1 June 2020 – It’s been just over two months since the Lockdown in South Africa was announced and implemented to curb the spread of the Corona Virus pandemic.

Football came to a sudden halt around the world – both the professional game and national teams.

This means Banyana Banyana hasn’t seen any action since their International Women’s Day 3-0 over Lesotho at a packed Tsakane Stadium on Sunday, 8 March 2020.

The South African Senior Women’s National Team was scheduled to play an international friendly match in April this year but, in line with the Disaster Management Act, was called off after the announcement of the Lockdown.

It has been a frustrating period for all sports fans around the world as there has been no action – but more so the players and the coaches who wanted nothing but being on the field.

SAFA Media caught up with Banyana Banyana head coach Desiree Ellis to find out what she has been keeping her busy during this unfamiliar period.

SAFA Media: Good day coach, trust that all is well.

Desiree Ellis: Oh yes, all is good. It has been a frustrating period, but the most important thing is safety. Even though we want to be on the field, safety comes first and right now football comes second.

SM: So what have you been up to?

DE: Funny enough, one has been busier than when football is in session. When the lockdown was announced, the first thing I did was to make sure I get back home to Cape Town, and it has been a great time being with family during these difficult times – it’s moments like these when you realise just how important family is. My heart goes to those who had to endure being by themselves at this time because it is not easy.

SM: Yes it’s not…

DE: But back to your question, the reason I said all of that is that we handle situations differently as people. Sometimes we close ourselves off from the world not knowing that some people are going through a lot and they have no one to turn to – so in the early days of the lockdown I spent a lot of time making contact with almost all the people I work with – coaches, players, colleagues, staff members in Banyana Banyana as well as local coaches – because it is important that we do so for the reasons I said above. And I am glad I did because some of those I spoke to were in difficulties but talking to them helped one way or the other. These chats have been ongoing since lockdown

SM: Were the talks about life or football?

DE: It differed from situation to situation – you would call someone and all they wanted to do was to talk to someone, just hear a different voice. With others it was all about football and we would discuss ideas and tactics. For instance, at Banyana Banyana we have a core group of 38 players and we divided them into three groups where myself, Thinasonke Mbuli (Banyana Banyana assistant coach) and Shilene Booysen (Performance Analyst) would lead each group in discussions about several aspects of the game. It was a great exercise as it helped us keep in touch with the players and try to limit the impact of the Lockdown because it is new to all us – we didn’t know what to expect and how to react, so checking up on them helped.

SM: Was this only for the local players?

DE: Not at all, it was meant for all the players. But I have to say it was in fact it was even more difficult for the overseas-based players as they had to be in quarantine because their numbers (of people infected around them) were higher than any around the world. So from time to time I checked up on them to find out how they were doing. We also have four players from RV United (WC), the likes of Ember Edwards from the SA U20 Women’s National Team – they are studying in the United States so it was important to speak to the local coaches who were in contact with them.

SM: This pandemic has surely turned the world upside down…

DE: Indeed, everything is now done differently. We have all been introduced to Zoom meetings – which is now the ‘new normal’. All of this can up the whole day. I am involved in community outreach with the Alcardo Andrews Foundation. I have also studied and completed three online coaching courses – about football periodization and football analysis. I am currently assisting SAFA Cape Town with an online coaching course where I focus on the selection criteria and getting coaches to focus on girls from young, so they get a better base to work.  Shilene Booysen is also part of the course and focus on the different types of analysis from amateur to professional level. One course ended on Tuesday (26 May 2020), – coach David Notoane was part of it and the second started on Thursday (28 May). It is fun and exciting to be part of the group, and it keeps you busy. I have also been attending webinars (online seminars), they are very informative. One was Supporting female athletes – Youth development considerations to senior player performance and showed the progress of Mallory Pugh from the US and considerations on preparation to performance. The other one was on the analysis of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. There was also one with local coaches and Raymond Verheijen about Periodisation post Covid-19 Pandemic. It is a lot of education that is needed, especially at this period. This is the worst time for everyone – and you don’t want to be idle because from the look of things, it is going to be hectic when we return to normal life with many games and you need to be ready and not find yourself rusty. Also, it is always good to refresh – I did my SAFA Introductory Course in 1998, so it’s good to spend time with different people who have different perspectives, we have to keep on empowering ourselves because this game evolves a lot.

SM: So you are basically at it daily…

DE: Pretty much yes, I have daily meetings with Riedoh, (Banyana Banyana fitness trainer) to prepare training sessions for the players. I also get to analyse games – see what we did right and what we did wrong. I watch other teams and check where best we can improve as a team when we return to the field. This is also the best time to update the database because there are no player movements.

SAFA Media: You spoke about training programmes for the players

DE: Remember we are dealing with athletes so we have to keep them in good shape, as we don’t know when the action will resume. We try and send different training programs, as we have to find ways of keeping them motivated. Fact is, for you and I it is easy to train when there is not competition, but athletes are more motivated when they know they are gong to apply their skills elsewhere. Like any other person, players don’t feel like training every day and that is okay, and because of the situation you have to understand. When we send them training programmes, they get to choose whether they use the one from their clubs or from us, and in some instances they alternate between the two.

SM: The overseas-based players, some in the storm of this pandemic, how are they?

DE: They are doing as well as can be. Obviously, their families worry about them and the players also worry about their families back, so it is a two-way traffic, which is good. We all have to take care of each other. The players are in different countries – Belarus, Albania, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, USA, Finland and France – so they all face different challenges but they are strong and still holding it together. I guess it is a bit easier for those in pairs because they can talk to each other and also take care of each other, but for those who are all by themselves, things could be a bit tricky. The good thing is they are in high spirits and mentally strong – they are waiting for word from their clubs as to what will happen next. As professionals, it is quite difficult to train not knowing when football will return, but then again, they understand that it is what it is. I believe staying in touch with them has helped a lot – I am also at ease.

SM: And in all of this where do you find time for your family?

DE: Oh yes that too. Every so often they send me to get some groceries – so I only leave the house when I go get essentials. My mother is still alive but is in the high-risk category, so I have to take good care of her by being extra-careful with everything I do, I cannot afford to take chances with her life. When I am not online we find time to try out new recipes with her and it is just awesome. I haven’t been home for so long in a very long time so it is quite special moments for all of us.

Janine Van Wyk leads her team during the South Africa Training on the 26 February 2019 at Agia Napa Fields, Cyprus Pic Sydney Mahlangu/ BackpagePix

SM: Finally coach, do you miss football?

DE: Do you even have to ask? Of course, we all miss football. Show me anyone involved with the game that says they don’t miss it. The fact is, the game has been a part of our lives forever, and will be a part of us for a long time to come – but, unfortunately, at the moment it has taken a back seat, not just in South Africa but the whole world. Yes, some leagues have started to play (Bundesliga) and of course our very own Bambanani (Mbane) in Belarus but watching on television you can see it’s not the normal game we know. Some leagues will be starting soon. For now, we have to take care of our families and loved ones, make sure everyone is safe. Once that is out of the way, only then can we take our focus back to the game. Right now, there is so much happening for us to be thinking about the game, especially here in the Western Cape – lives are much more important. What is certain is that we are going to return to a different kind of normal, but it is what it is. Sadly, some people are more scared than others, so we have to pray for everyone to make sure we all get through this. This too shall pass, let’s keep hope alive. We also have to obey the rules and regulations set by the authorities, wash our hands, sanitize and stay home, unless it is absolutely necessary that you go out. In that way, we will flatten the curb. We have to play our part and be responsible citizens.