Like most of the previous Kenyan Stars interviewed on this column have correctly noted, poor infrastructure and insufficient youth programs stand in the way of sports excellence in Kenya. In all if not most sports, we compete against countries who introduce their sports people to the game at a very early stage. That is why this week, Our Kenyan Star of the week, Nicholas Macharia, who runs a football academy under the banner of Ambassadors Football Club and supported by the International Christian Church at Nairobi's Imara Daima estate.
KS: Thank you for hosting us Nicholas
Please feel at home.
KS: Tell us about Ambassadors Football Club.
We started off in 2007. We morphed out from the International Christian Church's Sports Ministry and we still largely operate under them. We like to say we are passionate about Football and Christ. We started off with a youth program, then for a while we were in charge of management of the Nairobi City Stars but could not sustain it and that is why we came back to basics with the academy.
KS: What were the founding objectives?
The key objective was to instill football knowledge in the minds of young boys and girls. Other objectives were to spread the gospel through football. We also majored in life coaching besides the usual technical training for coaches.
KS: What would you say have been the successes of Ambassadors FC?
We have had massive success in our coaching program with over 500 coaches having benefited from it. I'm personally a product of this program. We have also helped people grow career wise through mentorship and leadership skills training. We also think our academy project is picking up pretty well and will soon start churning out football stars.
KS: What are the Joining requirements for the academy?
We admit children between the ages of 4-15 years. Every child pays a monthly fee of ksh 1,500/-.
KS: Is this then a preserve of only those who can afford?
No we make exemptions for extremely talented kids from a poor background. We have a few of them on scholarship not just for the football sessions but also for schooling courtesy of International Christian Church.
KS: What is your training program like?
We train every Saturday from 9am to 1pm. Different age groups are trained by different coaches.
KS: What do you focus on for the different age groups?
It's not cast in stone because some kids develop faster than others but generally between 4-6 years we try to get the kids to generate an interest in football, from 7-9 years we get into the basics of the game especially the ball handling skills while allowing them have as much fun as possible. From the age of 10 years onwards it gets a little advanced and aspects of the game such as position are introduced.
KS: Do you ever get a chance to compete and gauge the performance of your Kids?
Yes a lot, we recently just came back from Rwanda where we participated in the Chipukizi Tournament and lost out at the semi-Finals with our Under-13 squad.
KS: You mentioned coaching courses, tell us about it.
Yes we hold a number of coaching courses every year, internal ones by our local trainers and one international one by foreign trainers. The International one lasts for a week and we charge ksh 5,000 per entry. The one for this year will start on 12th of March and end on the 17th of March.
KS: What are some of the challenges you face while running this football program?
Quite a number; the first is lack of consistency because some kids miss sessions. The second is lack of equipment coupled with poor infrastructure, as you can see the kids are training on bare sand. Lastly i would say we need more coaches because the recommended standard is a minimum of one coach for every 8 kids.
KS: Do you have any plans to upgrade your infrastructure?
Yes, there is a plan in progress. We have already received turf and will set-up two 5-aside pitches at the top of the building. The timeline for that is three months. Also, one section of this ground will also be converted into a training ground with artificial turf in three years’ time. This is courtesy of our partners at the International Christian Church.
KS: What do you think of the state of football in Kenya?
I would say we are slightly below average but the major concern is that the top leadership of football is not concerned about youth and grassroots football. I think in order for us to move forward we need to put more emphasis on youth programs and grassroots football.
KS: Would you say your training sessions gives your kids a little something extra in the classrooms?
Definitely yes because we teach character, we teach faith and we teach virtues. Our sessions are based on always being mindful of the future so our kids understand that the same zeal they put in the training pitch is the same zeal they should inject into their studies.
KS: What is your parting shot to people who will read this on Kenyanstar?
First of all to parents and the kids themselves, I welcome them to our academy. This is the right place to come and also a very safe place. Secondly to the entire nation, it’s time we started taking sports seriously. It's a culture we need to cultivate because it provides employment and lots of other career opportunities.