My senior project, which I get to share with two of my best friends, was to establish a football club for a community in Miwani, Kenya called Nehemiah. The farm that we are located on is surrounded by farmers, primarily of sand and sugar cane, who were looking for positive recreational activities to participate in rather than drinking and gambling. Nehemiah FC was born out of a hope of uniting communities and creating strong leaders to benefit those communities. It has its struggles but those far outweigh the laughter at meetings between the USA team members and the humorous early morning Facebook messages from our Kenyan counterparts. Here is a small look into what we are up to at Nehemiah FC...
A lovely inquiry from a fellow soccer fan via twitter last week prompted me to write this article. Even as a blogger I consider it to be a slightly narcissistic activity yet here I am writing about me, so I guess there's a little vanity in all of us. His question was very specific: what are your daily responsibilities as a club president? Well my first reaction was to chuckle, because when my title was used in that context it sounded far more glamorous and important than it really is. Just to make things clear, I did not earn this rather prestigious title in any way. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to help other people through football and club management dropped into my lap. We had a clear agenda, a good line of communication and a brilliant list of final goals. If any professional coach, manager, or member of FIFA were to look at our current structure, they would see tons of potential and exciting prospects, but they would also chuckle at the state of Nehemiah FC HQ (currently littered with business cards, t-shirt designs, academy curricular plans and well over 100 pairs of soccer cleats) and probably piss themselves over the state of the president who is overseeing the entire process with as much care and efficiency as a seventeen-year-old high school soccer nut who struggles with ADD and chronic enthusiasm can muster.
Despite the bold title, my job at Nehemiah FC is really just a little of this and a little of that. My General Manager Shebby Mesharch oversees fixtures, the care and keeping of the players and equipment and he is assisted by my Club Director Lameck Ochieng (read his incredible story here). My Kenya Correspondent/Expert and Communications Director (and future team doctor!) Lexi Krueger has been the key to this project. All of my soccer knowledge and organizational skills would be nothing if it weren't for her asking me to assist with building this club. My Vice President, soccer star and the middle ground between Lexi and I is Sarah Berschinski and her help with busy work, analysis of the soccer she saw while playing (and scoring goals) with Nehemiah FC, and her passion for the people of Kenya have been crucial to the success of this project as well. I, on the other hand, have busied myself with writing about the stuff that's sort of happening, building connections with other organizations, helping a little here and a little there but overall this project has just been an incredibly fun and fulfilling way to do something good for the world with my co-founders taking up most of the work. Club President seems a little too extravagant for "kid who bosses everyone around in the name of FC development".
With all the progress we have made, of course we have stumbled upon some setbacks and humerus stories of the footballing world in Kenya. Three months ago, while researching the regulations for coaches in academies eligible for recognition under the KFA (Kenyan Football Association) I discovered that the man responsible for overseeing the education of coaches and players within academies had been arrested for stealing equipment issued to the association. Welcome to Third World politics. Last year, Lance Klopp, who will be accompanying me on my trip to Kenya in August to work with the team, was able to participate in a KFA licensing clinic. His favorite questions from the Q&A session at the end were, "If a cow comes walking through the field in the middle of a game and the ball hits it, which team gets the ball?" - perfectly logical question. In the case of Nehemiah FC, we had a green mamba attempt to get a better view by slithering across the field. He was properly disposed of and the game continued as planned. "What happens if the ball denigrates before it goes over the line of the goal? Do all the pieces have to go over?" - well, yes the whole ball has to go over the line... if there's a goal line in the first place. "If a linesman only has one arm, how does he signal for a throw-in on the side where he has no arm?" - perfectly legitimate question, maybe find a guy with two arms?
Although there are countless laughs and fun times of silliness and jokes, this title does hold lots of responsibility. You can't be lazy or careless, especially with money and planning. You can't have a million crazy ideas because as great as creativity is, unless you can separate the good and applicable ideas from the audacious and burdensome ones, you're in for a hell of a ride. You can't be selfish, you can't be used to sleeping a lot (especially if this club presidency thing is a side job in addition to school or work). You need to have a broad understanding of all of the factors that will contribute to the function of your club. I have read through three notebooks of FIFA Statutes, Rules and Regulations, The Status and Transfer of Players, The Status of Registered Clubs and even more documents specific to the Kenya football federation. You need to understand not only the current status but also the history of the culture you are working with. You need to acknowledge that helping can hurt and make sure that you have good means of getting supplies distributed fairly without starting civil conflict. You need to be gracious, you need to be patient, you need to allow yourself to be proud of how far you've come, no matter how fast or slow you're moving. Do it with passion, do it with pride, do it out of a love for what you are doing, not to have it look good on college transcripts, job applications or your Facebook page. I'm certain that there will be pieces missing from this puzzle. Nehemiah FC has been and will continue to be our test drive and no matter how many clubs "we" manage to establish in various places, they are all going to be different and will all have their triumphs and challenges.
The inquirer also mentioned an interest in starting a football club as well. To that I say "Yes! Please! And do me a favor, learn from mistakes made by myself and people like me to save yourself time and energy." This will easily be one of the most rewarding things you will ever do and you will change lives in ways you never imagined possible. Maybe you dared to dream it, but we all know executing dreams and turning them into actions is easier said than done. Ultimately you can't be beat with a positive attitude and a love for what you are doing, so when I was asked what my daily responsibilities as a club president are, I should have said this:
"My daily responsibilities are to be positive and encouraging, malleable and resourceful, patient and strategic, happy and accepting and above all to keep doing what I am doing with the love and passion that it deserves."