/ 3 June 2014

Dear Safa, have you gone mad?

Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund's contract will end on August 30.
Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund's contract will end on August 30.

We will never know whether it’s because his skills are limited, he just flirts too much with “adequate” in terms of his job performance, or whether he’s just a really terrible person in life and horrible to work with. 

We will never know if it’s because of any of these things that the Bafana Bafana coach (whoever he is at any given time) keeps getting booted and replaced. But I do think it’s safe to say the one thing we do know: he is the most replaceable person in South Africa.

Since a return to the world stage in 1992, Bafana Bafana has changed coaches 20 times. In the latest substitution, Gordon Igesund’s contract has not been renewed. That brings the tally up to 21 changes in just 22 years. It seems like the South African Football Association (Safa) is on a strict yo-yo diet when it comes to selecting coaches for the national football team. I wouldn’t be surprised. Bureaucracy does tend to be rather up and down when it comes to its strategies and structures if nothing else.

But the effects on the morale of the team and its coaches can’t be great. Few wins, more losses – for the former as well as the latter. How can there be, if said coaches are not even allowed to immerse themselves in the team as well as the association before getting caught up in a game of musical chairs? 

Perhaps the only change necessary here is for Safa to go and sit in front of a massive drawing board and rethink their strategy. In the words of Albert Einstein: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Let me repeat that statistic: 21 coaches in 22 years. Insane? Safa, have you gone mad? 

I do fear though that a little “going back to the drawing board exercise” might fail miserably, and I wonder: to where does one go back in that case?

From a psychological perspective, when considering the immersion of a person in a new environment, only one thing is necessary: time. 

Viktor Frankl, founder of the psychotherapeutic method and concentration camp survivor highlights this in his book Man’s Search for Meaning. “Time spent in an environment is necessary to identify a purpose in life – a goal [for reasons of this exercise] – so that one can immerse themselves in it, feel positive about it, and the outcome can then be imagined.” 

Frankl was of course referring to the prisoners in concentration camps and how the way in which they imagined their futures affected their outcomes. But the bigger picture especially in applying his theory is still relevant. It lends to the fate and overall attitudes of these many, many coaches – the fate of failure. 

Safa’s pattern of behaviour tells them that there is no hope. Not for the coach, not for the team and not in terms of longevity. For them, there exists only one point of reference as soon as they’re appointed: “Shoot! I only have a year here and then game over.”

What is the point, Safa?

They say change is as good as a holiday. Perhaps then it’s time for all the Safa bureaucrats to consider a massive break. Maybe it’s not the coach that should be disposable, but the institution itself.