Working as a coach, you could probably say, “I make a difference everyday”, but how can you go about really changing the lives of people thousands of miles away?

In September 2011 five coaches embarked on a fortnight-long trip to the Western Cape of South Africa to coach children and pass on their skills to a group of South African mentee coaches. The team were: Anna Thurston (Bala Lake), Peter Lang (John Lewis Leicester), Chris Manning, Sam Cliff (Responsible Sourcing Co-ordinator at Waitrose Bracknell) and Partner Coaching Programme Manager, Sam Abrey. “My initial reaction was that it seemed an opportunity of a lifetime,” said one of the UK coaches, Chris Manning, from John Lewis Reading. “The chance to go abroad to meet and work with people from a different culture, not just this country, was a fantastic proposition.”

After the two weeks coaching and teaching various sports as well as the Fundamentals philosophy, Sam and the others clearly think that their trip made a difference:

As well as improving the lives of the South African children and coaches, the Coaches also felt the trip had improved their own skills. Anna explains. “Normally sessions in the UK have maximum numbers for you to coach. However, the South African children just kept on arriving so we had to keep adapting the sessions.
We had to come up with lots of new games which had a similar outcome in order to keep the children engaged while still concentrating on the session. It not only opened my eyes up to another culture, it also helped develop my coaching skills, so everyone’s a winner.”

Obviously working in a foreign country is far from easy. So what obstacles did the coaches have to overcome on their visit to the Rainbow Nation? “As far as the language barrier was concerned, we found that there was a good enough understanding from the older children, but those coaching the under-10s required support from the mentee coaches to help get points across.” Says Sam. “We did our best to pick up some Afrikaans – although pronountiaton was a bit dodgy! “Our favourite word was “dungus” – which means “thingy/whatsit/do-da or ooji-ma-flip”.

“Yes, there was a language barrier, but we did know that beforehand,” agrees Chris. “However, it’s amazing what you can learn in a short space of time when you need to.” Nevertheless, such a barrier can become irrelevant if you are an effective coach. “To combat the fact that we couldn’t explain things in our normal way, we turned to our knowledge of coaching craft, Sam explains. We used demonstrations to get our point across and were also careful to only give the positive example of what we would like to see to avoid confusion.”

Despite the success of this particular trip, life can be very different to the UK, and the coaches found it a real eye-opener.
Chris gave his summary of the trip: “I learned a lot about the culture of the South Africans living in that part of the country and the circumstances they find themselves in,” he summed up. “I’m proud of what I was able to contribute to the farm workers’ lives and those of their children, but it was very humbling too.”

Meanwhile, Sam’s best memory of the trip comes from the final day.
“When the shirts were given out, we found it amazing how such a small thing that we would take for granted had given pure delight to each and every child,” she said.

“It was great to see smiles on the children’s faces and also watch on as a child accomplished something they had been practicing all week. In fact, every single thing I think about regarding the trip brings a smile to my face and makes me want to be right back there again.”

~ Written by Sam Abrey and Raymond Engelbrecht ~