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Bantering in Bacalar – My Experiences as a Volunteer Coach

And just like that my time with Girls United is over.  

I’m not really sure how best to summarise the entire monumental experience into just one post so I thought instead I’d tell you my answers to a little tradition my family has where at the end of every adventure we say our three favourite and once least favourite moments.

My least favourite moment is very easy to think of and has to be when I got sick with food poisoning. It happens to one person on every trip and on this one it just happened to be me. The healthcare system here is a little different to back home as you pay a doctor round the back of the pharmacy the equivalent of £2.48 for a consultation and to prescribe you drugs when you then by at his pharmacy out front. I won’t go into too much detail but if you check out my Instagram @little_big_jen you’ll find a picture of my treatment plan, you can also DM me any questions you may have! I was only out of coaching for three days and was back to my feet in no time so don’t let this put you off, people get ill at home or abroad isn’t unusual and is just another bump on the road to make it a more interesting journey.

Moving swiftly on, thinking of three top moments is a lot harder because there were so many things both big and small that made my time in Bacalar so entertaining, fulfilling, and fun. So in no particular order…

Girls' Football, Girls United FA, Girls United,

1.) The weekend trips. Whilst weekdays are more restricted by coaching every afternoon, the weekends are left mostly free to explore. We went on a number of trips to the impressive Mayan Ruins at Kohunlich, the tax-free zone between Mexico and Belize where I spent too much and yet not enough money on fake football shirts (can you actually have too many footy shirts!?), and the coastal town of Tulum. I actually went to Tulum twice: once with all the coaches for a full moon party and my first swim in the Caribbean sea; and the second time for the best scuba diving I have ever done in my life! This area in Mexico is the only place in the world where you find Cenotes (magic wells) which are deep pits sunken into the ground filled with crystal clear blue water that is amazing to scuba dive or swim in. There are so many dotted around the area and they are all so varied, but the cave diving in Los Dos Ojos Cenotes was simply breath-taking. 

2.) The Bacalar Lagoon. The lagoon in Bacalar is known as “the lagoon of seven colours” and certainly lives up to its name. The lagoon is not only spectacular to look at but also to swim in. At least twice a week we would go down to a local restaurant on the lagoon called La Playita where we enjoyed freshly made smoothies, read out books in the sun, and swam in the lagoon. I also enjoyed the boat day trip around the sites of the lagoon, including Pirate Bay, and a (very very) early morning Paddle Boarding trip on the lagoon to watch the sunrise. There are also Cenotes within the lagoon that give it the amazing colours and make for peaceful swimming spots, my personal favourite was Cenote Negro.

3.) Coaching. Before you ask, no I was not coerced into writing this! The joy on the girls faces when they achieve something on the pitch is heart-warming. Being able to pass on my passion for football to others was a huge privilege and something that gave me immense joy. Whether it be having a ‘secret’ handshake with each of the regular girls, a drill that you spent time planning (and in my case translating), or just watching as the younger girls giggle as they chase the ball around the field; there were so many tiny moments that made coaching so worthwhile.

 

Coach Juan: An 8-week play-by-play

Have a look at Coach Wonjoon - aka Profe Juan's blog, there is a week-by-week account of his time at Girls United Bacalar. Very real account, written in a great way. https://joonerthoughts.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/week-6-peak-trip/

Time to leave... by Head Coach Will Wilson

Tuesday 4th July 2017:

I'm done and I can write about my last few days and give some thoughts about the experience. I can finally, and freely, admit to blocking the shower. After a particularly muddy session, I washed my boots in the shower. The grass and mud went down the drain, and from that day on, it prevented the water from disappearing (sorry). Overall, my time in Bacalar was an incredibly positive experience.

Since finishing, and looking to keep busy while remaining involved in the development of the programme, I have designed curriculums, and come up with a document to help incoming coaches. The trip back to Distrito Federal was a strange one. My taxi arrived at four in the morning to drive me to the airport. The plane, again, was great, and I had three seats to myself. I managed to sleep a little too, having not slept much the night before, for fear I would miss my taxi.

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On Friday night, I said goodbye to all the players. They truly are a lovely bunch. One brought me a gansito, which is like a chocolate and jam roll. Another had her aunt bake me a cake. That was shared with the whole group. Everyone loves cake, and it was good cake too. I wish nothing but the best for this lot, and I will remain interested and in touch for years to come.

Wednesday and Thursday of this past week, with just myself and the American, we split the older group by ability. I took the better group on both days. She was amazed at the lower ability of the weaker group and became visibly frustrated. All coaches have to start from the bottom (unless you are an ex pro with good connections). You have to work with the players who are completely clueless, and with little motivation to be there. As committed and passionate footballers, we can't understand why others don't know football, or don't want to know football, however we're not working for now, but for the future. It was frustrating for her, and we originally planned to both take a stab at each group, but she insisted, and persisted.

Genuinely, there's a lot of enthusiasm and curiosity about the game in Bacalar. No one is going to be pulling up trees any time soon, but who knows, in ten years, Bacalar could be a hotbed for girls football. The players were so interested to learn and it was a real pleasure to work in such an environment. I only wish I could have done more. If they had better foundations, I could have been far more effective with my coaching. Unfortunately the girls had no initial reference point for football knowledge and were not used to training. Simple games, such as 3v3, with each team defending a goal, took so long to explain and they almost seemed shocked that the exercise was so simple once they’d figured it out. Perhaps they’d been anticipating a minefield of cones, lines, and lots of shouting, like we see with the boys.

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Football is a game of intelligence. I must have said that to the players every day. I kept reminding them that everything in football needs a decision. It became my catchphrase. The difference between a pass and a kick is the thought that precedes it. With the other coaches, my most used words were "decisions" and "repetitions." Over time, the players stopped just kicking it, and began looking for passes. I kept calling them out on it. "What was the decision you made then?" and they would look embarrassed as they admitted they didn't have a decision. I kept telling them that mistakes are fine, as we all do them, and it is part of the learning process, but there must always be a decision. Some of them even began to call the others out on it.

In the last few sessions, we could see a real difference. I want that improvement to continue. There were backwards and sideways passes. There were players running away from the ball and into space, instead of swarming like they did originally. Instead of being a fast paced, random, swarm, the games had become slower, with more deliberate actions, and more apparent thought processes. I love that. Please, please, please continue.

Lastly, before I sign out, I must speak of my love, respect, and admiration for the other volunteers. In a world where horrible acts are committed in the name of religion, where people say they will do things but don't (like how they care about veterans and will make a donation, or that they care about coal miners and will bring back non-existent jobs), or a world where people only do good so that they can share it on Facebook, it's rare to find truly good, honest and genuine people. I'm boring, miserable, and prefer my own company. The other volunteers realised that, but that doesn't mean I don't like them or think that what they’re doing is great. What Romina is doing is far greater than most religious people I have ever met, and there is not a hint of arrogance in her, nor does she give the impression it's all for show. This is genuine, altruistic, and giving something back motivates her. She wants to do the right thing.

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Despite our different backgrounds and personalities, in four weeks, no one had any problems with anyone. We'll most likely admit to not being people we'd necessarily choose to hang out with in a more normal setting, yet due to the pure motivations and the absolute dedication of everyone at Girls United, we had no problems. Every volunteer in Bacalar, without a shadow of a doubt, wanted to do right by these girls. We gave them our best, and will continue to do so. We also worked as a team, there were times when we were busy, dehydrated, tired, or sick with stomach problems and we covered for each other without question. If I had to spend two hours with other coaches helping them plan their sessions, I didn't care, as it meant the players were getting a good service. If a coach was desperate for a rest and needed a drink, shade, sit down, or bathroom break, we didn't care. We were all pulling in the same direction. Work and credit are irrelevant when working with selfless people, and due to that, the quality of work is better, and the credit is rich.

If I had a heart, these volunteers and these girls would always have a place in it.

Nos vemos, bromigos.

More posts from Will's time in Bacalar can be found here: http://unorthodoxcoaching.blogspot.co.uk/2017/07/coaching-in-paradise-bacalar-2017.html (or by clicking on the title of this blog post). 

Volunteer Q & A.

Our first academy has sadly come to an end and we have said our goodbyes – for the time being – to our very first volunteers. We felt a bit selfish keeping the volunteers and their characters to ourselves so we thought we would share with you some of their experiences and memories during their time with Girls United FA. We caught up with a few of the coaches to ask them some questions about their time with us, and here they are….

If you could describe Girls United FA in 3 words, what would they be?

Hannah - Bubbly, Smart, Determined.                                                                       

Checo - Commitment, Happiness and Dedication.

WILL:

Can you tell us a funny story about your time in Bacalar as a volunteer?

            The funniest thing to happen has to be a few of the pranks Sergio and I played on the girls (Naomi and Hannah, who were in the room next door). Things like… turning their air conditioning off and stealing the remote, or…waking them up late at night by playing loud music through a Bluetooth speaker. 

 What was it like coaching at the academies? How did the girls respond to your coaching?

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            The players seemed keen to learn, yet at times it was difficult to get the point across, even with a perfect translation. All along I had been playing simple games that were relevant to football, as we were fighting on two fronts; the language barrier for one, as well as novice footballers. Games like 4v4 scoring into an end zone were difficult for the girls to understand – not because they were incompetent but because most of them were so new to football. However, once they got the hang of it they performed really well and there were definite EUREKA moments.

            You could tell that some of the girls weren’t used to seeing silliness from ‘adults’ and we enjoyed having fun with the kids. Many of the girls come from an environment where parents or teachers are strict, but soon enough they were giggling, telling jokes and playing childish games. The girls really started to come out of their shells and were interacting socially. 

How would you describe your experience with Girls United FA to a friend or family member?  

            I would describe the experience as worthwhile and uplifting. The location is truly an undiscovered paradise. If you want to give something back and do something meaningful, then GU is the place to go. At times it could be interesting, humbling and shocking. As a coach, I have a lot of new equipment and kit but one day when we were playing a game with the locals; some of them were playing without any shoes. I was in full Adidas kit with brand new boots… It’s a world away from what we become used to back home. 

 

NAOMI:

How did it feel arriving in Bacalar? Can you tell us a bit what is it like.

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When I first arrived in Bacalar I was surprised; first by the beauty of the place, it is an amazing little town, but also it was impressive how gentle and easy going the people are, they were friendly at all times and were always doing their best to help the academy. I also loved that everything is so near, you can just walk everywhere (that is if you can deal with the heat). It's such a great place to be, it was so great to get to work there.

            Cuando llegué a Bacalar, me sorprendí muchísimo por la belleza del lugar, es un pueblo increíble; sin embargo, me quedé impresionada con la amabilidad y sencillez de la gente, siempre fueron muy amigables con la organización, y además siempre hicieron lo posible por ayudar a la academia. También me encantó que todo está tan cerca que puedes caminar a todos lados (si aguantas el calor). Me encantó haber tenido la oportunidad de trabajar ahí, fue increíble.

What was the highlight of the trip for you? 

             The highlight of my trip was definitely being able to play with the girls, they are all such great people, and I don’t know about them, but I had tonnes of fun at every training.

            Lo que más me gusto del viaje, fue definitivamente el poder jugar con las niñas, todas estaban muy dispuestas a aprender cosas nuevas y seguir mejorando, además de que son súper divertidas, no sé ellas, pero yo me divertí en cada uno de los entrenamientos.

What was it that initially made you want to volunteer in Bacalar? 

           The thing that made me want to go to Bacalar was the fact that I was going to be able to teach at least the basics of soccer to the girls. It is unbelievable how difficult life can be for girls living in not very developed places and I thought that this was a great opportunity to show the girls how amazing they were, and how they also have the chance to achieve whatever they want.

          Una de las cosas que me convenció de ir a Bacalar fue el hecho de que iba a poder enseñar lo poco que sé del juego y que iba a ayudar a que las niñas empezaran a jugar. Es impresionante lo difícil que la vida puede llegar a ser para las niñas que viven en lugares poco desarrollados y por lo mismo pensé que esta iba a ser una gran oportunidad para enseñarles a las niñas lo increíbles que pueden ser y cómo pueden llegar a lograr lo que ellas se propongan.

What was your favourite food or meal during your trip?

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          It’s hard to choose my favourite food, but the things I liked the most were the quesadillas next to the central park, the lady that cooks is amazing; and I also loved the panuchos, which is like a fried tortilla served with black beans, lettuce, red onion, tomato and a bit of avocado, it is delicious.

          Me es muy difícil decidir cuál fue mi comida preferida, pero entre las cosas que más me gustaron son las quesadillas que están al lado de parque en el centro, la señora que cocina es maravillosa; los panuchos también son de mis comidas favoritas, y es una clase de tortilla frita con frijoles, lechuga, cebolla morada, jitomate y un poco de aguacate, y es deliciosa.

 

CHECO:

What has been the highlight of your volunteering experience?

            The highlight of my volunteering experience was the sensation and the motivating the girls to learn and play football. The commitment of the whole team to transmit their learning to the young girls. Also, the joy that Girls United created in every person who participated in this project was super exciting.

What have you learned from volunteering with Girls United?

          What I’ve learned from Girls United was that whenever you want to help someone or make a change in this world, you don’t really need to make huge things. If you are dedicated and want to help others, simple things such as football are enough to make that change.

What was the biggest challenge during your time as a volunteer?

          My biggest challenge during my time as a volunteer was to transmit the young girls authority and respect without being tough, you always had to be gentle and show respect to the girls, but at the same time play with them and they the training sessions.

 

HANNAH:

What have you learned from volunteering with Girls United?

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          I think I’ve discovered football as a language. I was telling my mom recently about one of the local volunteers, Beto. He’s from Chetumal – which is a city about 30 minutes from Bacalar. At first he was pretty quiet and I was shy with my Spanish, so we didn’t talk much. Recently though we’ve had some time to kick around a ball on the pitch before practice. I don’t know what it was exactly but it felt like we were communicating as we were passing around. Like our movements were in sync. This was the first time I’d experienced this and it finally felt like we were having a conversation – but like an experiential conversation. That was pretty cool.

What was the hardest adjustment that you had to make when living in Bacalar?

          I think the hardest adjustment that I had to make was with language. It seemed to be a thread throguht my experience here. At the beginning especially, and at period through my time in Bacalar I felt so isolated because of my language skills. It’s funny though because I’ve been back in the states for a few days now and my first instinct is to speak to people in Spanish! There was a little girls in a playground watching my cousin and I. I turned to her to ask if she wanted to join us, but it almost came out at “quieres jugar?”… Something that I often asked the players who came to practice in Bacalar.