Sadili Oval Sports Academy – Dr. Liz Odera
Dr. Liz Odera is the director at Sadili Oval Sports Academy, and the author of ‘Sports for Life.’ Liz does not only focus on teaching her students tennis, but has a great passion for helping them develop life skills so that they can be more successful overall. The program places a lot of emphasis on their education and personal health, so that each and every child within it can be assured a better future.
Can you tell us how you started playing tennis, and a little bit about the kids program that you run?
When I was 8, a Norwegian neighbour introduced me to the game and I have been playing ever since. In high school, I began playing competitively under the training of an excellent coach. Before deciding to pay more attention to furthering my education, I even played professionally for a brief period. During my college years I continued competing and did very well for my school. Currently, I run an extensive kids program mainly based in Kenya, but with a strong network in others countries located in East, West and South Africa.
Explain a bit about your facility and the number of coaches and players you have in your program.
I run Sadili Oval Sports Academy, which is a private non-profit organization that provides coaching for young children. The ones that are financially able pay for the training, which is always of the highest standard. This income is reinvested in order to extend our teaching to the children in the slums of Kibera, as well as a smaller number from other parts of East Africa.
We have 4 full-time and 3 part-time coaches, with a large number of international volunteers who help during our summer and winter camps. There can be anywhere between 270-700 children per week, depending on the season. During winter our numbers are significantly lower than in the warmer months. We currently have 3 normal sized courts and 4 red courts available for the children to play on.
As a social enterprise our program works with children, the majority of which are under 10, from rich and poor communities including private clubs and public schools. We provide them with the opportunity to gain more knowledge about tennis, reading, math and life skills through interaction with their peers. Our programs have been successfully extended to include children from the East Africa region.
Many players have earned college scholarships as a result of the skills that they have learned in our program. There have also been others who have represented their countries internationally in the US and French Opens, as well as in Junior Wimbledon through ITF training centers.
What are the core goals of your program?
We don’t just focus on tennis as a sport, but use it as a means to promote a balanced way of life. We teach the kids life skills during their training sessions, which focus on education and health.
What activities does a child get when they sign up to your program?
Our rules are simple – the child has to be willing to go to school, and do the best that they can, both there as well as on the tennis court. They are also required to attend life skills sessions and be willing to help others, either by passing on or using the knowledge that they have acquired. In addition, we teach them about basic daily activities related to health issues, such as personal hygiene. There is also a community library run by volunteers. The importance of working together is emphasized and we encourage the children to do things as a team.
How would a child describe their time in your program?
Fun! Fun! Fun! The kids get to meet new people, and they are given meals and snacks during the time that they spend with us. This can have a real impact on many of them because they don’t normally get nutritious meals at home.
What do you consider to be unique about your program?
We value the emphasis we place on the child’s life and other interests, as much as the game. We teach them that tennis comes with responsibility, and ensure that the program is kept simple and child friendly, so that everybody will learn as much as possible.
What have been the major challenges, and ways in which the program has evolved in the past two years?
The kids’ courts in the slums of Kibera need to be upgraded badly, because the surface is incredibly difficult to play on and the balls sometimes run down into a polluted river. A facility in Sadali is needed so that the younger children would be able to walk to training. They would then be able to start playing earlier and progress quickly. There was a limited supply of training equipment, so we helped the children make old fashion woodened bats, and renewed discarded tennis balls they salvaged from local clubs by punching holes in them and flattening them. This makes it easy for the kids to hit them back and forth with the bats that they have made.
Two years ago we were very happy to have 4 new mini courts built with the help of renowned coach and co-director of Evolve9 and Serious Kids Stuff Foundation, Ronald Pothuizen. This has provided us with the opportunity to help talented kids move on to the next stage of learning the game.
Despite all the obstacles the kids still continue to play tennis and we have had many successful players emerging from the program.
What are the major developments that you are planning, or focused on, in the next 12 months?
With the support that we have received from Evolve9, we were able to raise enough money to get 4 red courts at Sadili, making it the first facility in East Central Africa with this advantage. There have also been arrangements made with Top-Spin sponsorship, to have more equipment, such as nets, balls and small racquets provided. This means that more children will be able to come and train. Over the next 12 months we hope that their story will spread and other programs will realize that these obstacles can be overcome.
We are also exploring the best ways that we can provide better support for the children. Part of the support system is to ensure that they are fed properly. It is impossible for them to play tennis well if they are hungry. There are plans for us to start working with the state program to develop a basic manual for learning life skills that can be merged with Evolve9, making it suitable for the local environment. The manual can then be shared with other programs in Africa that aim to help deprived communities.
What do you think will be the next ‘big thing’ in kids’ tennis in the next few years?
Girls programs! We have an unbelievable amount of girls that have started coming to our facilities, and the boys have dwindled to a mere 34%. Tennis has become a safe haven for many of the girls, as they are given a chance to express themselves. This is a confidence builder and an excellent way for them to start being more assertive. They are great at team work once they feel that what they have to offer is appreciated.
The number of children we have joining our tennis program is remarkably high and we would like to increase it even more by partnering with schools, and other organizations that already work with kids. Programs within the slums will be able to focus on simple things, such as providing clean water and allowing the kids to simply wash their hands. This reduces illness by much as 74% in children under 6. Clean water in not easily accessible, and support in the form of a popular game can help change their entire lifestyle.
There will also be the opportunity for more competitions, which provide a platform for community integration as well as helping people to become more aware of what these children are going through. It will also enable more fundraising events to be scheduled and contributions made to continue the work that we are doing.
Despite the struggles the Sadili program faces it continues to push through and produce successful tennis players. For many of these children, Liz’s academy is providing them with an amazing opportunity they might not otherwise have, growing up in Kibera.
- More information about Liz and Sadili Oval Sports can be found at sadili.com
- To learn more about slum tennis in Kenya visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTe7b1lbo6E
- Liz’s book ‘Sports for Life’ can be found at: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sports-Life-Dr-Elizabeth-Odera/dp/1514335964
Dr Elizabeth Odera – Sadili Oval Sports Academy
Dr. Liz was highlighted as one of the highest women achievers in recent Kenyan history, was honored with the medal of French Order of Youth and Sports by the French Government, and the Head of State Commendation (HSC) from the Government of Kenya for her ground breaking work in development of youth sports in Kenya, and her commitment to excellence in education. “Princy”, as the kids call her (or “Dr. Liz” as she is known by everyone else), has been involved in the education and training of more than 11,000 youth in various sports, including basketball, tennis, football, rugby, athletics and swimming. She has de-mystified tennis and opened opportunities to about 3,000 children from poor and rich communities alike, making Sadili Oval the melting pot for tennis in the East & Central African region. Dr. Odera and her team received the reward of the Spirit of the Land of the Olympic Games of the Salt Lake City in 2002, the G-ForSE in Japan in 2003 and the Humanitarian of the Year in 2004 in South Carolina (PTR). A Tester and Clinician, Liz is currently the PTR International Committee, representing Africa and Provider for Kenya. Liz was celebrated as one of the world’s most influential and inspiring women of 2011 (Ashoka ChangeMaker)
Examples of best practice from around the world will be presented at the evolution Junior Directors Conference – July 22nd – 24th 2016 – College Park, MD