Ruth Butaumocho Gender Editor
IN a domestic game where superstition is rife, just having a woman sitting on the technical bench of a football team may be regarded as taboo. And for years the boundaries were drawn and the message was clear, women were better off on the terraces than on the touch line.
Forget about such bigotry, one woman, Sithethelelwe Sibanda has crossed the Rubicon and has etched her name in the history of the domestic Premiership by becoming the first female coach to sit on the bench of a top-flight club.
Sibanda is assistant to Lizwe Sweswe who heads the coaching department of Premiership new boys Tsholotsho who won promotion from the Southern region Division One League.
The 33-year-old former Mighty Warriors striker had earlier made waves when she joined Tsholotsho FC while they were still in the less fashionable world of Division One.
What makes Sibanda’s feat unique is that while women have sat on the technical benches of Premiership sides before, they were not part of the coaching staff.
Previously, women that have been seen on the technical bench were either physiotherapists or medics.
However, the “cultural fact’’ and the rare sight of a woman coaching men, especially in the Premiership, makes Sibanda’s new role as part of the technical team at “Iziqholo Zezhwane (The Naughty Boys) quite phenomenal.
While having a woman coach is novelty and might be considered as nothing short of adventure to many, for Sibanda, being involved in coaching is like fulfilling a dream.
“I am now where I had always wanted to be from the time I started dribbling the ball, when I was barely 10,” said Sibanda, also known as Kwinji 15, for her famed bustling style of attack likened to former Dynamos and Highlanders striker Makwinji Soma Phiri.
Sibanda is also the national girls Under-20 coach.
Tsholotsho on their part immediately grabbed the headlines when they caused the biggest upset of the opening weekend of the 2015 soccer season, stunning Harare City 1-0 at Rufaro while fielding a team of rookies that had no previous Premiership experience.
Sibanda, who made her debut appearance for the game, believes that her appointment to the bench has nothing to do with the size of her skirt, nor her hairstyle, but is a mere recognition of her consistency, hard work and undying passion for football.
It is the same hard work she has shown over the years, which landed her a place at New Orleans Football Club when she was barely in her teens, and her subsequent selection to join the Mighty Warriors, giving her a competitive edge in football.
It is through hard work, that Kwinji 15 can safely sit among brawny male coaches with a smile, knowing that she is moulding boys to successful men.
And to her there is no better way of earning money, than knowing that she is now able to fulfil a dream she has cherished and nurtured for years.
“When I am on the bench together with other technical members, I will not only be fulfilling my task, as the assistant coach, but I will also be fulfilling a dream that I have nurtured for over 20 years.
“I had always wanted to be a coach, after retiring from active football,” she enthused during an interview at her base in Tsholotsho recently.
Sibanda’s dream was not realised overnight. She had to divide her time between playing football while at the same time attending coaching courses in order to edge closer to her goal.
She now holds CAF C and B licences, has local Level 4 qualification, and a German B licence making her one of the highest qualified local female coaches around.
It was during her time with the golden generation of the Mighty Warriors that includes current national women’s coach Rosemary Mugadza, Nomsa “Boyz” Moyo, Pretty Phiri, Ruth Banda-Nyandoro, that she grabbed much of her fame as a free-scoring striker.
It is where she got much of her inspiration from.
“During my stint with the Mighty Warriors, I realised that I could contribute more to local football than being a mere player.
“So whenever I had the opportunity during our season breaks, I would enrol for different coaching and facilitation courses to enhance my knowledge and understanding of football,” she said.
It was also during the match assignment trips with the Mighty Warriors to different countries that her passion for coaching grew.
“I often came across female linesmen, physiotherapists and female coaches. I realised that I could still pursue my goal, as long as I had the right attitude, qualifications and determination.
For someone, who had started her romance with soccer at eight, juggling the soccer ball, when girls of her age were fascinated with dolls, she was determined to take her passion for football to the next level.
Having acquired the necessary qualifications and armed with her experience in football, Kwinji 15 sought new challenges when she called time on her playing career.
She then joined Inline Academy for girls from 2012 and 2013, where she focused on coaching the girls in football.
During her stint with the academy, Sweswe would invite her to training sessions with the team, where he would assign her different sessions.
“The short training programmes were amazing. The boys didn’t treat me any differently and I got encouraged.”
With time, she was able to attend and coach regular sessions. During the coaching sessions, Kwinji 15 became Sweswe’s shadow, absorbing his knowledge and she learnt fast.
It therefore did not come as a surprise, when Sweswe invited her to become his assistant.
“I was impressed by her skills, her dexterity, eagerness on the ball and her experience as a whole, hence my decision to hire her,” said Sweswe.
Though diminutive in stature, Kwinji commands huge respect among the Iziqholo Zezhwane, a team that is enjoying rave reviews from soccer enthusiasts following its exciting entry into the Premiership, after beginning life in the tougher league with victory.
During training, players fall into line quickly whenever she barks instructions from the line. She does it with authority, confidence and skill, earning respect from her charges.
There have been one or two occasions, where male soccer fans have passed lurid comments, but she has remained unfazed.
“I know soccer fans would never say that. Those sexist comments were made by hooligans and I am not worried,” said the mother of an 11-year-old boy, who is also following his mother’s footsteps.
Although she is yet to reach the zenith of her career, Kwinji 15 has since set her sight on becoming a CAF instructor.
“I am going to be coaching for a while. But five to 10 years from now, I should become a CAF instructor.”
To those who have seen Kwinji 15 doing her act, they no longer ask the question “Can women do it?” but it is now rather “Why more women aren’t doing it?”