Wed, Aug

“Nobody wants to deal with the TTFA!” Baron concludes series with look at vanishing talent.

“On the first game day of the Concacaf Championship, I didn’t even have a TTFA badge or number on my game jersey. If that doesn’t paint the picture of how disrespected I was as a National Team player, I don’t know what will.

“I will never forget that moment, that I wasn’t even valued enough to have a badge on my jersey. I felt so embarrassed when the referees came into the locker room to do jersey checks.”

The following is the third and final blog by Trinidad and Tobago Women’s National Senior Team goalkeeper Saundra Baron on the issues facing the Women Soca Warriors:

As I stated prior, technical director Anton Corneal, I believe, had reached his breaking point—just before the Concacaf Championship. He was not initially going to attend the Concacaf tournament before our team manager Jinelle James had a conversation with him.

I am glad he went because it is obvious to everyone that he brings a level of respect and knowledge that our team needs. But he had dealt with so much disrespect from the TTFA that his heart couldn’t have been fully with our initiative.

Corneal is the consummate professional; he is articulate with a savvy knowledge of tactics. But he was not our head coach. Shawn Cooper was the head coach and I believe the mutual respect between the two men meant that Corneal would not step on Cooper’s toes—even though it should have been Anton in charge.

But what stuck out in Cooper’s introductory talk with the players was the statement that he handles thing differently from other coaches; and his self-aggrandising rant that slighted our former coach Randy Waldrum. He killed the entire vibe in his first team address and, from that moment on, most players knew our camp was doomed.

Most of the girls didn’t want Jamaal Shabazz as our head coach, then we got Cooper. There is a massive level of responsibility that players must take for their performance on the field; but our potential was never going to be maximised under either coach.

In the three tournaments I played for Jamaal, I found him too passive as the team leader while he always seemed unprepared when it came to practice and game time. We would go days without seeing him. He wouldn’t be at team meals; we would play a game and it would go unanalysed.

In our first round of World Cup qualifiers, we wouldn’t talk about the opposing team until 30 minutes before we left for the match venue. I don’t care if the teams at that stage were weak; that’s not the precedent I want as a national team athlete.

The CAC Games were a complete mess—we got one tie and lost every other game—and you could see the difference in how other coaches interacted and prepared their teams to compete with ours.

Honestly, I think Jamaal saw the writing on the wall and understood he could not enhance this team. I do not put all of that on him though. We had players who were not ready yet and others who overstayed their time in international competition.

We all knew Jamaal was not the solution but players must take accountability too.

In the lead up to the Concacaf tournament, Liana Hinds, Arin King, Lauryn Hutchinson, Jo Cato and myself used our own money to fly to Richmond, VA and train for a week and half. Lauryn planned all of that. She also saw about our meals, training sessions with top coaches in the area, ice baths and treatment in collegiate facilities, and scrimmages with a talented Under-19 ECNL girls team.

Lauryn even let me shadow her on a business meeting with the two companies she operates because she knows I just got my Master’s in business management. She is a role model for all young woman and a better professional than most in the TTFA.

She did not release that video to embarrass the TTFA; she knew that if the whole team got to Richmond, we would have a fighting chance to compete or maybe even qualify.

I don’t care what anyone says; the TTFA and the turmoil around us gave us not even the slightest chance to be competitive. Also, yes, Lauryn was definitely not played because of her video. Don’t tell me different, I don’t have the time to argue.

I think they knew if they dropped her from the side altogether, some players would have quit the Concacaf tournament, including myself. Lauryn Hutchinson is such an amazing person, I am so thankful for her.

I was in the back of the locker rooms preparing for the USA game when Kennya ‘YaYa’ Cordner allegedly refused to play. I was only told about four hours before the game that I would be starting and I was trying to prepare for it. We were already eliminated from the World Cup running, so of course throw in Saundra Baron, the back up, let’s see what she can do—I think that was extremely disrespectful to me.

So when YaYa allegedly refused to play, I did not see what happened and cannot comment on it. Would I have played if I knew beforehand? Yes. But let me say this, I 100 per cent respect YaYa’s decision not to play.

The moment she saw the lineup on the board and knew that—with all the injuries we faced heading into the final match—Lauryn was still on the bench; it would have clicked that for sure she was being victimised for the video.

So YaYa decided to stand in solidarity with a player who was enduring such unfair treatment. YaYa is one of the most decorated Trinidad and Tobago Women’s National Team players of all time. She is a ball of energy and a supreme talent.

Sure she has her stubborn moments but I respect YaYa for sticking up for Lauryn. I wanted her to play and wish she did; and, like I said, I would have played anyway. But I respect her decision.

Let me also say that Jinelle James is one of the few professionals I’ve met within the TTFA and I feel honoured to know her. I would talk to ‘Manage’ for hours on national trips about how much we want to change women’s football. However, the organisation made it impossible for her to do her job efficiently.

She fought to get decent treatment for us but was constantly told it was not going to happen. One time we asked for US$200 match fee to play for Trinidad and Tobago, which is far less than the men’s team would accept. We could not even get that. (In fact, Men’s National Senior Team players get US$300 for friendly matches at present).

I remember ‘Manage’ once looked me in the eyes and said, ‘Saundra, you will realistically take a loss playing for this national team’. I had to make a decision and I chose to stay on the National Team, because I hoped in my heart that someone would stand up for us.

It is a choice to play for your national team and a great honour; but you have to truly love your country and football to play for the Trinidad and Tobago Women’s National Senior Team, due to all the obstacles you have to overcome—particularly as an overseas-born player.

(I am actually curious to hear the perspective from a male overseas-born Soca Warriors player).

If you look at Trinidad and Tobago’s current women teams, you will notice a decline in the numbers of overseas-born players. I attribute this to a few reasons.

We have lost our appeal as a desirable nation for women’s players to represent; and I don’t think we have anyone actively looking to scout and recruit players from North America and Europe, or someone who could market our side to talented overseas-born players.

Look at Arin King, who was born in Canada and is one of Trinidad and Tobago’s most decorated women’s national team players ever. Why can’t we find the next Arin King, who wants to represent our islands?

Carolina Morace and Randy Waldrum were keen on finding new talent because they cared about creating a competitive training environment. Jamaica showed the positives of that.

At the moment, Liana, Lauryn, King and myself are the only four overseas-born players left with a long-standing history within the women’s national team structure—from youth to senior team.

Why are there only four left? Because nobody wants to deal with the TTFA! They don’t want to give their blood, sweat and tears to an organisation that constantly shows it does not respect women’s football.

That is a big reason why even talented players born right in Trinidad and Tobago do not leave their US colleges to play for us either. Check the 21-26 age range and see how depleted our pool looks; and that is the most crucial age for international competition.

The TTFA has simply worn out the patience of so many players.

Imagine we have talented players such as the Debesette twins, Summer Arjoon, Vicky Swift and Anique Walker—bring back Anique!—who don’t even have roles within the current team.

And then we have talented upcoming players like Aaliyah Prince, Kedie Johnson, Cecily Stoute, Natisha John and Shenieka Paul who are being underprepared by the current women’s football set-up within the country.

We constantly undervalue our women. We have youth players going to random Division Two and Three schools and community colleges because they don’t know their true potential.

I know there are Caribbean connections to some US universities that appeal to our girls. But look at Jamaica Women’s National Team star Khadija ‘Bunny’ Shaw and how she benefitted from the exposure and level of training she received with Division One powerhouse, University of Tennessee.

I understand we all have to start somewhere but I think our girls have the talent to go to Division One schools.

Once a tournament is over, it goes right back to no one caring about the women’s football program; and this is a disservice to women’s footballers in the country. Nothing beneficial can come to fruition without proper preparation and that takes years.

What the Women’s National Senior Team did in 2014—coming one game from the World Cup—was nothing short of a miracle and a direct correlation of the talent, passion and commitment of that player pool and the love, sacrifice and coaching prowess of the Waldrums.

It is sad that we failed to capitalise on the success of that team; and now Jamaica surpassed us and Panama surpassed us. That is on the TTFA!

In all my years as a Trinidad and Tobago player, we have never had a true camp in my opinion. A camp should be for two weeks and include strength and conditioning, twice daily sessions and pool sessions. (In fact, I have never done a ‘team lift’ in all my time as a national team player; or a true sports performance session involving weights, speed training and conditioning).

We have some of the best athletes in the world but they are not consistently exposed to athletic performance training for strength and speed. With few exceptions, we are usually the smallest built side on the field and unable to cope with the physical demands of elite football.

Unlike the men’s team, the women can have these camps as often as necessary since most of the girls are not professional players. For the benefit of our college-based players, we can use either of the three holiday periods to hold them too.

There are too many prolonged periods in which the women’s national team programmes go dormant, and I think the same can be said for the men’s national youth sides. Coaches should have camps during these periods to assess their talent pool and for development.

Another thing that annoys me is, as a national team athlete, you shouldn’t have to worry about things like uniforms and equipment.

I think most times we got leftover kit from the men’s side and nothing ever seems to fit. Sometimes I just buy my own Joma shirts, so I could at least feel comfortable during training.

On the first game day of the Concacaf Championship, I didn’t even have a TTFA badge or number on my game jersey. If that doesn’t paint the picture of how disrespected I was as a National Team player, I don’t know what will.

I will never forget that moment, that I wasn’t even valued enough to have a badge on my jersey. I felt so embarrassed when the referees came into the locker room to do jersey checks.

It has gotten so bad that I bought my own Cupping Set, STIM machine, electric massager, and two bags of my own KT Tape because the most I would get on national team duty was a bag of ice. I wish I was lying!

We had one massage therapist for the whole team and she was not given nearly enough equipment or treatment materials to be effective. We are told to conserve tape and bring our own tape if we have any at times. Imagine we play for the national team and have to bring our own tape?!

One of my teammates told me the TTFA burned so many bridges with debts to recovery facilities across the country that none of them would even work with us anymore. So once again the negligence of the TTFA hurts the players.

So when president David John-Williams and the TTFA said how much they spend on women’s football, I can attest that it is a joke. We don’t even have updated training equipment such a rebounders, cones, training dummies, sport trackers, etc.

I won’t even start on how much money the TTFA owes players for baggage fees and even sometimes for their own flights… But, oh, let me be nice; they bought me a pair of gloves at the Concacaf tournament. So thanks, TTFA. (Sarcasm).

It should be a great accomplishment to send a women’s team to the World Cup; but DJW and the TTFA act like having a women’s programme is such a burden.

‘Hey DJW, the Home of Football doesn’t matter if football in the country is not respected, funded properly, and a quality product’!

I think there are people who are willing to donate to the women’s programme but the fear is the TTFA is not trustworthy. We need an account just for women’s football.

There were many people in the US and Trinidad and Tobago who reached out after Lauryn’s social media went viral and asked where they could donate. But their main question was: “How do we ensure our donations will directly help the women?”

The TTFA brought that negative light upon themselves.

I would like to see more done to develop the women’s league in Trinidad and Tobago and to create academies for girls. We should have girls teams who travel to the US to compete in youth tournaments and market their players.

I did not have the privilege to work with Carolina Morace, but I heard nothing but positives about her professionalism, intensity and impeccable sessions. I heard a teammate say, if they let us keep Carolina we would have qualified for this World Cup.

I have already said how much I admired Randy and Ben Waldrum too and their amazing work for us.

I also think Corneal is an excellent coach who exudes confidence in his game plan and knowledge of what he expects from his players. There are not enough Anton Corneals in Trinidad and Tobago on the women’s side of the game; and I hope and pray that dynamic changes.

Coaching matters! We need leaders who players respect and get fired up to play for.

To play on a national team is one of the biggest honours of my lifetime, it opened doors for my career and I am thankful to be from Trinidad and Tobago—overseas-born or not.

But I will not tolerate disrespect for women’s national footballers any longer. Please, I just want a fair shot at making this right for the women athletes. We have so much talent that is not being tapped into.

I hope the right thing is done to enhance the women’s game and I am prepared to stand up and fight for it.