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Guest Blog: Igniting women's coaching - Outapi in Northern Namibia

About the author: Nicola Waterworth, who was working on the British Cycling and UK Sport 'IDEALS' programme, writes about her time in Northern Namibia where she was supporting the Nambian Cycling Federation's BMX Race Day Weekend. Nicola discovered two important coaching lessons from her experience - read on to discover what they were.

Nicola WaterworthOne thing you can be sure of in coaching is the need to adapt in the face of new and different circumstances.  Last weekend I certainly had this experience when I had the privilege of supporting the Namibian Cycling Federation’s (NCF) BMX Race Day Weekend in Outapi.  There are two  important lessons that this opportunity reminded me of: the power of good coaching to impact on people’s lives in profound ways, at whatever level you are coaching; and the difference a group of women can make working together, if you ignite their skills and confidence.

Outapi is on the northern border with Angola, a nine hour drive from our starting point in the capital Windhoek, over half of Namibia’s two million population live in the north of the country.  On our journey we were accompanied by eight new BMX bikes for the Outapi community, sponsored by the Namibian bank RMB.  The Outapi Race Day was the sixth event in an ambitious regional expansion programme the NCF started in 2016, brain-child of Sally Harper the NCFs Secretary.  The weekend format is designed to add as much value as possible in a short intervention, working with a local partner; a small number of potential cycle coaches are identified, practical coaching education is delivered at a training event with up to 100 local children (many of whom could not ride a bicycle), followed by a BMX race programme.  Local coaches then receive coaching theory and sit a test the following morning to achieve a basic level Namibian coaching licence.  These coaches then run weekly coaching sessions leading up to a regional race day event and a trip to Windhoek for national finals, where the building of a new BMX track is planned.

Sounds simple but this is very grassroots cycling development.  The reality on the ground, with limited organisational capacity and numerous communication difficulties, meant we weren’t definitely sure what would happen when we arrived; some of my colleagues were more optimistic than others, “everything will work out fine”.  Yet as we stepped out, not so fresh from our drive, glimmers of light began to shine and the fundamental role of women in this endeavour began to become clear.  Our local contact was Hilya Ekandjo a local entrepreneurial young woman, owner of a BEN’s bike box – a bike shop and workshop in a container supplied by the Bicycle Empowerment Network.  Hilya had rounded up a group of six women, including her mechanics to train as coaches; the benefits for a growing bike business of teaching more children to ride are obvious but these women also want to be part of offering some sport for the children in the community where currently there are very limited options. 

And the following day there were around 70 children, each eagerly grasping a parental consent form.  Then I saw the passion, commitment and skill of another great woman role model, NCFs Development Officer, Hella Rust, a Namibian cyclist, now coach and development officer.  Hella simultaneously introduced the local women coaches to the basics of riding a bike and had them in action with the children, while managing to retain control over what could have appeared to be a frenetic and chaotic mass of excited, enthusiastic and sometimes wobbly under 12 year olds.  It was great to see at least 20 girls amongst the children, a number that I was told would have been lower only a few years ago, with families more wary of allowing them the freedom granted to boys.  I had the pleasure of coaching five of the girls, only one of whom could ride before we started, but all could after an hour or so, albeit one remained quite wobbly.  As we commenced racing I spoke to the only girl in the under-6s who managed to ride independently, a 5 year old named Chikondi Bikinesi, who informed me she had been practising at home because she had heard there was going to be a race and she wanted to win. She did indeed receive her first gold medal - and I think we should watch out for her at the 2032 Olympics.

It was a frantic, joyous, hot and exhausting experience.  I was reminded how much fun coaching should be – whether with children or adults – and challenge myself to take more of this joy back to my coaching in the UK, because if it is not fun then I don’t think I am doing it right.  It was inspiring to be surrounded by so many strong women role models  and girls all wanting to have their part in growing cycling on the African continent and not willing to be left behind when a bicycle can bring such immeasurable fun and freedom.

Nicola Waterworth, Coach Professional, British Cycling and UK Sport

Follow: @nicwaterworth