At its peak, Premier Skills was one of the greatest grassroots football development programs in the country.
The program, which was a collaboration between the English Premier League and the British Council, focused on young footballers between the ages of 6 and 12 years.
Initially borne out of an ambition to make kids go out and exercise, the program was also used to impart survival skills beyond the football pitch.
In Botswana, Premier skills was introduced in 2009 with its initial target being the training of coaches for grassroots development.
Among the program’s first coaching luminaries were David Mogorosi and Barobi Ngwako. The latter is now in the employ of Botswana Football Association (BFA) as the Technical Director for Women Football.
Other notable instructors to have come through the program include Fatima Sedimo, Dioson Nkape, Solomon Ramochotlhwane, Sylvester Toteng, Onkemetse Masena and Kitso Dlamini.
Given this list of glittering names, one would think the program would have been kept alive. Insiders however say the programme has since been left to die a slow silent death, choked by the BFA leadership’s disdain for grassroots development.
“If you ask those around the Lekidi corridors about the program, you will not get a definite answer. It has just disappeared,” a source disclosed.
According to the source, for coaches who had completed the Premier Skills course, the next stage was for them to apply for projects funding.
The source noted that Ramochotlhwane and Toteng’s projects were funded under the program. Ramochotlhwane’s project was on the disadvantaged members of the community of Maun while Toteng’s project was in Francistown.
“The idea of premier skills was using football to improve the lives of communities,” he explained. “One coach could come up with a project such as horticulture. The idea being to generate income to sustain the team with regards to procurement of playing equipment, logistics and salaries for members.”
“You coach the team and at the same time ensuring sustainability of the team or club going forward. Or you can apply to start a skills training project that will teach members or players sustainable trade to ultimately be on their own and get others. Football has a pull factor, in which it is being used to get children and train them,” said the source.
Other projects funded through Premier Skills, according to the source, included Kitso Dlamini’s African Sports Academy. The source added that premier skills went beyond when the grassroots program was launched in Kang.
Another program, which has since faded away was the UNICEF programme which was launched in Gaborone and Francistown.
The source said the project, which was aimed at U14, 16 & 18 Girls across the country, went hand in hand with the Premier Skills program.
The niche offered by the two projects was aimed at giving children Life Skills through Football. The source said both programmes had similar objectives, the only difference being that UNICEF was more on training children from disadvantaged communities.
According to the source, Premier Skills birthed a number of amazing development programs and FIFA also came on board and introduced 11 for Health programme.
As part of the programme, a course was conducted in 2012 with participants being from the Kgalagadi District Council.
“Its aim was to use football to teach or sensitize communities on how to prevent the spread of diseases among communities. Through this the training picks 11 diseases and use football to pass the ways and means of protecting them against contracting the disease. E. G. Malaria to mention one. The objective being to undertake a holistic grassroots football programme across the country as a way to enable proper football development in Botswana,” the source explained.
The source said while the programs were very active in their formative years, ‘subsequent BFA leadership had somehow abandoned these grassroots football programs.’
“In 2016 when Letshwiti took office that was the end of the programs. I really do not know why the programs are silent. Unfortunately, reasons are not being given of why the said programs are not being used now,” the source concluded.
This version is however disputed by Ngwako, who opines that ‘as silent as it has been over the years, the Premier Skills program is still very much alive.’
Ngwako noted that at BFA they managed to place a grassroots officer who deals with under 12.
“Since Premier Skills dealt with the development of players aged between 6 and 12 years, we decided that we could not have different names for the same program being grassroots and Re ba bona fa, hence appointing a grassroots officer,” she said.
The BFA Technical Director for Women Football was however lost for words when questioned on where these programs are.