Coach Mwai speaks to players during EWASCO-Ishiara Derby
3K FC's Coach Mwai speaks to Ishiara players during their DIV II derby match against EWASCO at Njukiri, March 26, 2023 | Image: Dizzo Wanyanya

EWASCO FC saw Division II newcomers Ishiara 3-0 on Sunday. The Waba team collecting all three points may appear fair given they are the more experienced team. However, the loss of derby bragging rights and the banter comments in the aftermath leave a most sour after-taste in the mouths of the entire Ishiara unit.

A day after the derby win, EWASCO’s Dickson Wanyanya took to a county football Whatsapp group with a photo of 3K coach Mwai ostensibly giving a team talk to Ishiara. He captioned it, ‘Kocha wa Ishiara Jana (Ishiara’s coach yesterday). He messed them.’ Minutes later, Ishiara’s Harrison Gitonga ‘Robinho’ sent a furious response to Dickson, calling him out to drop the pettiness. An exchange that drew in Ishiara coach Chris Kimanthi and 3K Captain Moses Munene among other group members followed.

As with any derby exchange, emotions ran high and even attempted to boil over. However, like all friendly football fires, it burned out eventually. But that is not the gist of this post.

The Derby Context

Let’s have a little background for context. 3K FC is among Embu’s premier clubs by virtue of playing at the Division I level, where they sit 10th after 13 matches. That is a tier above EWASCO, who were their bitter and close rivals last season. Therefore, 3K’s coach giving a team talk to Ishiara may appear like an extension of the old rivalry. Dickson’s post may look like a taunt that ‘despite getting tactics from 3K’s coach, you couldn’t beat us.’

Coach Chris’ and Robinho’s livid reactions make it look like the upper-cut jab really landed. If you doubt this, just check the amount of motivational talk on Coach Chris’ socials this new week. I feel for those Ishiara players if he decides to take the heat out on them in training this week.

As they traded jabs, my mind again questioned the role of the coach in our grassroots football. I feel it is a role that is greatly appreciated in training but very undermined on match days. A coach is important so long as he takes players through drills all week in training. However, the value of his contributions diminishes when game day arrives. On this day, he has to share responsibilities with other segments of the team, ranging from fans to sponsors and other management outside the playing unit. Up until when a match is lost and there is a need for someone to blame; the coach stands alone again. The funny thing is that even coaches themselves cede their authority without much of a second thought.

A Week-Long Assignment

A coach takes the team through its paces all week long. During that period, he evaluates players’ fitness, mental state, recovery journey, motivation, and so much more. He then comes up with the team to play on the big day – the starting XI and the bench. Of course, this is done in consultation with other members of the coaching unit. I know it can get tricky in situations where some players have not trained with the team for different reasons.

Ishiara players line up during their derbay match against EWASCO at Njukiri, Sunday, March 26 2023
Coming In: Ishiara FC is showing strong signs of competition in Division II league|Image: Ishiara FC- Facebook

Whenever a person who has not been with the team training is involved in the selection and playing decisions, the coach’s work for the entire week is reduced into a pile of dung. This is why I think that, beyond banter, Dickson’s comment carried some very vital insight.

I don’t know whether coach Mwai was part of Ishiara’s technical unit; I assume he wasn’t. When he gives a team talk, he is talking to strangers and he is a stranger to them in terms of the past training week. No matter how sound his tactics are, they are unlikely to have any positive impact on the team. It is fine if his words are just about encouragement rather than tactical nous, but even that is unnecessary.

It is something that fans do a lot – give team talks at halftime, question the starting XI and demand substitutions as early as the first minute. Most of us are guilty of this. Actually, the reason it does not happen in higher tiers of football is that the team has a secluded area during the break. Imagine if every fan were to express the opinions we see on social media at halftime when their team is playing.

Derby or Not, Let the Coach Work!

To some extent, the desire to comment is understandable. After all, football is a game of passion and emotion. Also, aren’t we the same people who offer our expert advice on everything, from court verdicts to unsolved murders and drought mitigation. However, as coaches, we need to restrain ourselves in this regard. It is the ultimate respect you can give a fellow coach knowing the pain of training and selection. If they invite you to speak, decline or speak very generally.

You have a duty to protect your players as a coach. Part of that is gatekeeping anyone who wants to derail them from your team plan. Teach your players not to be rattled by comments from the sidelines.

If you are in off-pitch management, kindly let your coach do their work. Derby or not, there is a reason you hired a coach – or whatever means you used to entrust them with the team (kindly give them a bloody contract!). I know I speak for many coaches.

What’s your take on the role of coaches? Let us know in the comments.

PS: Isn’t it nice to see derby heat finally warming up Embu football in such advanced tiers!? Long may it continue! That said, the Embu football community really needs a fun day where individuals get to know each other!

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