Shilene Booysen: The engineer who adopted two loves at odds

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Shilene Booysen is a woman with two loves that could hypothetically be at odds, but she makes it work like a dream.

Football is sometimes justly referred to as religion, and Booysen has made the game and her faith perfect partners.

She is not your typical football coach, who is only eager to watch players improve on the field under her tutelage. But she embraces her coaching vocation as one of ministry.

“I am part of the Ambassadors of Football,” she reveals to FARPost.

A quick search about the organisation’s mission shows they are out to communicate the good news of Jesus Christ to all people through football.

It is certainly a mission she identifies with. No wonder she singles out the biblical passage 1 Chronicles 4:9-10 as one that sums up her life story.

It speaks of a man birthed out of pain Jabez, who calls on his God to empower him and cause him to be of great influence. Such has been her journey. Empowered to be of influence beyond the borders of the nation of South Africa – that she has been.

For 24 years, between 1990 and 2004, the Cape Town-born coach worked as an engineer for an international company. She was responsible for all international clients, also providing support to the company’s engineering departments.

After holding a managerial position in her last nine years with the company, she quit to take up sports management and coaching full time.

But before that, Booysen had to juggle both, having started her football career at 25, just five years after she joined the company.

Her maiden stint in the game was with Westridge FC where she played goalkeeper for two years.

“I then played for Santos FC before I joined Spurs Women’s Football Club,” she says.

At Spurs, she enjoyed remarkable success, bagging five provincial championships and one national title. Her ingenuity would not go unnoticed as she represented her home province Western Cape at interprovincial tournaments.

“I was selected for the national team but unfortunately work commitments restricted any further selection,” she adds.

Coincidentally, the year 2004 when she joined Ambassadors in Sport is when she quit her day job. Could it have been an answer to God’s call?

When the time came to take up coaching, she was as good as ready because while playing, she was also busy with her coaching courses.

More like an apprentice of Abraham Lincoln, the former American statesman and lawyer, who once said: ‘I will prepare and someday my chance will come’. Indeed, her chances have come thick and fast.

“I did my coaching courses while I was playing. I’m passionate when I get into something. I just wanted to know more about sport,” she says as she admits her affair with coaching was never a case of love-at-first-sight.

Just a year into her playing career in 1996 as her engineering career also took flight, she did a Football Coaching Level One course with Safa Western Province.

“I then did a Sports Science course (in 1997 Sports Science Institute Newlands),” she says. Without a doubt, passion had consumed her. She became the ultimate multi-tasker routinely playing football, doing coaching courses and rising through the ranks in her engineering job, thanks to her diligence.

Interestingly, in 2004 she received the top award as Goalkeeper Coach of the Course ahead of some revered male counterparts. It was at the Safa/Farouk Abrahams course.

2006 was the year she hung her gloves at the age of 36. Thereafter, there was no stopping. It would be one course after another as she equipped herself for what lay ahead. Among some of the courses she did were Sport Psychology (2007), the Fifa/Safa goalkeeping course in 2012, her Caf B in 2013 and Caf A, which she completed in 2015.

As they say, charity begins at home, she went back to hone her coaching skills where her playing career started at Santos and Spurs where she served as head coach. Again, she won the provincial and national titles with the later, a feat she had achieved as a player.

Her next three jobs were goalkeeper coach jobs with Dunoon Male Academy, All Youth Western Province and the provincial women’s team.

She then toured Germany, Czech Republic and Zambia with the Ambassadors in Sport as head coach. In 2014, she took her expertise to the junior national team.

“I was involved with the national selection of goalkeepers (Under 20) and the qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup. In 2014, I was involved with the national selection of goalkeepers (Under 15) and national team players,” she says.

Booysen is certainly not one to be pushed around by the fears that try to creep into her mind. But she is led by the dreams her Maker places in her heart. Thus, she has never been shy to take up any position in football. Goalkeeping, coaching, analysing, scouting…you name it. She has done it all!

“I wanted to be the full package so that when I go to a growing federation like South Sudan I don’t struggle,” she says following her recent appointment as the North African country’s women’s national team coach.

Even when the opportunity came to work as an analyst for Banyana in 2014, something she had not thought-out, she grabbed it with both hands.

“I saw it as an opportunity to learn and grow,” the 51-year-old says. And it paid off. Handsomely so. She was part of the team that won three Cosafa Cup titles (2017, 2018 and 2020) and finished runners up at the Caf African Women’s Cup of Nations.

“I would analyse the opposition that we’re playing and then discuss with the coaches theoretically. We will agree if it is the way coach wants to play. They would then go on to the field and put it into practice,” she explains her Banyana and Bafana Bafana roles.

And so, when Banyana coach Desiree Ellis won CAF Coach of the Year Award, she was quick to give credit to Booysen.

“I have to salute my technical team, you know, this is not just for me. I have a fantastic assistant coach Thinasonke Mbuli and Shilene Booysen (analyst). We work closely together, strategising.”

In 2018, she took her skills international, working as an assistant coach at Houston Dash, a club competing in America’s professional women’s soccer league.

Onto her next assignment, the veteran coach becomes the latest South African to land a top coaching job outside the country after Pitso Mosimane left Mamelodi Sundowns in October to join Al Ahly in Egypt.

Shilene is excited to take her expertise to the northern part of the continent. Her journey is testament to the fact that sometimes the smallest step in the right direction ends up being the biggest step of your life. She has tiptoed where she had to, but it was always a step that propelled her forward.

“I’ve applied for jobs in Europe but nothing came out of it, I’d always told my representatives that I wanted to coach in Africa. It’s quite exciting to coach a growing association like Sudan with the skills set I bring,” she says.

Following her appointment, Booysen singles out the ambition and passion of the South Sudan Football Association in women’s football development as the one thing that lured her.

“When I saw what South Sudan was doing in terms of women’s football and the strategy the SSFA has put in place, and what they have done since putting it in place, everything that they have done made me excited and since then I have always wanted to be a part of something like this,” Booysen says.

She takes with her plenty of international experience having worked in high-pressure games at tournaments such as the Fifa Women’s World Cup.

She is expected to lead the Bright Starlets through some major campaigns, the Cecafa Women’s Cup and African Women’s Cup of Nations which double as the qualifying event for the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

“This is exactly where I want to be, this is exactly what I want to do, and I want to be a part of something bigger and for me, South Sudan football and the Federation plans represent something bigger.’’

Perhaps, just perhaps, this is where he Lord wants her to be! One thing for sure, South Sudan awaits in eager expectation!

RELATED STORY: Desiree Ellis: The extraordinary girl who shattered football’s glass ceiling

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