A man in a woman’s world…..Male coach defies stereotypes and mistrust to form and lead netball team
Ricky Zililo, Senior Sports Reporter
THE sight of a man coaching netball teams is not novel, but how such men got to love a women’s sport and become forces to reckon with in a female dominated game raises many questions.
Some men find themselves getting involved in netball because of work commitments, starting off as fitness instructors while others are driven by passion and a desire to help girls hone their talents and scale greater heights.
35-year-old Bhekimpilo Mabhena, who is fondly known as Bishop, the Old Magwegwe-bred fashion designer “accidentally” found himself in the netball world after winning a national award and was asked what he was doing to pay back to the community that supports his craft in 2015.
Bishop says the question by design sponsors caught him unawares, but after some soul searching, he realised that he had done nothing to serve his community and that is when he decided to form Lethal Angels, a club that is based at Magwegwe Youth Centre.
“I’m a designer by profession. Growing up, I used to play street soccer but when I went for a certain fashion design competition under M-Pritex Zimbabwe in 2015, which I won the best enterprise awards, there was a question posed to me, they asked what I was doing to pay back the community and after some soul searching, I recognised I did absolutely nothing.
“I then came here at Magwegwe Youth Centre and started mobilising young children, training them. I didn’t know anything about netball, so I started learning and researching more on netball. That’s how I started Lethal Angels and we’ve grown over the years,” said Mabhena.
He is following in the footsteps of legendary male coaches in netball who include Janota Phiri who produced a number of national team players while at Railstars and former Zimbabwe national team gaffer Lloyd Makunde, who led the country to its maiden World Cup in the United Kingdom in 2019.
Makunde has since relocated to Namibia where he is assistant coach to Mary Waya and has been assigned to lead the Desert Jewels’ 2023 World Cup qualification. Mabhena’s Lethal Angels have been competing in the National Aids Council (Nac) sponsored HIV/Aids Netball Prevention League since their formation.
He has been funding the club from his pocket, proceeds coming from the little profit that he gets from his fashion design gigs.
At times well-wishers ease the burden, but the club is far from being a well kitted or well-resourced side as evidenced by their appearances, lack of uniformity or equipment at their training base.
As much as they are in dire need of financial assistance to get transport to games, pay umpires and get refreshments for the girls, Mabhena thinks it’s best for well-wishers to get them what they can afford.
“We don’t need financial support as such because if you say you need financial support people might think you want to suck from their pockets. But what I’m asking for is support in terms of transport, training and playing kits as well as equipment. There are a number of challenges we face, and these being girls, if we can get them things like sanitary pads and other girls’ stuff which I can’t provide, I’m sure the girls will appreciate that.
“My wish is for people out there to help these girls achieve their goals and I’m grateful to some schools that are providing netball scholarships to some of the girls,” Mabhena said.
It is the netball scholarships that Mabhena sourced from some local schools (names withheld) as well as Mutare’s Mweyamutsvene High School that softened the hearts of parents to allow the budding coach to train their kids.
“When I started this I faced challenges from parents who genuinely didn’t trust my intentions for setting up a netball team instead of going for soccer. Parents didn’t trust why a man is interested in a girls’ sport. But after the achievements of winning trophies, generating interest from the girls and the change of attitude as well as behaviour they saw in girls, parents have since accepted that I’m truly a coach.
“My desire is to help these children, most of the girls in the team are on scholarships that have come through engagements with some schools. I’ve said to myself that as long as the kids are here, their fees have to be paid and parents don’t have to bear the burden of fees. Presently we’ve nine kids on netball scholarships, five of them are at a boarding school in Mutare called Mweyamutsvene and four are at schools in Bulawayo,” he said.
A holder of an elementary Zimbabwe Netball Association (Zina) coaching certificate, Mabhena saw his side finishing the league third in 2018 after sweeping almost all the cup competitions played that season.
Lethal Angels, who are third in their league with 21 points after 13 games, five points behind leaders Swallows, boast the privilege of having produced national team trialist Gomezhani Luwe, a 17-year-old goal defender (GD) who is playing in the Super League for Green Fuel in Chisumbanje.
They have also seen two of their products, who are both 22 years old, turning up in the Super League, wing defender (WD) Sihlesenkosi Vundla, who is in the books of Green Fuel and centre Terresa Luwe, who is with the Zimbabwe Prison and Correctional Services side, Khami.
“Our goal, a goal that these girls have is to play in the national team and by the Grace of God, I will continue to help them to achieve that goal but I need assistance from the society so that we make these girls’ dreams a reality. Some of the girls in our team are at primary school level, so you see we’re trying to incorporate everyone,” said Mabhena.
Today, Lethal Angels will be hoping to build from last weekend’s 94-2 win against Cream Tata when they take on 13th placed Pelandaba Queens. — @ZililoR