Coaching Across Borders

May 20, 2011

GW women’s soccer staff hosts coaches from Swaziland.

By Julia Parmley

The soccer field on GW’s Mount Vernon Campus serves as home ground for GW men and women’s soccer teams.

But on May 16, it also served as a classroom for soccer coaches from the other side of the world.

Twelve coaches from Swaziland—a small landlocked country in southeastern Africa—participated in a soccer clinic at the Mount Vernon Athletic Complex led by GW women’s soccer head coach Tanya Vogel, B.S. ’96, M.S. ’99, M.B.A. ’06.

The clinic was part of a 10-day Sports Visitor Program organized through the U.S. Department of State’s SportsUnited, an international sports initiative that brings athletes, managers and coaches from overseas to the U.S. for training in technical sports, youth development, sports management and conflict resolution as well as exposure to U.S. sports contacts.

The coaches, who were selected by the U.S. Embassy in Swaziland, visited local schools, participated in coaching clinics and took in a D.C. United game. At GW, the coaches participated in soccer drills, including a warmup, shooting session and a “mini” soccer game, led by Ms. Vogel and women’s soccer assistant coach Lane Davis. The coaches then toured GW’s athletic facilities and learned about different workouts with strength and conditioning coach Alex Parr and about Title IX during a lecture with Ms. Vogel.

Ms. Vogel said the participants were “amazed” by the quality of athletic resources in the U.S. “We make sure to teach them coaching and conditioning techniques that do not require these resources, because they are going to go back to Swaziland without them,” she said.

Phila Mavuso, who coaches several teams in Swaziland, said the group was “very happy” to learn more about soccer at GW. Describing the trip as a “wow moment,” Mr. Mavuso said his favorite part was working with TopSoccer, a community-based organization for disabled athletes.

“People with disabilities are ostracized in some ways in Swaziland,” he said. “We have not been giving to people with disabilities.”

When asked why he loves soccer, Mr. Mavuso said it was a “peaceful sport” that brings people together from around the world—and on the GW soccer field.

“To me, soccer is a true reflection of life,” he said. “It’s the one thing I think that got created to make people come together, regardless of the color of their skin. It’s an international sport.”

Sibongile Skaggel, a coach and desk officer for Women’s Football Association in Swaziland, said the trip has been a “cultural experience.” “What I’ve observed here is that it’s important to have grassroots projects because you have to start from the basics,” she said.

Since 2009, Ms. Vogel and SportsUnited Program Manager Kelli Davis have partnered every few months to hold youth and adult clinics with athletes from a number of countries, including Nigeria, Uganda, Panama, Pakistan and Venezuela.

“It’s been an amazing experience for me,” said Ms. Vogel. “George Washington University is so blessed with its location and with its access to the U.S. Department of State and international groups. Most universities around the country don’t have that benefit. It’s amazing what we’re able to do just because of our location.”

The coaches and athletes who participate in the program come from rural areas in their country. While the objective of the program is to equip participants with ideas and tools they can bring back to their respective countries, Ms. Davis said the participants often leave a lasting impression on their American counterparts.

“When my groups touch a person, it changes their life,” said Ms. Davis. “I have more requests from American citizens and leagues that want to become involved in the program than I can fill the requests for.”

Ms. Vogel said what she gets back from the program far exceeds what she gives.

“GW is very good at teaching its students and faculty about community service, and one of the things you learn through serving the community is that the benefits are on those who serve,” she said. “I get back so much from the international players and coaches—their enthusiasm, their interest in learning about coaching the sport that I love. It’s been fantastic.”

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