Thursday, March 18, 2010

TZ Soccer Players: Victims of Culture?

It is been a while since I experienced temperatures in the 60s (that is in Fahrenheit, my Bongoland friends). As such, if I get giddy in here, don’t blame me. It is the Spring fever catching on!

I have to admit, I hardly go through a lot. It is not that I don’t like Mr. Mengi and his outfit, it is just the layout of website is not inviting. Furthermore, articles on the website are not as updated as quickly as, let’s say, Daily News.

Nevertheless, I found myself going through the site today. Guess what I found? It is this hidden column by “Super Coach” himself, Syllersaid Mziray. Read on…

As a coach, I have to respect his analysis, which is based on an extensive experience in Tanzanian soccer. Man, you can’t argue with experience. In a nutshell, Super Coach dispelled some of the “myths” explaining why Tanzanian soccer players can’t go flying to the big leagues and also some other practical things that happen in the Tanzania’s soccer system that are bound to produce zero professional soccer players. One particular observation, however, that caught my attention was the following:

In most clubs, players will go to the training field late and hence fail to cope with the coach’s schedule and during training, they seldom engage seriously in the process

I know some folks think that I am taking this culture thing out of proportion, but …

Oh well.

I’m not a social science expert and therefore I am not really qualified to go into a deep analysis of what culture is or what it is not. The little I know, however, is that culture is just a body of rules governing a society. Those rules govern how one succeeds or fails; what one should say or not say in a particular situation, etc.

In a nutshell, what Super Coach tried to say, but came short of saying is this – the Tanzanian culture, particularly when soccer players fully embrace it – will never produce a player capable or worthy of playing in European leagues, for instance.

See, from my vantage point, culture creates expectations. And I can bet you my house that the highest expectation a soccer player can have in Tanzania is to play for Simba or Yanga. Period. A highest expectation a Simba or Yanga fan have is for their respective teams to win against their archrival and to clinch local trophies. You will never hear fans rioting because Coach Phiri, for instance, won a game against Yanga but got walloped by an Egyptian’s side. It is because the expectation, well, is kind of low in Tanzania.

Remember the clash between former Yanga’s “super star” Gaudence Mwaikimba and his former Serbian coach, Dusan Kondic? Do you really thik the conflict was about talent? All of that was simply a cultural conflict. It was a conflict arising from a huge expectation gap. And that expectation gap, amigo, was rooted in cultural differences.

Let’s think of this for a minute. Coach Kondic comes in, joining a team that he didn’t assemble. In the team, there’s this dude Gaudence Mwaikimba who was a star, with a “guaranteed” starting position regardless of dedication and effort level he shows in training. Don’t you think that conflict was only imminent when Coach Kondic emphasized discipline in training before a player was “guaranteed” any playing time?
On the flip side of better cultural inclination, remember the DRC national, Shabani Nonda who once played for Yanga? How did he manage to secure a team in Europe? Wasn't he playing on the same "ugly" soccer pitchs in Tanzania?

I think you get my point.

I have said this and I will say it again. Tanzania’s problems are not rooted in lack of experts, talents, resources or whatever you want to throw in the mix. Yeah, those play a part, but the worst enemy the country is facing is its own cultural inclination. The scary part, as I said about Hasheem Thabeet last time, the people are not even aware of it.

So go ahead and have your Vision 2025. However, without a cultural transformation to back that up, I can only say this quitely and nicely, good luck.
Photo credit: Michuzi

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

HT to D-League: Lack of Skills or Cultural Disorientation?

Hasheem Thabeet’s draft to the NBA is one of those things that has not and will not regularly happen to Tanzania. It is for that reason, I was happy for Hasheem and for Tanzania, because this was a history changing event.

However, just less than a year since Hasheem was picked by the Memphis Grizzlies; he made another history by being the first second pick to be send down to the NBA’s Development League. For those who watched Hasheem play at UConn, one thing was clear – the kid was not fully developed in his game.

I would definitely cut Hasheem some slack. The kid had very little basketball experience prior to donning a UConn’s uniform. I would guarantee you that 99% of NBA ballplayers had touched a basketball by the age of 10. Furthermore, Memphis clearly understood that when they drafted him.

It is for that reason I wasn’t surprised when the Grizzlies sent Hasheem to the D-League. He truly needed some playing time to develop his game. What surprised me, however, was Hasheem’s response to his D-League’s trip. You could read Hasheem’s response here...

The comment that irked folks the most is about the kid’s paycheck being the same despite being sent to the D-League. I am not surprised he made such comments.

In many ways, I could relate to Hasheem’s comment about paycheck, haters, and so on. Part of it is immaturity, but largely cultural. When I started my career with KPMG after graduation from college, I had a lot of trouble initially because I came to KPMG hung up on my college academic achievements. Bad enough, in that lake of stupidity, I was basking in the glow of what my paycheck could accomplish in Bongoland. Boy, I was wrong.

See, after some painful experiences I came to learn – the hard way – that it was imperative for me to make a quick transition from having Tanzania as my yardstick to seeing things from an American perspective. And I think making that transition is where Hasheem is currently struggling.

I cannot blame Hasheem for having the I-have-made-it kind of mentality. Truthfully, he has made it. A very little percentage of folks in Tanzania or even Tanzanians in the United States will ever make $4.5 million in their lifetime - legally or illegally. Furthermore, a very small percentage of Tanzanians living abroad will ever have the privilege of hanging out with the President and having a “national” reception when you land at JKN International Airport.

Nonetheless, the biggest question is this – would Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, or LeBron James regard $4.5 million in the bank, but with lack of strong basketball skills and playing time a success? Hardly.

See, going back to my KPMG experience, I came on board with a purely Tanzanian mentality. I placed very little value in the desire to get ahead (Ujamaa mentality anyone?), seeking career advice through mentorship, hard work, etc. At the end of the day, despite my academic achievements (potential), I ended up frustrated and frustrating my employer. That is because I didn’t fully understand the culture around me and what was expected of me.

Playing ball in the NBA, whether Hasheem understands it or not, is just like any other career, ignoring the obvious differences. And as far as I know the American corporate culture, each employee tries to be their best without even the employer prompting them to. It is for that very reason, true “professionals” like Michael Jordan worked hard despite having more talent that the majority of their peers. Ask Kobe. Ask Carmelo. Ask LeBron. They would tell you that they have something to work on. You will never hear them talk about their paycheck first.

Going beyond the NBA, the American culture, somehow expects more. Yesterday’s technology is not good enough. Yesterday’s methodology is not good enough. The American society sort of expects improvement and not mediocrity. What Hasheem did in college is simply history. Honestly, with all the “accomplishments” Hasheem has had, getting the fact that American society expects a little bit more could be a struggle for the kid to comprehend.

If Tanzanian basketball and culture was the standard, I would not ask Hasheem to change anything. That is because most successful folks in Tanzania didn’t get there through hard work, but through dubious means. I would not ask Hasheem to mend his attitude and improve on his work ethic because in Tanzania, generally speaking, having a little more (or not having it bad) than your neighbor is good enough.

What is telling of Hasheem’s cultural orientation is this US Today's article. So the kid truly thought Coach Calhoun was picking on him for requiring hard work? That also begs the question, how much has he learned since UConn days?

At the end of the day, however, it is not all doom and gloom for Hasheem. I think the kid will learn, improve and make Tanzania proud.

Nonetheless, right about now the kid does not need criticism, but some serious mentoring to help him shift from a Tanzanian mentality to an American cultural orientation. Once he gets it, taking a vacation while his offensive game stinks wouldn’t be on his to-do list this summer. Furthermore, the “haters” would disappear, for he will realize that his NBA dream is not hinged on some blog comments, but on his own work ethic.

My struggle at KPMG was not because of the color of my skin. It was mainly because of my cultural “disorientation”. I know Hasheem is going through it right now, but he will get it eventually. Trust me on that one.
Photo credit: