?

On average, most junior will have sacrificed about 7 years of their lives, to get to be amongst the best in their country. In order to get noticed, they would, on average, joined the game at about 9 years, and reached their peak at 17 years. This is often because the game is learned at a relatively older age than would be seen elsewhere. You would not find a more committed, athletic and hardworking junior than what you see in Africa, yet only a very narrow band make the cut to play any grand slams, and often only at the qualification stage. I have often talked to many coaches on the top level circuits, and many do not really have clear answers, perhaps because very few have had contact with these incredible kids. What I often find, is that there is no difference between a top Under 14 junior in Africa and that in Europe or America, indeed, I have travelled with teams of kids between 12 and 15 years to tournaments in Florida and England, and they have often reached the quarters and semi-finals. So what goes wrong after 16 years?

ITF (International Tennis Federation) new rules demand players destined to the top stage, get points from within their region. As such, our talented juniors are now required to travel and play within Africa, to gain the requisite points to enable them play on the world stage, especially lucrative European Circuit, and make it to the Grand Slams.

Sadili currently has 25 promising African juniors aged between 10 and 14 years, with potential to reach next step. It is for this reason that I feel concerned and need to consider various options for them, and also hope to get feedback from those who are reading this article on what the next course would be.

You see, in order to get enough points to grow, the first thought would be to have players to play regionally. At present, there are a limited number of regional ITF qualification tournaments available in Africa. Players such as our would wish to move from the ITF/CAT Under 14s (which are many) to Under 16s (which do not exist) in order to build their game and play a more experienced and time game at the Under ITF 18s. That makes sense doesn’t it?

With the lack of a high level Under 16 tournament, African players in often find themselves flat-footed and inexperienced when they meet the confident and competition ready Europeans, who often see ITF tournaments a perfect spot to grab easy points in order to get higher rankings. This has been very costly for the continent, as many juniors finally lose their confidence and move on to other sports and just stay in the background.

There are two alternatives to the ITF tournaments that we decided to take up in order to grow our players. Firstly, we sought places outside of the continent, where our talented kids to go and train with others their age for short periods, and play as many tournaments as they could. This is extremely costly, as a result of Airfare to other continents, where there exist for ITF tournaments. In addition, players would have to officially represent their countries and selection of players would depend on the local federations, a process which is not only slow, it is fraught with nepotism and favoritism, in many countries.

Secondly, we started an African ranking tournament series, the Tennis Africa Cup, which allows for children to play and gain points from tournaments that were being played within the continent, beginning with Kenya. The tournaments themselves are graded to ensure that players who are advanced get to challenge themselves with the bigger tournaments, in the hope of building an elite group. This method seems more feasible, and ensures that costs are kept lower and more affordable. The system has been in existence for almost 12 years, in which a number of juniors have gained scholarships to high schools in Europe and University teams in USA. However, a lot more support is needed to keep this fire burning, which includes sponsorship of more tournaments all over the continent, more tennis brand names offering strings, racquets and other goods, assured accommodation and meals for travelling kids through volunteers, and a stronger IT capacity to build a string site. Our estimate is that it is possible to build an annual 16-week tournament series that goes through Kenya, Botswana, South Africa, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Nigeria, Benin, Seychelles and Zambia.

If we can keep these activities going, then, the end of the six years, Africa may get an opportunity to present herself to the world platform with pride.

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Why Listening Is Important When Coaching Females

Listening is key to improving the performance of every female athlete.

Coaches demonstrate, observe and correct. Many coaches do this quite well, but miss a very important opportunity to impact positively on a female athlete’s life. When a female athlete walks into a session, she is keen to connect with the coach, in order to perform at her best. As coaches, we find ourselves pushing forward with the session, demonstrating and talking (a lot), as we observe and correct. How much time do we spend actually listening? From talking to many coaches, it ranges from 0-2% normally.

When you listen, you learn

At the start of every session, and during the short breaks, I often take time to give each of my players a chance to talk to me. It’s often me asking only one or two questions, and leaving her to then choose what she wishes to tell me. It’s the one time I call “free choice”. It’s amazing how much you can learn about someone in such a short time. It helps you understand her, and feed in subtle but gradual adjustments to the learning session that will give her a satisfactory learning opportunity.

When you listen, you act

Listening helps you understand what the underlying issue is. Does your athlete really understand what is required, or perhaps she knows another way to do the same thing? Could this, perhaps be easily built around her to ensure that she has, not just the important basics, but also uniquely different style, that helps build her confidence? Allowing for creativity helps build self esteem, and accommodating for this while offering critical techniques is always a win-win.

You can contact Liz Odera on