Have you ever been curious about volunteering as a sports coach? Neil shares a personal glimpse into a day in his life as a volunteer sports coach in Ja Ela, Sri Lanka.
My tiny Casio watch screams at me to rise from my somewhat sweaty slumber. The sun is on the up as I quickly check for any nasty looking mozzy bites. I avoid the shower at this point, leaving my roommate to sleep and figuring I’ll only be hot and bothered within 10 minutes of leaving the house anyways.
With football coaching equipment slung over my shoulder I leave the volunteer house and start my walk to ‘work’. I have the option of a bus bike or getting the local bus but I prefer to walk, I love the walk. It obviously takes longer than the other options, but this allows me to take it all in. I bop along the main road as a few tunes filter into my ears via my ipod and I give a casual wave to some shop owners who now recognise me, they already seem like they’ve been working for hours and give me a HUGE smile as I pass. They could be laughing at my sporting attire for all I know, I probably look a state, but I believe they are just genuinely being very nice and saying hi.
I arrive for training and all the kids are ready and waiting, eager to see if they can get their hands on one of the brightly coloured footballs that I’ve brought with me. The normal white footballs are somewhat neglected. We allow them to go mad for 15 minutes before proper training starts, replica football shirts flash back and forth across the grass, Torres, Rooney, Gerrard, all the top names are out this morning. Some of the kids ask me to recite the Sinhala that I’ve leant, I count to ten, slowly … they seem almost impressed. Or at least that’s what their clapping and fits of laughter lead me to believe.
Time for training. Tyron, the coach who I assist sends the kids (aged between 8 and 13) on a couple of laps around the football field, telling them to mind the cow on their way. They all groan (to be fair who likes laps?) but start jogging. It then becomes a game to see if they can cut out parts of the field or skip doing a lap altogether. I blow my whistle and point at anyone I believe to be slacking. Despite the language barrier they know exactly why I’m pointing at them. Some look petrified, put their heads down and run harder, others give a cheeky smile and try the same trick again 30 seconds later.
We then spend the next 30 minutes doing some drills, teaching the kids about controlling the ball, passing with their side foot, and aiming for the corners when shooting. I improvise by tying a brightly coloured plastic bag to the foot of one of the goal posts and then indicating that its where they all should be aiming for. This is where my sports science degree really paid off!
It’s time for a game. Tyron likes to pit the younger ones against the older which seems a little unfair, but the younger have the greater numbers, and usually me on their side. Once again, dodging the school cow, we tear around the pitch, kicking up dust and wading through the parts of the pitch that are overgrown. Its carnage, but fun!
Full time, the game is bought to a close. I chase the kids to get all the footballs off of them and try to send them into class, I am weak however and succumb to their requests for a quick game of head-catch. The kids squeal with laughter as they either catch or head the ball incorrectly, the aim of the game being to catch the ball when I shout head, or head the ball when I shout catch. Simple but good fun once more. I end the morning session with a big smile and start the walk back to the volunteers house.
I’m back at the volunteers house and ready for some breakfast. The other volunteers are dressed and ready for a hard days graft either at the orphanage or in Colombo city centre. Breakfast consists of cereal, toast (that apparently tastes like soap but I actually like it.) and fruit. No Bacon rolls here L. Once breakfast is over its off for a cold shower.
8.30am – 4pm
This is my free time. It’s too hot for football during these hours so I am not needed at the school. I catch up on some sleep, read my books, chat to some of the house boys and try to pick up a bit more of the lingo, anything that takes my fancy really. There is also the option of going into Ja Ela, or even further afield to Colombo. The buses are cheap and usually good fun.
I make the walk back to the school for a second session of training. It’s much the same as the morning session as Tyron and I try to enforce what we taught in the morning session.
Depending on what day of the week it is, I either go coach at a local men’s club or go back to Tyron’s house. Back at Tyron’s house I help (try at least) out in his workshop for an hour or so. Not only does he teach, but he is a carpenter as well. Once the carpentry duties are over we jump on a tuk tuk and head to a local playing field to play more football with his friends.
Despite the language barrier, Tyron’s football friends are very welcoming and even compliment my footy boots. The air is sticky but the pace of the game is frantic. By trade I am a goalkeeper, but goalkeepers are fairly redundant here, the ground is too hard to be diving around on. I instead try my hand at being a striker … on the evidence of my striking abilities, I won’t give up my day job.
It’s starting to get dark now and tiny insects are starting to dine on my flesh. We hop back on the tuk tuk and head to a local shop for a quick drink (coconut if I’m lucky) before I am dropped back off at the volunteers house.
Back at the house I tuck into any dinner than might have been left for me (I’m usually not that hungry after footy anyway) and settle down in the common area to have a chat with the other volunteers. It’s not that busy so there are 8 of us at the most. The night usually ends with a film and a couple of drinks. On select occasions we do head to a local hotel bar for a couple of games of pool, or if we’re feeling really adventurous we get a tuk tuk into the city, we usually saved the bright lights of Colombo for the weekends though.
Bed time. I douse myself in mozzy repellent, take my malaria tablets and set up my mosquito net. The drone of the fan although initially annoying, now helps me nod off to sleep. Good night beautiful Sri Lanka, I look forward to seeing you in the morning!
About the Author:
Neil of Backpacks and Bunkbeds is a young (ish) London lad with a passion for all things travel. He got ‘the travel bug’ having first volunteered as a sports coach in South Africa in 2005. Over the last couple of years his efforts have been concentrated on seeing all that Europe has to offer, including an inter-rail trip in April 2010. 2011 has seen no less travel, Scotland, Ireland, Greece and a return to Poland all crossed off on the map, Malta and Latvia soon to follow. You can read his daily ramblings by following him on twitter @packsandbunks.