Thursday, 14 April 2011

Lavender Hill...not as nice as it sounds

Ok, first of all apologies for not blogging for over a month, its been pretty hectic over here, but of course that means there's plenty for me to write about. The prison academy is shaping up nicely and despite having a bit of a bumpy start we've still managed to have a pretty decent pre-season. We must have played at least four or five friendlies, most of which have been convincing wins apart from one 2-1 loss to the team in the adult section of the prison (our academy is based in the juvenile section) which the boys weren't happy about at all. Unfortunately me and Bully weren't there to be on the sidelines that day, but apparently its the first time in 2 years they've been beaten within the prison, so you can imagine the ribbing they got after the game. Anyway its good to lose now and then just to ground the players a bit (...but not too often), and to be fair after chatting to the players, in the next game they definitely came back stronger. Last week we had our final trials for the team which included around 14 trialists from Drakenstein, Pollsmoor and Hawequa prisons, all vying for the 8 available places in the academy. Before trials our squad was looking a bit thin in defenders and strikers, so we've managed to rectify that problem, but our strength as a team remains in the centre of the park. Due to this me and Bully have been working on a formation that will accomodate an overload of midfielders, and at the moment we're trying out both a 4-1-4-1 and a 4-3-3 system to see which one fits our players best.

 (Drakenstein Hope Academy in the red, Victory FC, the opponent, in the orange)

We now have a 22 man squad which includes 3 coaches, a teacher and 18 players, which is a healthy amount to cover injuries and the possibility of players being released, as well as providing enough competition for the first team and motivation for the subs.We have also managed to join a Cape Town Church league (we would rather have been in the local Paarl league near the prison, but at least we're in a league) and have won our first two games of the season.

Our first game was against Victory FC who supposedly should have won the league last year but for some disciplinary problems. It was 0-0 at half time and although we had this team in fitness we were making poor decisions with the ball and letting them play. After a half time drubbing from coach Bull they sorted themselves out a bit and got the well deserved breakthrough after about 10 minutes, after which the floodgates opened. So a good start to the season, but certainly room for improvement.

Our second game was against Swallows FC, which I wasn't there for as I was playing for my team, but apparently we went down 2-0 after some defensive howlers, then got it back to 4-2 at half time, with the game finishing 8-3 to us. In that game we adopted a 4-3-3 formation which allowed for more goals by utlising our wingers as wing forwards, but also left the defense exposed at times, so we'll have to see which formation is going to suit our players best.

 (Pre-match warm up)

Some work needs to be done with the defense, as simple mistakes are being made like not keeping the line and both central defenders going forward to the attackers at the same time instead of pivoting (one marking and one covering), but our central defenders are a new pairing and they have the strength and committment to succeed so I'm not too worried. Obviously the attackers are banging in the goals at the moment which is great, but after chatting to the boys in the cell the other day we found out that the goalscoring tally is causing a bit of tension in the team. In the cell there is a wall chart where we write the results of the games, as well as the goalscorers and the man of the match, and at the moment the same 4 guys are coming up with the goals, which is creating a bit too much concern with the top goalscorer tag. Mr Jonas, who is the DCS (Department of Correctional Services) official who is most hands on with helping the programme said that when he watched the second game (the 8-3 one) he noticed that when the goals started flying in the attackers starting trying too hard to score and were playing for themselves instead of the team to get that top goalscorer spot. To address this we had a chat with the guys before we went out to train about the idea of glory in football.

Basically we said that its great to score goals because thats how you win games and that its also healthy to have some friendly banter in a team, but at the same time scoring goals is just the final product of a team process. To score you need the defender to make that vital challenge and distribute the ball quickly to the midfielder who controls it well and has the vision to spread it into the channel for the winger who makes a brilliant first time cross to the striker who meets the cross well and beats the keeper. The point is that although the scorer will get the congratulations for finishing the move with a goal, all those other players had to do their job well to get it up into the danger zone. When you look at it that way, when the striker scores it is not the striker's goal but the team's goals, in the same way that if you keep a clean sheet, its not the keeper's clean sheet but the team's clean sheet because defense starts from the front. To drive this home I started talking about Man United and Dimitar Berbatov, because a lot of the lads support United (alongside their South African team). Berba is top goalscorer in the premiership with 22 goals so far, and he played on Saturday in the 2-0 win against Fulham because Fergie wanted to play Rooney and Hernandez up front in the Champions league on Tuesday night (boo hoo Chelsea). Why then would Fergie prefer two strikers who combined haven't scored as many goals as Berba in the league? My answer would be that he knows that not only do Rooney and Hernandez work really well together, but they also work their socks off in general. If you look at Berbatov, although he is of course an amazing player in terms of raw ability, he still has the tendancy to stroll around the pitch and get lazy after he has scored as if to say "I've done my bit". To be fair this area of his game has improved whilst under Fergie (which is probably why he is scoring more goals), but there is still a slight air of arrogance in his game that makes you question which Berbatov is going to turn up to the game.

The point I was trying to make with this was that it doesn't matter that Berbatov is top goalscorer, because he isn't in the team for one of the most important games of the season, and that has more to do with his attitude than his ability. Its clear that the game gives glory to attacking players, with international awards always going to your Messi's rather than your Vidic's, and season awards being given for the amount of goals scored but not the amount of tackles or clean sheets. For me, though, real glory in football is about having a good work ethic, its about playing hard and playing fair, and most importantly its about not playing for yourself. Anyway I'm going on a bit, (I'm probably bitter because I'm a defender haha) but the great thing is that this team does generally have a great attitude and work ethic, and that's because this sort of thing has been drilled into them from the start of the programme, and as soon as any sort of negativity creeps in the players and the coaches are on top of it. This mental side of the game is so important for these guys as well, because if they can change negative mindsets on the pitch then they can start to apply that to life off the pitch, and can start to equip themselves for life outside of prison. 

So on the football side, things are starting to shape up in the right direction, but as the Hope Academy motto says its "Football.Faith.Future" so it doesn't end there, and there is still always plenty to do and plenty to write about. Generally we are working with all of the guys in their faith wherever they are at, so with the guys who are already Christian we are taking them aside and discussing the gospel in a bit more depth, and for those who haven't made a committment we are simply encouraging them and trying ourselves to be a good example in our work. Like all things, though, it comes down to a personal choice, and while we can explain and discuss things with them, we won't push them on anything, as it is a decision they have to make for themselves and when the time is right.

Another big part of the programme that I haven't really touched upon yet is the discipline. There is a card system in the academy with a green card given for minor disciplinary problems like not giving enough effort in training, yellow cards given for a repeat of a green card offence or more serious disciplinary issues such as swearing and fighting, and red cards given for a repeat of a yellow card offence or very serious disciplinary problems such as involvement in gangsterism. If a player recieves a red card then they are removed from the programme, but this does not neccessarily mean that they are cut off from the Ambassadors team (depending on the seriousness of the offence). For example, two players were red carded last year, one for attitude problems and the other for dropping out of school, but both guys still have a good realtionship with the team and the coaches, helping around the cell and often helping referee our games.

Part of the rules in the programme is that the cell is kept neat and tidy, with beds made and sheets folded up nicely so that they can display photos and certificates on their beds. Again this is done to instil a sense of self-discipline in the academy as well as meaning that we can always be confident that when we bring visitors in (which is getting pretty regular) that the cell will be ready and presentable, and the boys definetely take a sense of pride in showing people around and explaining the programme to visitors which is great. At the end of each player's bed they have a profile picture and their own memory verse from Proverbs, and it has been one of my jobs this year to update these for the 2011 academy.

Taking the profile pictures was hilarious. I'd take three photos of each player and on the first two they'd be giving it the whole poser look and on the third one I'd just tell them to smile or say something stupid and catch them off guard. You can really find out what a person is like by taking a profile picture of them though, its brilliant. There's this one guy called Snare (Sinethemba) who didn't even look at the camera when I was taking the photo, you know like proper posing but not even in a jokey way...I showed it to Bully and he just laughed. That day was interesting actually because we took two academy graduates in with us, and although the scheduled game was cancelled which was a major disappointment, it was still a good day because Chris and Mezza (the two graduates) provided some good morale for the guys. And as soon as they got hold of that camera...well that was it, and I've got the goofy photos to prove it. Now, whenever I go in one of the first questions is "Coach Mike, when are we gonna get those photos from that day?". That day showed me the importance of  bringing in guys from the programme who have been released from prison, because for a start they are often good friends with many of the guys in the cell from being in the academy, but also just hearing their stories of getting work and doing good things outside is such an encouragement to those still inside.

That brings me nicely to that final part of the Hope Academy structure, the "future" side, which is vital to the success of the whole programme. At the end of the day the whole idea behind this is rehabilitation, and the real test for the academy boys is being released back into their community. A big part of this side of things is our work with the school in the prison. A requirement of the programme is that the players have to be in school, which they go to every day before we get there for training. Every now and then we take a lady called Lyndsay in to check up on the schooling situation, and also one of our players Bongani has taken up a teacher role and teaches in the school, so between these two they are trying to ensure that everyone is studying hard and to their highest ability level, so that they have some form of qualification to stand them in good stead for employment when they get released.

So half of the future side is about equipping our guys with some skills and education whilst still in prison, and the other half is about following up those who have been released and keeping an eye on their progress. I have already mentioned one our graduates Chris, who was released like a week before I first arrived in South Africa. Chris lives in Guguletu, a township about 15km from Cape Town, and since his release has done really well. He has a good relationship with his parole officer so whenever we need to take him somewhere there are no problems, and within 2 weeks of getting out he got a job working for KFC. Chris has done so well in his first few weeks of work that the manager actually asked us to reccomend more graduates from the programme, which we did when one of our boys Andile Sehole (who was involved in the same crime as Chris and also lives in Guges) got out about 2weeks ago. We also took Chris for some trials at local clubs and he has now joined a team that plays in the Castle league, which is the 4th tier of South African football, in the hope that he can break into the Vodacom team which is the next league up. Chris, Andile and Mezza (who is working in McDonalds and lives in Guges) have also been coming into the prison a lot to watch the games which is great.

So obviously it is great when we meet up with guys who are doing well because its shows they have adopted the values that we teach in the programme, but we need to invest just as much time if not more into helping those who are not doing so well. One guy who we have been spending a lot of time with is Andre, who lives in Lavender Hill, which is quite a tough Cape Coloured community towards the False Bay coast and is an area that has a lot of problems with unemployment and gangsterism. Andre got out of prison about a year ago initially doing really well, and although he has never had involvement with gangsterism, he is now struggling to find employment. About a month ago we received a call from Andre's mother saying that she was worried about his attitude and after meeting her we found out that he was not helping out around the house and not really talking to or respecting his mother. So after a bit of a crisis meeting with Andre and his mother we got some things out in the open and agreed to meet with him the following week to set some goals and help him out with a few things like constructing a good CV. We're now at the stage where we are meeting up with him every Tuesday to encourage him and generally just get him out of Lavender Hill for a while, and according to his mother his attitude has completely changed for the better, and we've seen it as well. Its clear to me that Andre is not a bad guy, he just needs to find work so he can keep himself busy and support his mother, and we can encourage him in this, but he still needs to step up and get himself out there, so we'll see how well he handles that challenge in the coming months.

The future side of the programme is always developing, and one idea that we've had recently is to create a 5-a-side football team for the Hope academy graduates so that we can join a league in town. The idea behind this is so that we can have a regular time each week where everyone can meet together and support each other, so that those who are struggling can be encouraged by the guys who are doing well. It also has the benefit of us being able to maintain good contact with all of the guys who've been released and monitor their progress. The hope is also that we'll get to a stage where we can take the team into schools and community centres to run soccer clinics and talk to young people about the wrongs of crime and gangsterism. When I've talked to the guys in the prison about this and the opportuity for them to go back into their communities and make amends by guiding the younger generations, the response has been very very positive. So we've worked on a proposal to send out to local businesses and corporates in the hope that it'll catch someone's eye, because obviosuly we'll need to cover costs of kit and transport etc, so we'll see how that goes. Exciting times!

So anyway that's the general lowdown of how the prison academy has been shaping up in March/April...whew, its been a busy one! In other news, I've found a new place to stay in a cool little communtiy called Observatory (or Obz to those in the know), which is just on the outskirts of town and right near the University of Cape Town. I'm staying with a young couple who have a young kid and a little huskey dog, very chilled and welcoming people, its great. Obz is a bit of an artsy fartsy place, I guess because of all the students and that, but its got a really cool vibe with lots of little shops and coffee places and bars and stuff, and its walking distance to footie training and church so its ideal really. Talking of training, I'm still playing for Green Point with Dave, Morgan and Adam, and we had our first game of the season the other day which we won 2-0 and I played at the back in a 3-5-2 formation, which took a bit of getting used to at first but I'm getting there. Not done too much in terms of touristy things recently, but did go to the pro20 final at Newlands stadium and watched Herschalle Gibbs smash a cricket ball around for a few hours which was quality. Also been to Muizenburg beach a few times with the academy boys, which is where all the sharks are. In fact, one time we went down there they had the highest shark warning flag up and we read the sign which said "Shark spotted at 16.11" and at that time it was like 16.20 so it was a bit like (: o) ...I still wanna do the shark cage diving tho, can't wait. Weather is still great over here despite the seasons turning, think I'm getting too used to it anyway cos I'm starting to complain if it goes below 15.

That's it for now, sorry it was a long one but had lots to write about. I'll try and do more regular blogs from now on so they're not so hectic, and I'll try and get some more photos up cos everyone loves a few photos (they just take so frickin long to upload). Also now that I've got my phone working I've starting doing regular updates on the Hope Academy on my twitter page, which is @MichaelSmartAIS, so check that out if you want.

Sharp-sharp (which generally means cheers, nice one, quality, get the picture)

Rom 12.1-2