Shilene Booysen Impacting Football in Africa

Former Banyana Banyana performance analyst, Shilene Booysen, is focusing on using her extensive knowledge and experience to assist South Sudan national team footballers to rise to the next level. Photo: Supplied

Former Banyana Banyana performance analyst, Shilene Booysen, is focusing on using her extensive knowledge and experience to assist South Sudan national team footballers to rise to the next level.

In February, Booysen heeded the call to take up the role as coach of the senior women’s side which has come with many challenges, however she reveals it has been a rewarding experience. 

Although an underdeveloped country, South Sudan’s ambition to take women’s football to the next level is admirable as it attracted Booysen to join their football structure. 

Playing her part outside the borders of South Africa has inspired Booysen to leave a long-lasting legacy which she hopes will sustain the future of the sport. 

Over the years, Booysen has had the privilege on being on both sides of the field as player and now coach, which makes her more relatable to the players under her tutelage. 

Speaking with Celine Abrahams, Booysen reveals her admiration for CAF and FIFA as they aim to uplift women’s football and shares advice to young girls who want to get into coaching. 


Shilene, it is a pleasure having this opportunity to speak to you! How have the past few months been for you as you took a major step in your coaching career becoming head coach of the senior women’s South Sudan team? 

It has been a challenging but worthwhile couple of months. Taking a step from a well-established country and team like Banyana Banyana (staying in my comfort zone) to a newly formed program and a really underdeveloped country like South Sudan (Bright Starlets) has been difficult but so rewarding. We live in a world where people want instant results but here it is about growing a long term sustainable program that will leave a legacy long after I am gone.


It is incredible to see how ambitious and passionate the South Sudan Football Association is when it comes to the development and support of women’s football. What are some key factors that you have picked up that we as South Africa can take into consideration when it comes to our development programmes? 

I think from the outside it always looks like things are going according to plan but it is really challenging on the inside. I have to say though that the SSFA has been great in supporting our attempts to play as many international matches as we can to develop the players. It will of course take some time before we find the right combinations, perfect structure and of course the right playing personnel that will take this team to the next level. I think SA is far ahead with their development of football but I think the South Sudanese have many more academy structures running in the country even though the resources are very minimal. Most things cost twice as much here than anywhere else I have lived (even in the USA) so that is of course a huge challenge. I think as South Sudan we can learn a lot from SA and SA can of course in turn learn some things form South Sudan.


About development, since 2009, Sasol have developed and promoted women’s football from grassroots to national level and recently announced a four-year extension with SAFA. Having seen the fruits of the partnership for over a decade, what else are you hoping to see in the next four years? 

I think now is the time to professionalize the women’s game. Although the national league was a step in the right direction, most players are still not making a living from playing the game in SA. We need to make sure like CAF have done with Champions League teams in the near future, that all PSL teams are mandated to have a women’s team. That will grow the game even more and we will get better development. I know individuals are trying but it requires a collective effort for us to get the game to the next level. I mean if you look at a team like Mamelodi Sundowns who have shown what can be done if you have the support of the collective team and financial support behind you then it is clear that it is probably the way to go.


We have witnessed a significant increase in women’s football where many South African female footballers are getting opportunities to play abroad. How has the game changed from your playing days? 

From when I played to now, it has grown immensely and opportunities are EVERYWHERE. I mean it is not just that there are so much more professional playing opportunities for women but also educational. While our players are really young when finishing matric, I think they should all consider taking up scholarships first and secure a future before taking up playing professional football. Most of our players playing abroad currently with the exception of one or two have one or more degrees and this is very smart and I think it will be rewarding for them in the future.  Football only last for so long, but education is for life.


CAF recently hosted a three-day coaching workshop to empower female coaches which included Sheryl Botes. What are your thoughts on the strides being made by associations such as CAF to amplify the knowledge and skills of women coaches? 

I really enjoy reading and seeing more MA’s, federations and confederations taking up the challenge to enhance the abilities of women in football. For too long we have been sidelined and only a few opportunities were created alongside the men. Now everyone who is involved in women’s football is being upskilled and I salute CAF and FIFA and all federations that are supporting these ventures. We need more of this.  As women we have so much to offer.


Having played the game and transitioning into a coaching role, how different is it as we are all aware of the saying that not every footballer can be a successful coach? 

Honestly, I have always been in a position to lead. On the soccer field, in my community, in my job. Since I started playing football, I started doing coaching courses and before long I was the player/coach at the club. I even won a championship as a player/coach with my team in 2006 and of course it was hand in hand with Desiree Ellis who is now the current Banyana Banyana coach. We have always supported each other and I think that will continue for many more years to come, even though we are on opposite sides now. I guess the transition from playing to coaching for me was not that difficult as I have always been a student of the game and will continue to evolve as a coach. I have always been in a coaching capacity one way or the other and although it has been challenging at times, it has also been very rewarding. I guess now we wait for the success part (laughs).


Personally, what have been your career highlight moments being in the football industry? 

As an assistant coach/tactical analyst with Banyana Banyana definitely one of the highlights have to be qualifying for the WWC 2019 in France. Winning the 2017 Cosafa Cup was special in so many ways as it was the first time to participate at COSAFA and with the group of players we had that year, we could have won anything.  They were just so determined and focused and driven.  There have been many victories and of course trophies and medals after that but nothing has compared to that.  And definitely working with the many coaches in my career, Vera Pauw, Desiree Ellis, Stuart Baxter, Molefi Ntseki and of course Fran Hilton-Smith (to name but a few).


Who are some female coaches that you draw inspiration from and why?

It has to be people like Lisa Cole who are working in countries that need structure and development and do what they can with the little resources that those countries have. I know many won’t know her but I think that is how she like to operate, she does what needs doing without always being in the limelight and gets things done. She leaves an impact and legacy wherever she goes and wherever she has been. I have read many of the interviews she has done and I can identify with her on so many things.  


Apart from football, you are also an engineer! Please tell us about that journey. 

I had to work and earn money and although you sometimes have dreams as a kid of becoming one thing, when things change and God sets you on a different path, you take it. It was no different with me. I wanted to be a doctor or social worker when growing up but that did not work out so when I started working at an engineering company as a data capturer, my supervisor who saw some potential in me, asked if I wanted to do and be more and who was I to say no.  

We first of course did an aptitude test and it was always going to be that I am very analytical (big surprise right?) and then I first did a course in Engineering Drafting and then went into Mechanical Engineering. My company of course paid and supported me while I was studying and I paid them back by working at the company for 24 years before I “retired”. When God changed the course of my life again, I took up the challenge and this is what I am doing now…changing lives while living out my passion.


Your versatility in the game is admirable as you have done it all in football from being a goalkeeper, to coaching, analysing, and scouting. What is next on your list?

I also love teaching so one of the things I am focussing on right now is being an instructor at some of the coaching courses and at many of the workshops we holding. This is a huge area that I know I can add some value because I have the necessary skills and experience. I am basically also just focussing right now on getting the players of the South Sudan National team to the next level and loving every minute of it.


What motivates you to get up every morning? 

God! There is no greater feeling of total peace and joy than knowing that nothing can happen to you that you and your God cannot handle.


Lastly, what advice would you share to a young girl who has dreams of one day becoming a football coach? 

I will tell them what my teacher told me (the late Urban De Kock), it is hard work and most times it is without gratitude. But you get up each day and you do what has to be done because you are working for something bigger and better. It isn’t always about trophies and accolades, it’s about smiling faces and bringing joy and hope to the next generation. You need to have the passion and the love for what you do and everything else will be taken care of. Believe in your dreams and fight for it every step of the way.


Photo 1 Caption: Former Banyana Banyana performance analyst, Shilene Booysen, is focusing on using her extensive knowledge and experience to assist South Sudan national team footballers to rise to the next level. Photo: Supplied 


This interview is brought to you by Sasol SA in partnership with gsport!


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