Football development maestro

Serame Letsoaka was appointed Botswana Football Association Technical Director (TD) last year.

The 55-year-old Free State born football expert has been TD for South Africa Football Association from 2009 to 12.

He has also been an Assistant Coach for South Africa Senior National Team and he coached three teams Free State Stars, Golden Arrows and Bloemfontein Celtics.

Letsoaka who is a teacher by profession has been appointed to do some FIFA work in many countries in the past such as Qatar, Malaysia and Zambia among others before.

As TD Letsoaka is responsible for five areas of development which is Grassroot, Youth Football, Elite Football, Women Football and Coach Education.

Our Reporter Portia Mlilo interviewed Letsoaka on his role at the association, his experience and how he is intending to transform Botswana football.

Q. You have been in this office for about 10 months, how has your journey been so far?

A. It has been a very turbulent journey. We did not have systems in place which made it difficult to start your job as a Technical Director. The first thing I did before the job I have hired to do was to systems in place. In other countries you find systems in place unlike the situation I found in this office.

Q. What systems are you talking about TD?

A. I am talking of the elite league, academies and schools of excellence which were not there.

There were no qualified coaches and there was no proper data for coaches in this country.

There were no fresher courses yet football is growing and a lot of things are happening.

It is happening too fast and we are left behind and that is why we always have challenges.

These affect the senior national team because we compete internationally with players and coaches that are advanced.

Q. What can you say are some of your greatest achievements since you started your job and what have you done differently?

A. I managed to invite experts who gave me a guidance of what is happening in Botswana football.

From afar you look at Botswana as a country that has a good potential in terms of football, the stability as opposed to many countries and see that football can grow to be a big sport here.

It helps to ensure that I build stronger systems that talk to the challenges we have.

We have had grassroots courses which include of trainers.

There are trainers who will train teachers to do the development programme.

Q. What are some of the challenges is our football facing?

A. One thing that has been a major challenge for me is that in football you must have qualified people.

We always talk of a big broad word development yet we do not have a system that will promote a player from one level to the other.

We do not have junior league, grassroots programmes, women football league and those things are not there I would say there is no development.

Schools must be linked with the association for us to have a proper development

Q. What made it difficult for BFA to work with schools in football development?

A. There are many things we can talk about one of them being power in the sense that if BFA takes over football in schools, the people doing it in schools will feel powerless and it will not be necessary for them to run football.

You cannot have a proper development anywhere in the world without a proper integration with schools because it is a place where a child spends most of time.

South Africa in 20 years ago, football started in schools and produced international players like Doctor Khumalo, Shakes Khungwane and others.

Football in schools was stimulating the minds differently, playing for entertainment and become more creative.

We are now producing average players because the creative side is gone

Q. Botswana used to export football talent and now it has declined, what could be the problem?

A. In Botswana Dipsy Selolwane was a special player but today we have average players.

He made a big impact in South Africa and became captain of one of the biggest teams.

Mogogi Gabonamong, Mogakolodi Ngele and Modiri Marumo also made a big impact.

Do you think today we can send a player to SA and do the same as what Dipsy did?

No. We now play football in primary schools for competition, knock out some good players are left because their team did not qualify for the nationals.

The important the thing is to have school leagues coached by qualified teachers for talent identification.

Street, school and clubs build a player.

Q. What need to be done to transform Botswana football?

A. People need to be patient. You cannot say you are developing and expect the results tomorrow.

Coaches always do short cuts to please people.

The Senior National Team Interim Coach Teenage Mpote introduced players from U23 and we lost 1-0 and people are not happy yet they say we played well.

How do you build when looking for quick results?

Now the next game Mpote will be under pressure that Batswana want results and go to the tried and tested players and leave out junior players.

In the process of development I want to see us playing good football which builds players’ confidence.

Q. When is the right age to develop a child for football?

A. From the age of 6. That is why we have introduced grassroots development programme which will be a flagship for the association.

Fortunately for us we are one of the 11 countries identified to have football in schools.

FIFA will be running the programme in a certain number of schools.

The Programme will start in July and we are finalising this week.

Primary School is where it all begins for players to learn the right things at the right time as opposed trying to teach them when they are fourteen.

Here our development starts at 14 hence too much pressure for results until they reach national team level and they crack.

Q. Women football seems to be neglected what are you doing to ensure that they get support from the association?

A. In many countries in Africa there is no professional women league.

It is important that we put all the effort because when we talk of grassroots development is boys.

People have their own perceptions, is it a safe environment for parents to allow their girl child to be trained by a male coach.

We have deficiency in terms of qualifications so we have to train more coaches so that they train the young girls.

FIFA has introduced a book that develops women football and they came up with a strategy and one of the points is to grow football.

As Botswana this is one pillar we want to develop and we can only grow football in schools.

Already in Mahalapye, Lobatse and Francistown we have launched girls league in schools.

In other regions we have three teams so it is difficult to have league there because says we have to have 90 matches.

As BFA we are trying to grow participation so that we can have proper regional women leagues.

Q. I read somewhere that you turned down two offers in your country, why did you choose to work in Botswana.

A. The offers were even much better than this one.

I wanted a different challenge and make an impact in another country.

I would say I made the right choice.

I also looked at the stability and potential of the country.

I played against Botswana as a coach of junior national teams and I realised there is talent here.

It wasn’t necessarily about money.

Q. What do you enjoy most about your job?

A. When I came here there were no coaches, I have trained coaches and it gives me a joy.

I have come up with something that will help in the proper development of players.

It is coach education I enjoy most, the interaction and feedback I get from clubs about their coaches.

Just recently BDF club told me their coach has already developed a programme for the year and shows coaches are doing something with the knowledge they acquire from courses.

Coaches of U17 and U20 have been in Tsabong and Maun for trials scouting talent.

U17 Coach has identified 60 players who will come to Gaborone for selection camp as opposed to the past when 90% of the team was made up of players from close by areas.

Q. Senior National Team Coaches are fired because of poor performance. Do we have what it takes to win games?

A. If you are driving a corolla and I am driving Mercedes and we race who will win? Even if you bring motorsport winner, inexperienced as I am I will beat him.

This Toyota is not made to run the race and Mercedes is better engineered to run the race.

That’s my answer.

Q. Thank God it’s Friday, what are your plans for the weekend?

A. I will be at home.

I will be burying my brother.

The last brother I have passed on Saturday.

I will be back in office on Monday.