Getting Serious About Sports

It is time we take African sports much more seriously. Sports are character building; an excellent vehicle to foster the strong development of children, a source of health and recreation, and national pride, but it is also big business, mega business. And from the World Cup to the Super Bowl to the Olympics Africans play a critical part in making this business phenomenon successful. It is my opinion that we should take a page from the Pan Hellenic playbook. Every year they have a large Conference to discuss the economics and management of mega-money sports, every year their top experts come together brainstorm on this matter. We must do that on a Pan-African basis. I believe that it is time that the coaches in the African diaspora such as the Black Coaches Alliance in the US get together with their colleagues in Africa and put their heads together for the future of African or more precisely Pan-African sports. This would unlikely be useful in the sharing of experiences and thereby help all the participants in the development of their particular programs.

For example the experience of Africans in the US in sports is instructive for Africa. The Africans in the US developed and owned sport processes and agency structures such as leagues, teams and related associations. These efforts produced a steady flow of great sport talent. Arguably these enterprises and endeavors were the leading sports factory in the production of great performers in such key sports as basketball, baseball, football, track, boxing and so forth   Since many of the players of these enterprises later went to Latin American countries to perform, notably Cuba, it had a part in the internationalization of African sports.  As Microsoft's Encarta described the phenomenon:

When professional sports became established in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, African Americans were excluded. They responded by forming independent black sports teams or by traveling to countries such as Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba to play in professional leagues.

African American baseball players participated in the Negro Leagues. Originally the Negro Leagues were a loose affiliation of teams. In 1920 star player and team owner Rube Foster founded the National Negro League, which included such powerful teams as the Kansas City Monarchs and the Indianapolis ABC's. In 1933 another National Negro League was formed, which included the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Homestead Grays. Both leagues attracted star players, such as Oscar Charleston, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, and Satchel Paige. African Americans also played with barnstorming clubs, or traveling teams, such as the Indianapolis Clowns. Barnstorming clubs crossed the United States playing wherever opponents, black or white, amateur or professional, could be found. Traveling basketball teams, such as the Harlem Globetrotters, formed in 1929, also toured the country.

Although African Americans faced discrimination in team sports, the most violent reactions to African American participation in sports took place in boxing. After the controversial black boxer Jack Johnson defeated white boxer Jim Jeffries for the world heavyweight title in 1910, whites rioted and lynched black men throughout the country. Between 1919 and the 1930s, whites refused to fight blacks for the heavyweight title. Only in 1937 was black boxer Joe Louis officially recognized as world heavyweight champion.

Beginning in the late 1940s, professional sports leagues slowly began to integrate. Jackie Robinson broke the "color barrier" of major league baseball in 1947 when he became the starting second baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers. While players such as Satchel Paige, Larry Doby, and Roy Campenella also joined the major leagues, it was not until 1958 that every team included at least one African American player.

Integration in other sports followed. Founded in 1948, the National Basketball Association (NBA) began integrating in 1949, when the New York Knicks signed Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton. Althea Gibson integrated tennis when she became the first African American player in the United States Lawn Association (USLTA) in 1950. Arthur Ashe became the first African American to win a USLTA title in 1963. Both Ashe and Gibson later went on to win titles at Wimbledon, the first African Americans to do so.

Integration provided greater opportunities to individual black players, but black teams, such as the Harlem Globetrotters and Negro League teams, were excluded from the new system. As talented athletes joined the ranks of the NBA and major league baseball, the quality of play and fan support waned in the segregated leagues. The Harlem Globetrotters became a traveling entertainment act, while the Negro League teams simply disappeared.

African Americans have excelled in almost every professional sport. Many people think baseball player Willie Mays and basketball player Michael Jordan are the best players in the history of their sports. Boxer Muhammad Ali made good on his claim to be "the Greatest" by winning the world heavyweight championship three different times in the 1960s and 1970s. In football, Cleveland Browns' fullback Jim Brown held the National Football League's career rushing record from 1966 until 1984, when Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton replaced him in the record books..

I can recall reading Satchel Paige's autobiography, and the anecdote that stuck out most was not the fact that he could throw strikes using a chewing gum wrapper for home plate, not that he consistently shut down the best hitters of the American and National leagues during the barnstorming seasons, not that he was such a greater pitcher that he would often tell his fielders to sit down and rest as he intended to strike out every batter he faced, not that he was playing in the majors as a senior citizen; none of these admittedly remarkable things about him are what I think of first. I think of the white team that approached him with the idea of him painting his face white and pitching for them. To me that sums up the history of sports and Africans in the US. Ah! If only you were white (of European descent) we could use you.

Things are rather different now, but not completely.So as a coach you have to be there to help your players. And of course the circumstances of national teams, national programs in Ghana or Jamaica or South Africa, where Africans are the majority, are not precisely identical to the situation of a numerically small demographic in a hostile environment. However the general principles apply in each case. The sport talent of Africa should be developed properly and the cultural gain, both spiritually and materially should accrue first and foremost to the African culture which produce the talent.

A good coach learns how to apply critical theory, that is theory derived from the rigorous application of sports philosophy and practical experience. To be a coach is first and foremost to be a teacher, trainer, motivator and leader; to be a teacher, to be an educator for your team you must fully understand the role of education.

" The rise and fall of a civilization are bound inextricably with the educational philosophy of its people.  The attitudes and ideals that motivate the thinking and behavior of any generation constitute the foundation upon which a scale of values is built.  This is transmitted through the media of educational theory and practice. This scale of values, which each generation hopes to maintain and perpetrate for its children, is known as the aims of education.

"The general aims of education are statements of the type and quality of life that are considered to be worthy of attainment.  Innumerable social, economic, political and religious forces exert pressures that help determine the goals that will be selected. The ends sought through education will vary from culture to culture.  The following phrases are expressions of typical aims that have been sought by various people: to fashion a military man, to develop good citizens, to seek salvation of the individual's soul, to develop social consciousness and civic responsibility, and to prepare for a complete living. "  page 3,   A World History of Physical Education, Van Halen, Mitchell and Bennett

Coaching requires that we be actively involved with our sport at every possible strategic and tactical level.  As one authority put it,

"Many believe that a satisfactory theory of problem solving will have to be one in which the problem solver is viewed as an active searcher for a solution."  page  284  Essentials of Learning, Travers and as another source warned,

"Training conducted in isolation from the practical situation can be diluted." page  385 Organizations: Structure, Processes, Behavior, Gibson, Ivancevich, and Donnelly

Hence the ultimate lab   is how you apply your learning and your developing critical skills will be your day to day coaching.

To learn one must be motivated by a desire to know the subject matter or as Gibson, et al, phrased it:

"To start learning, a person needs to feel the need for it."   page  384 Organizations: Structure, Processes, Behavior, Gibson, Ivancevich, and Donnelly

The same can be said about the other roles of a coach, motivator, counselor, general role model and the like, each of these depends on the coach's philosophical and practical background. If you don't have the internal motivation to develop your coaching skills on a permanent basis you will find it very difficulty to groom your team, your players, for the demands of the world of Premier/ Major league competition.