Meet Mama Youth, a trailblazer steering men’s football team to glory

Mama Youth, a woman training men’s football team in Samburu North

What you need to know:

  • Ngesinten Lengorien's feats reinforce the popular saying that ‘what a man can do, a woman can do better’.
  • She says she has been passionate about football since her teenage days.

In the middle of the thundering voices of football players, a sharp female voice barks out instructions: “...concentrate! Eyes on the ball.”

Amidst the sounds of football kicks and panting players in a training pitch, a female figure emerges. She is donning Samburu traditional attire, complete with beautiful necklaces, beads and bangles.

From a distance, one can mistake her for a pitch invader seeking the attention of  football players. But Ngesinten Lengorien is the coach and tactician of Tuum United, a men's team based in the Tuum area of Samburu North.

The 46-year-old oozes class and energy as she prepares her team to participate in the Samburu Woman Representative Tournament. As the players rhythmically perform tactical drills, sweat drips down their brows, and Ngesinten shouts in the Samburu language: “Tiniretena aitibitaki, keleleku nkuguran (Train hard and play easy).”

After warm-ups, the players step into the Kenyatta Stadium in Maralal town to face opponents. The crowd is mesmerised that their coach is a woman. In just a quarter of an hour, Tuum United scored. At this point, Ngesinten primarily stuns the crowd who are bemused, perhaps by how she has led the team to victory.

Ngesinten Lengorien has demonstrated this since 2013 when she first started coaching and managing Tuum United, her achievements reinforcing the popular saying “what a man can do, a woman can do better.”

Ngesinten Lengorien, 46, during a coaching session at the Maralal DEB playground in Maralal town, Samburu County, on December 8, 2023.

Photo credit: Geoffrey Ondieki I Nation Media Group

She says she has been passionate about football since her teenage days. And that she often slept dreaming how she would shine if she got a chance to play for the national team.

While her dream of playing for Harambee Starlets never materialised, Ngesinten has made history by becoming the first woman coach to manage the men's football team in a patriarchal Samburu community. Locally referred to as Mama Youth, Ngesinten has already earned a trailblazer status.

“They listen to me and they follow my instructions keenly. I am determined to take Tuum United FC to the greater heights in the region,” she says in an interview with Nation.Africa.

Ngesinten was initially appointed to oversee football operations of the team, recruiting boys and girls. She traversed the villages persuading youngsters to abandon retrogressive practices and play football. Samburu North has for long been characterised by banditry and cattle rustling.

“Most idle youths often engage in retrogressive practices, including abusing drugs and rustling. I persuade them to join our team,” she says.

“My status has gone viral in the entire Samburu North because whenever they spot me, they call me Mama Youth and I am happy about this work.”

Young residents now brave searing temperatures, uneven and sandy playgrounds in Tuum, playing football. After recruiting youngsters, Ngesinten puts them through practice and drills. 

She talks to them about the importance of teamwork, hard work and concentration. Ngesinten is conversant with the team balance and believes proper coordination from defence to offence results in glory.

Ngesinten Lengorien, 46, trains Tuum United players at Maralal DEB playground in Maralal town, Samburu County, on December 8, 2023.

Photo credit: Geoffrey Ondieki I Nation Media Group

She also brings motherly love to the team. She has instilled a “motherly philosophy” in the team and players have embraced it. “Players like what I tell them. I see them striving to achieve our targets daily. The majority of them see me as their mother because I treat them with motherly love.”

But how does she conduct herself when coaching men? 

One thing Ngesinten decided to make clear from the start was to respect them as the Samburu culture requires. Another thing is being free with them “as a mother”. That is why she wears her Samburu traditional attire rather than wearing sporty clothes. 

She also believes that donning a traditional attire maintains originality and reminds the team that their “mother” is managing football.

“We love our culture. I do not like wearing sporty clothes because I want to blend and be a significant icon to them.”

Surprisingly, Ngesinten has won two major trophies during her spell as Tuum manager. Her first title came in 2015, when her team won the Mjumbe Cup, just two years after taking over the team. 

She also won the same competition in 2019 after a stellar campaign. However, she lost the final last year and “that is why I am working hard to reclaim the glory”. Her managerial term has been colourful, winning other trophies like the Peace Cups organised every year by the Catholic Church in Samburu North. They now eye county championships.

“I have won so much with a team of youngsters. They respect me and I respect them back."

According to Ngesinten, many professionals are her protégés. “Many players have passed through my hands to become successful since 2013. The majority of them are serving in the military, others are professional teachers and nurses.”

Tuum United team after a training session at Maralal DEB playground in Maralal town, Samburu County, on December 8, 2023.

Photo credit: Geoffrey Ondieki I Nation Media Group

Tuum United captain Lonis Leparkiras says the team is trusting in the leadership of Mama Youth as she steers them forward. Since she took over the reins in 2013, Leparkiras says the players have been playing for each other and there is “no individual performance as it used to be previously”. 

Leparkiras says Ngesinten emphasises team spirit.

“We are compact, I must say. She always talks to us at half-time. She reminds us of team unity and trusting each other on the pitch.”

Mama Youth's touchline shouts "keep the team going and we cannot let her down”. 

Leparkiras says he consults the coach before substitutions during matches. “We adhere to her demands. The team is progressing well under her guidance.”

Team manager Mark Leriano says they are particularly focusing on youngsters from the volatile region to prevent them from engaging in criminal acts. He credits Mama Youth for boosting football in the region and demonstrating professionalism. “Her coaching skills are unique and natural.”

Mark adds that the team is in safe hands. “I think her abilities are unique and natural. She possesses superb coaching skills and the boys are doing well.”

He says the team consults her when recruiting players. “We have won titles in our region twice under her leadership. It shows you what she is doing is tremendous.”

Ngesinten is not stopping any time soon. She is focused on having her team take part in regional championships. She believes she has what it takes to sharpen young boys and girls to discover their potential. She expresses concern that lack of sponsorship is hindering their operations at the grassroots level.