Invidual sports: Weighlifter sitting in a prayerful pose on a lifting bench
Hellen Wawira in a prayerful mood on the bench in powerlifting session. She is a star of individual sports in Embu | Image:

In my home county of Embu, individual sports rarely feature when sports are discussed in mainstream forums. Mostly, the debate revolves around football. Understandable, given the popularity of the beautiful game here and around the globe.

However, in an era where we are increasingly looking at games as income earners, I think we need to pay more attention to individual sports. These are disciplines where competitors take place alone rather than as part of a team. Swimming, athletics, martial arts, cycling, chess, gymnastics and tennis fall under this category. There are over 50 competitive individual sports. There is also a discipline called wife-carrying in this category. It would be interesting to see how my Embu folks embrace this particular sport.

Why Individual Sports?

I have several arguments for following this sporting form; two major ones:

  • Easier infrastructural needs
  • Higher chances of excellence

Football needs at least an acre of open space for a team to thrive. And that is not even enough. Some of our football grounds are not even fit to host sub-county level (the lowest FKF tier) matches. Most are owned by schools which are increasingly frowning at the continued use of these facilities by the public. That debate requires a separate, stand-alone article. In contrast, all a runner needs to start practicing are the normal roads used in their locality. Footballs are expensive to acquire. Table tennis players can buy 50 balls for the price of one football.

Individual sports like badminton can make use of our social halls and other public spaces which are not in use for the better part of every week. Bodybuilders can start their art in make-shift gyms that take up only small spaces in their homes.

Regards financial infrastructure, it is much easier to find sponsorship for an individual athlete than it is for a team. If say, an athlete is attending an Olympics trial in Nairobi, they are more likely to find a sponsor than a football team playing in the same value. I’m pretty certain the athlete’s MCA would be looking for them to bask in their fame. The same lawmaker probably won’t pick up the football team’s calls for days.

Passion-Driven Individual Sports

Team sports are driven by many factors. Some people love football. Others join because their friends are in it. Others because they have nothing else to do. Individual sports, however, are almost always driven by talent and passion. A kid who loves swimming will be at it from an early age. A good runner begins challenging others to sprint competitions from an early age.

Anyone who has managed team sports knows how frustrating it can be to put together a good team. Varying levels of motivation. Different moods. Absolute lack of talent in some areas. Poor commitment from some players. Such a team may have one or a few extraordinary players. However, unless they move, the setup is likely to render their talent useless.

In a solo sport, the passion of the athlete means the motivation will always be there. If they have a manager/trainer, that person finds it easier to manage their emotions. Tracking progress becomes easy. In all ways, it is easier to manage athletes in individual sports.

The statistics are there to support this. Patrick Njiru and Conrad Njeru Karukenya (Tiger Power) are the pioneers. They showed from early on that Embu is truly a land of opportunities. The fact remained hidden in plain sight for a long time since these two icons beat the path. In recent times, however, the likes of Grace Wanjiru Njue (walk), Morris Munene (track athlete), Gakeni Njiru (track athlete), and Hellen Wawira (powerlifting)have moved in to impressively bridge the gap. These are just a few from a pool that can yield a lot if properly facilitated. A special mention to Washington Munene, Stephen Onyango and James Nthigawho are also flying our football flag high in football.

Them Legends

Speaking Martial Arts…

I grew up in a place and time when martial arts and anything related to them were viewed negatively. If you begin lifting weights, you began to attract unwanted attention. The ‘rebel’ tag was prepared for you. The community began monitoring you, seeking evidence of cigarette, tobacco, or marijuana smoking. If you got into Taekwondo or karate (Names used interchangeably to refer to all forms of martial arts), you were branded a violent drug user. I think we are past that now. We are at an age where even our retired parents are exposed to the benefits of exercise and sports.

But we are yet to adopt these sporting disciplines as competitive sports. That, or I am not in the know. Can someone please point me to a boxing club in Embu? Competitive tae kwon? If these clubs are there, anywhere, I’d very much like to highlight them on this blog. I know a few people who are famed for their martial arts prowess. Their fame rarely goes beyond their villages and they have little to show it.

In the new dispensation, I think it is the right time to mainstream martial arts and other individual sports. I petition Sports Officer Pithon Muchoki and CEC Jane Waroga to also have these disciplines on their priority list. And call on all stakeholders in these ‘small’ disciplines to come out and push them to the front of the sporting arena. I pledge to help in that.

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