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Putting Passion before Profit

Boitumelo Maswabi

Meet Coach Howard of Sharksbite Swim Club

“If you’re here for the money, you’re in the wrong place. First let’s get kids to be water-safe!”

Coach Howard Nyanhete, 40, loves to quote his mentors and former employers, Debbie and Craig Rouse of Gaborone Aquatic Centre – also known as Waterbabies – in Kgale.

The 40-year-old Zimbabwean native worked for the couple for a total of 10 years before moving on to start his own swimming academy.

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In this lighthearted interview with Voice Woman at his new location in Phase 4, the soft-spoken instructor says he began swimming at a very young age thanks to the abundance of community pools back in his hometown of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe where his old man was a life guard at one of the main centers, which meant swimming became his favorite hobby.

“In fact, I do not even know when exactly I started swimming because my dad was a life guard at one of the community pools, swimming was taken seriously in Zimbabwe. Most people in Zim are self-taught swimmers as a result. We were never really taught because the community pools were our playground; after school, we all rushed to the pools to spend the entire day, and it was free. Even government schools had swimming in their curriculum. Almost all Group A schools had swimming facilities, they still do actually,” he says, adding that he first competed at the age of six thanks to the abundance of volunteer coaches who formed clubs.

Howard says that although his dad was a life guard, he wasn’t too interested in teaching him the technical aspect of swimming, but instead he taught him to stay afloat.

“The thing is knowing how to swim is not all about doing the freestyle or backstroke, it is about being able to survive in deep water. I learnt the techniques at school because we had Physical Education teachers who also prepared us for competitive swimming at club level. Additionally, whenever we visited the community centers, we’d watch our senior and copy what they were doing.”

After completion of secondary school, the ardent swimmer pursued a diploma in physical education (PE ) at United College of Education in Bulawayo.

“Obviously, the passion had always been swimming, so my first job was part-time, coaching at Khumalo Primary School, a public school, at the age of 19. It was there that I started meeting influential people in the swimming industry and advanced, hosting coaching clinics and attending workshops to better my coaching. I helped develop the school swimming team that won against private schools, therefore elite schools began to seek me,” he says proudly, adding that soon after he got an offer from Masiyephambili High School.

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That was circa 2004, when Zimbabwe began to experience rapid economic decline.

“ We had no option really but to search for greener pastures. So, my colleague, Mr Luxon Phiri, relocated to Botswana, the first to do so, followed by the late Sports Director, Anthony Phiri, who went to Botlhale Primary School. I was quite close to both men so he recommended me for employment there but, unfortunately, they had already hired. However, my former boss kept my CV and would later forward it to other schools.”

In 2006, Howard received a sport director job offer at Kgomotso Primary School in Molepolole.

“They were struggling to assemble a swimming team, so they hired me immediately based on my qualifications. That was my first job and I taught the entire school which, although hectic, was an advantage in that I could get a good number to establish a solid team,” he says, adding that by the third term, they competed in the regional inter-school comps where they came in first place.

As Howard made a splash for his winning ways, other schools began taking notice.

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“Suddenly, Kgomotso Primary School was seen as a swimming school, and we started competing in Gaborone. I had a team of twelve swimmers, most members were in Standard 7. Our first competition in 2007 was at Thornhill Primary School, a BSSA gala; the kids did really well. That was my first encounter with Botswana club swimming. Owing to our impressive showing, many schools wanted to poach me, so Al-Haq approached me in 2008. The school was well-resourced and this was a result of their organizational structure,” he explains, and adds that once again he coached all 7 classes and managed to facilitate the inter-schools competitions comprising Shepherd, Meadows, Kgomotso, High Ridge and Al-Haq Primary Schools.

“Again, we emerged victorious! And I contacted Botswana Swimming Sport Association; this time around, they insisted I affiliate, register a club or compete under another club.”

After building rapport with the many clubs at these competitions, Howard approached BDF Dolphins with a request to join them in 2010.

“They were friendly and curious to know how I was able to achieve such feats. We’d met once before when I was coaching at Kgomotso, so we registered the Al-Haq students under BDF Dolphins to be able to compete in the BSSA galas, a move that opened doors for me as I was now meeting more coaches within the association,” he says, adding there was one coach who took a keen interest in him.

That was Craig Rouse of Waterbabies – Gaborone Aquatic Centre, whom Howard met at a Bev Bell Memorial at Thornhill.

Putting Passion before Profit

“He was officiating and, after exchanging pleasantries, he enquired about the programmes I was using and later invited me to his swimming school in Kgale. It got me inspired that if they could make a living out of their passion, I too could. When I went to the academy, they were not present, but I met one of their instructors who told me they operated like a school. That left a huge impression on me.”

With this in mind, the young Howard returned to Molepolole dreaming anew.

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“I realised that as a PE teacher, my chances of growth were quite limited. Luckily for me, my employer was very flexible; they gave me access to their facility. So, whenever I was free, I tried to coach individual clients but, eventually, it was seen as a conflict of interest. After meeting Craig again at another competition, I expressed my interest to join them, he said, ‘When you join us, you setting you up to go build a similar academy’. So, I didn’t renew my contract; I felt the time was the right to advance in my career.”

Howard speaks glowingly of Rouse, “Craig and Debbie were very progressive. Craig told me that GAC could certify me as an African Aquatics BQA accredited instructor. All the people who’ve worked there for a minimum of 1 year, are the best instructors. I was with them from 2012 to 2017, then moved on to establish Sharksbite Club with my colleague, Kaboapula Chuma, at Super Fit gym Molapo Crossing; they had an underutilized pool. Some of our students at GAC followed us there, thus it was pretty easy for us to build a team and, by 2018, we were already competing and got position 2.”

Unfortunately, the pair’s relationship with Super Fit was short-lived, so they retraced their steps back to Waterbabies.

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“2019, I was back at Waterbabies GAC but shortly thereafter Covid hit; even post recovery, things weren’t as before. Considering my age, I needed to go it alone and, when this opportunity came about this January, I seized it. Additionally, swimming doesn’t have to be expensive, Kabo and I decided to offer affordable packages to serve this community because people do want to learn to swim. Craig’s wife, Debbie, once said, “If you’re here for the money, you’re in the wrong place. First let’s get kids to be water-safe!”

The community-centric instructor has this message for menfolk this ‘November,’ “Gentlemen, swimming is the one of the best full body workouts, all you need is to start. Let’s make swimming a lifestyle to boost our mental health!”

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