This is Tonga

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My job

So I am a football (soccer for some of you) coach. My office is four football fields set amongst farms, about a two minute bike ride to the beach and bordered by tall palm trees swaying to the South Pacific breeze, it's not a bad place to work.

My official title here is Youth Development Officer, but in actual fact I seem to be helping out the Technical Department (the national team coach and his assistant) with every aspect of Men's, Women's and Youth football here in Tonga. I have been in the job now for about two and a half weeks and during that time I have helped out with the local Under 12's competition and have started coaching the national Under 17 Boys team ahead of the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) Under 17 Championships in Auckland during January next year. Suffice to say, it's close and I dont actually have a team yet!

I started writing this blog two days ago, at the end of that day I went home and wrote a couple of notes while laying in my hammock (was close to my best pre-departure decision to bring a hammock and my deck chair) to the affect of "I am absolutely loving life at the moment, work is going well, my team is coming together and I am enjoying training", today has been much different. The scale of the task has just hit me and today in general has been a little frustrating.

Let me explain, the Tonga Football Association (TFA) had wanted to cancel all national youth representation in order to focus on grassroots development and essentially begin again with their under 10 squad. The reason being, their national youth teams have been routinely smashed, even by smaller countries such as The Cook Islands, in all regional championships and by focusing on the under 10s and grassroots they could become more competitive in the next five-seven years.

This sounded like a pretty good plan so the TFA adopted this position but it appears they failed to let the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) know of their decision. This was a bit of a mistake as the OFC funds all of TFA's activities. After being in the office two days the TFA received an email from the OFC stating they needed to enter a team in January's OFC Under 17 Championship or risk a $NZ 50,000 fine. The TFA does not have $NZ 50,000 so they decided to enter a team instead and leave it to their new Palangi (meaning white foreigner, and a phrase you hear at least a few times every day here) to organise the team.

I am still excited at this prospect but after receiving the draw and chatting to colleagues we have an uphill battle. It's close to six weeks out from the competition and I will not know my final squad until Friday week, that will pretty much leave me one month to coach a team for a regional championships. To put this in perspective, Tahiti (in Tonga's group) have been training their under 17 team now for ONE YEAR!!! We also have the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia and The Cook Islands in our group, all teams that routinely beat Tonga.

As I mentioned we are still going through the trial process, it appears the way in which this was communicated to potential squad members has not been great and maybe stopped a few turning up. Basically, the recruitment drive has consisted of employees here driving to the boys' schools, telling their teachers and hoping they turn up.

Today, the national team coach told me today that he believed there was up to five good players who have not turned up yet. So it was decided to drive to their school and tell them in person, what we didn't know (while waiting for an hour for someone to speak to) is that the boys in question were not at school anymore as they finished their exams. Not only that but, I would find out later, they were actually over-age. The national team coach then realised, after (as I mentioned) an hour of waiting in a ramshackle wooden office infested with mozzies who were attacking my legs continuously for 60 minutes, that we could have simply checked a record in our office to see if they were the correct age or not and even call them on their mobiles, also kept in this same record.

I was pretty frustrated at this stage as there seems to be a long-drawn out way of doing things here in Tonga which I think is pretty annoying (there are also a few people who have jobs here but I haven't seen them do much except read the paper and eat!). There is not much I can do considering I have come from a pretty face-paced PR office except to go along with the Tongan way of things, and if I get annoyed, just go for a ride to the beach for a swim and relax!

I have my final trial tomorrow night in which we'll pick 22 players to train for one week (five sessions) before picking a final squad of 18. To be honest I don't really know where to start considering we are up against teams that have technically better players and have been training for a year. But it's a challenge and I'm looking forward to it and with a bit of luck we won't get trounced in every game and maybe even pick up a win or two along the way... with a bit of luck!

This weekend the Aussie volunteer community has organised a Tongan style Amazing Race so am looking forward to that, but I am also looking forward to having one or ten beers at the Billfish, heading to Sunday Club Island and then getting stuck into coaching next week!

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