Amongst the few elite women coaches of football in the world

The Botswana Women’s senior national team, The Mares made their break and first appearance at the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (WAFCON) tournament which was held in Morocco in July 2022. This maiden appearance was historic moment in Botswana Women Football.

The woman at the helm of it all and driver who held the reigns and led The Mares to their maiden appearance was none other than coach, Gaoletlhoo Nkutlwisang. Nkutlwisang and her team proved as worthy title contenders during the qualifying stages and at the Total Energies WAFCON 2022 in Morocco, where the team displayed some good performances, eventually proceeding to the quarter finals of the event, and nearly making a historic qualification for the World Cup. Nkutlwisang is one of the few female coaches that exists in sport.

While female participation is needed at all levels, from players to leadership, and coaching, the number of women coaching in sport is fewer than 50 percent. Nkutlwisang pointed out that she chose football at an early age, and while growing within the sport, she made deliberate efforts, intention and plans to later transition into coaching, choosing a terrain that is mainly male dominated, and rarely chosen by women. She travelled this journey with determination and has now given Botswana its best Women Football performance so far, through The Mares.

Nkutlwisang shared that her love for football started around 1986, when she was doing standard 1 in Gantsi. Absence of proper facilities and equipment then did not deter her from playing, as she and her friends came up with creative ways of crafting balls for themselves with plastics.

Her strong love for the game of football saw her taking part in class football challenges while at primary school. She continued with the sport at secondary school in Maun, playing against men, until she relocated to Gaborone in the 1990s to join Double Action Football Club and further her studies. Nkutlwisang now holds qualifications in Refrigeration and Air-conditioning, and Mechanical Engineering.

She highlighted that she chose football because she possesses talent for it, and according to her assessment, it is talent given to her by God. Looking back to her early beginnings, she recalls that she was never taught trapping or controlling the ball, it was a skill that just came on its own. She hinted that, while she was still playing, drawing some inspiration from Brazilian and England Football ladies, she had set herself a goal of transitioning from playing to coaching, and acknowledged that this was however not an easy journey.

Nkutlwisang advised that one needs persistence, determination and focus to achieve these goals as a woman in sport. She further stresses that in addition to deliberate and systematic approaches to producing more women coaches in sport, one really must love coaching to be able to take the coaching route.

Amidst all the shine and glory, Nkutlwisang regrettably notes and warns that, sometimes good performance in sport does not come with upgrade of opportunities or certainty of continuation of one’s role within the sporting fraternity.

On what needs to be done to grow women sport, especially football, Nkutlwisang added that women sport, needs more qualified people to better guide its delivery and results, and that more financial support from sponsors is required to augment government support. She also emphasized that a large part of achieving growth in women football is by introducing more girls to the sport at an early age and by targeting young girls at grassroots level, especially in schools.

On the future of The Mares, Nkutlwisang adds with enthusiasm that, The Mares has quality and potential and that it can bring more trophies provided that there is support financially towards the team, and other incentives for players and coaches, because from her experience and observations, The Mares is competing against teams whose players are better catered for, financially and otherwise.

Nkutlwisang and The Mares' achievements are significant because they are not only historic for Botswana. They are also significant because, looking back and investigating the history of women football, one acknowledges how the game had to overcome discrimination and difficulty to get to where it is today, following the Football Association’s ban of women’s games in 1921, on the grounds that it was not a game for women.

This was a significant setback that delayed the development of women’s football for about 50 years. The Team’s good performance and rise to glory booked them a date with His Excellency Dr. Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi, President of the Republic of Botswana, and The First Lady, Her Excellency, Mrs Neo Jane Masisi, who joined the appreciation brunch in their honour this past weekend at the State House Grounds, in Gaborone.