We arrived in Ostersund with six staff members. If you ask the players, we will only be returning with five. 

Mohammad Adam and Sadaam had a hint of sincerity when they jokingly told me the team is going to do “whatever it takes” to keep Coach Mark in Sweden at the end of this week. If I was in their shoes, I would be saying the same thing! img_7705

After a few days, there is a visible boost in confidence and soccer IQ among the guys. I can easily read the sense of admiration and love for their coach demonstrated in their training — their joyous laughter ringing throughout the stadium as they develop their game under his light-hearted jokes in a mix of English and Arabic.

As a young coach, opportunities to learn from veterans like Mark are just as valuable to me as they wereimg_7405 during my playing days. I’m absorbing all I can during his sessions, from the drills to his temperament, and the intense but enjoyable atmosphere of practice. If the giant bear hugs I witnessed during the players’ reunification with Mark wasn’t enough proof of their endearment, then the look of pride as they shook his hand during jersey hand-out solidified their appreciation for the time and talent he has selflessly given to Darfur United.

Good coaches teach players the ins-and-outs of the game, the technical and tactical tools of success. Great coaches understand how to use those tools to form relationships and lifestyles that transcend the field. More important than soccer this week, Coach Mark is forming Darfur United’s ability to use the game as an even better symbol of empowerment and hope for the millions still experiencing atrocities in the refugee camps. 

The players clearly seeimg_7536 the benefit of his time with them; what they may not see yet is that he is doing what only the best coaches do — molding their capacity to develop their play and character without him. 

Today’s team needs Mark’s invaluable experience and coaching prowess, but one day, these players will have the forte to be in his shoes, teaching the next generation of Darfur United. Really, this is the ultimate gift a coach can give. 

Maybe he will see you back in LA…

No promises.