I was disappointed again today as I arrived and there was still no water in the pool. With my mind looking to the positive, I felt I could fit in a day’s worth of dryland instruction about the basics of the game after the team completed their stretching and dryland exercises. As athletes started arriving, I felt a little relieved that we would finally be able to begin actual practices vice trying to make it happen. Two, three, and then a fourth athlete arrived but no more. I asked the athletes that arrived so far where the other athletes were. Their response was that the soldiers were still at work or off of work.
What does that mean exactly? Are they still at work or off of work? With difficulty understanding my own translation of what I think they were telling me, it meant that the other soldiers were still working or they were too tired to come to practice. Maybe they had headaches, did not feel well, or were taking naps.
One of the athletes then received a call on his radio telling him that he had to return to his unit. He apologized, told me that he would return as quickly as he could, and quickly left.
Disappointed by this news, I walked to Colonel Safi’s office to find out what was going on. Colonel Safi asked me to sit and have chai with him. I respectfully declined and told him that I was trying to run practice. Excited by my response, he asked how practice was proceeding. I responded by telling him that it was not as only three soldiers came to practice.
Enraged, Colonel Safi called in another colonel and a captain, yelled at them, and quickly dismissed them. Colonel Safi told me not to worry about it and the soldiers would be there shortly. Colonel Safi, ignoring my request to not drink chai with him, had a soldier bring me tea and told me to stay until the soldiers were ready. I reluctantly agreed, not because I did not want to have tea with him but because I was leaving work to come coach and not hang out and drink tea. However, this is the way things have been done in Afghanistan for hundreds, if not thousands of years, who am I to disregard history?
Knowing that I was concerned about soldiers not arriving in time, Colonel Safi assured me that this would not happen again and reminded me that organized sports is a new concept for them. It will take time for them to understand promptness and being prepared. He said that the soldiers have a hard enough time showing up for where they need to be for work. These concepts are the very thing I want to teach the athletes on the team. I am glad that he understands this and wants to support what we are trying to accomplish.
After Colonel Safi and I finished our chai, I left his office and returned to the pool where a captain was getting all of the soldiers into formation. Once they were ready, I explained to the captain that I wanted all of the soldiers on the deck next to the pool and the most responsible soldier to stand next to me in front of the athletes. He got the soldiers to where I instructed him to and then he came to stand next to me. I then told him to lead the team in stretching by watching what I do. He looked at me perplexed after my communication to him using Farsi and hand signals.
As I walked behind all of the other soldiers, so the captain could lead the stretching, all of the soldiers turned around to look at me. After a few times of telling the soldiers to turn around, they finally were looking at the captain and not at me. I started the first stretch, which was just slowly spinning one of my arms in a forward circular motion. The captain then told all of the soldiers to look at me to see the stretch. I then quickly told the athletes to turn around in Farsi and they did so in confusion. The athletes starting spinning their arms in the same motion. I then switched direction, upon seeing this the captain directed everyone to turn around and watch me. Seeing this, I quickly stopped my arm motion and told the soldiers to look at the captain. I then reiterated to the captain that I would show him the stretch, he would copy me, and all of the soldiers would follow his direction.
The captain followed my direction but I still think he was confused. When I switched arms and direction, he then followed my lead but did not tell the soldiers anything. The other athletes confused, they turned and looked at what I was doing. Once I turned the soldiers around again, I think the captain finally understood what I was trying to communicate to him. He quickly stopped following my lead, explained to the soldiers that they will only watch him, and then resumed the stretching. With the exception of a few minor hiccups, the stretching went well.
The stretching did take a long time, about thirty minutes, but I was satisfied with their performance. By the time we were done with our stretches, it was already 5:00 pm. It was time for me to go back to work. Reading this, some might say that this was not a successful practice. However, I feel that we were successful as we went through our first portion of practice and the athletes know what to expect. Hopefully, everyone will show up on time tomorrow ready to practice. Maybe there will even be water in the pool!