VIRGINIA KUJANDEKA TJIHERO FORGES HER OWN PATH

By: Julia Nekwaya

Coming from a long line of athletes and a bloodline of prominent football stars such as Jamanuka Tjihero and Bimbo Tjihero, it is no surprise that Virginia Kujandeka Tjihero ventured into sports which eventually led to her being the conditioning coach for the Debmarine Namibia Premiership champions African Stars.

Tjihero, explained that some of the challenges she faced as a female coach of male team were gender bias as she was often viewed as less knowledgeable which translated into a lack of respect and trust from players and other coaches. Despite these challenges, she successfully coached a male team. With her determination, hard work, and a commitment to excellence, she become the First Namibian female coach to have won the Namibian premiership.

Tjihero speaks to SRSM about her journey and what keeps her going.

Thank you for chatting to us, what sparked your interest in sports, especially football?

My interest in sports began at a young age, often through participation in organised sports leagues and watching sports with family and friends. I found enjoyment in the physical activity, the challenge of competition, and the camaraderie of being part of a team. I used to do athletics and play netball throughout my high school years and still continued where I joined the Unam Athletics club where I was crowned the Namibian Senior National Shotput champion also the Senior National Champion for Botswana in 2018.

In the case of football specifically, I was drawn to the physicality and intensity of the sport, as well as the strategy and complexity of the game. I am part of the others that have grown up watching football with family or friends and developed a love for the sport over time.

I come from an amazingly talented sports family background. Shall I start with my mother? Theresia Kujandeka was an excellent netball player who played till her 50s. Now she is a huge football fanatic, and my dad, Jamanuka Tjihero, used to be a footballer back in his days together with his brothers Albert Tjihero and well-known Bimbo Tjihero, not to forget my cousin, our own hockey captain, Maggy Mengo. All in all, Coach Woody Jacobs showed me the roots and depth of football. He saw my work and has since kept pushing and motivating me to never stop as it defined me.

Sports can promote physical and mental health, build character, and bring people together across cultural and geographic boundaries.

What were your highlights this season?

It’s hard to pick a highlight because the players really played their hearts out in every game they played, with great maintenance, and there were very few injuries picked up throughout the season. African Stars players are mental monsters; I’ve watched them deal with every game calmly, passionately, and with experience, as most teams always played the hardest against us.

The players really saved the best for last with fascinating goals scored by remarkable players, so I would go with the crowning day. The little celebration dance I had with Dynamo was special and planned, of course; this group of players surely is extraordinary. This is African Stars! It’s hard to pick.

What challenges did you face as female coach of a male team?

One of the primary challenges that I faced as a female coach of a male team was gender bias. Some male athletes, coaches, and spectators may view women as less knowledgeable or capable than men when it comes to coaching male athletes. This bias can lead to a lack of respect and trust from players and other coaches, which can make it difficult to establish authority and build positive relationships, but the group of players I had were phenomenal or elite athletes. They allowed me to grow no matter my off days, and I appreciate them for that.

Despite these challenges, many female coaches have successfully coached male teams and have made significant contributions to the world of sports. With my determination, hard work, and a commitment to excellence, thus making me become the First Namibian female coach to have won the Namibian premiership, female coaches can overcome these challenges and achieve success in coaching male teams.

How do you balance being a coach and everything else?

Balancing being a coach with other responsibilities can be challenging, but it is crucial to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Here are some tips that have helped me achieve balance:

  1. Prioritize your time: Make a list of all the tasks you need to complete and prioritize them based on their importance and urgency. Focus on completing the critical tasks first, and then move on to the less urgent ones.
  2. Set boundaries: Establish clear boundaries between your coaching responsibilities and your personal life. This may mean setting specific times for coaching sessions, saying no to additional coaching work when you are already busy, and delegating tasks where possible.
  3. Practice self-care: Make time for self-care activities such as exercise, meditation, or spending time with loved ones. Taking care of yourself will help you stay energized and focused.
  4. Be flexible: Recognize that there will be times when unexpected events and emergencies arise and you may need to adjust your schedule or priorities. Be flexible and willing to adapt to changing circumstances.

Remember that achieving balance is an ongoing process that requires mindful attention and effort. By implementing these tips, one can create a more harmonious balance between their coaching responsibilities and other aspects of their lives.

What’s your message to other aspiring female coaches?

Firstly, it’s important to believe in yourself and your abilities as a coach. Confidence is key to success in any field, and coaching is no exception. Don’t let anyone make you feel like you don’t belong in the coaching world just because of your gender.

Secondly, seek out mentorship and support from other coaches who have experience and knowledge about football. Networking and building relationships with other coaches is very important, as it can provide valuable opportunities for learning and growth.

Thirdly, to continuously work on improving your coaching skills and knowledge as a coach, always be open-minded. Attend coaching clinics, read books and articles on coaching, and stay up-to-date with the latest developments and trends in football, as it also helps you connect more with your athletes.

Lastly, be a positive role model for your athletes and those around you. Show them that women can be successful coaches and leaders in sports, and inspire other women to pursue their own dreams and goals.

Remember, being a coach is about helping others achieve their full potential and reach their goals, regardless of gender. Keep that in mind and continue to work hard, and you can achieve great things as a female coach. Be Relentless!!

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