The curtains are about to be drawn on the Kwesé Premier Basketball season with teams primed for the play-offs. Teams both in the Atlantic and Savannah Conferences are about to conclude the round robin phase of the basketball season. At the end of the regular season, only the top 6 of each of the Conferences head to the Conference 6 playoffs.
Later, Top 4 teams from the Atlantic Conference playoffs will move on to the finals to play against top 4 sides from the Savannah Conference. Among the sides primed to take part in the Conference 6 playoffs is Plateau Peaks, coached by the only female coach in the Kwesé Premier Basketball League, Jacqueline Niagwan.
In a league where male coaches abound, Jacqueline Niagwan has gradually found her way into the hearts of basketball fans and enthusiasts in Nigeria. Niagwan is the first and only female coach in the Kwese Premier Basketball League.
A native of Shendam local government area in Plateau State, she grew up in the cold city of Jos. She graduated from the University of Jos with a degree in Linguistics and Languages, and has a diploma in coaching from National Institute of Sports (NIS) and a diploma in Language Education. The former Plateau Rocks forward has grown from been a player to one of the most respectable coaches of the Savannah Conference in the Kwese Premier Basketball League.
For her, it’s an honour and privilege to coach a male team. She is looking forward to when more women coaches can take charge of male teams in Nigeria.
The former Plateau Rocks forward had an illustrious playing career of 22 years between 1989 -2011 before moving into coaching in 2011. She was a one-time finalist of the Peak milk Basketball League although she never made it to national team despite been invited twice.
The motivation to go into coaching was inspired by her time in the civil service. It has been a policy for players to graduate into coaches and as such she had reached her peak and was time to hand her shoes and delve into a coaching role. During that time, Niagwan was at level 12- which was the level of a director in Plateau State civil service. This she reluctantly did by attending National Institute of Sports (NIS) in Lagos 2006- 2007. On her return, she realized it was worth her time and the trouble. But it was the beginning of a great journey ahead of her. At that time she was yet to officially retire as a player. Jacqueline was made to coach her team, Plateau Rocks who she found to have been relegated on her return from NIS. Technically, Rocks became the first team she coached in 2011 and made sure they gained promotion after emerging champions of the national division 1 in her first stint as a coach. That singular act gave her another role of coaching the male team to the National Sports Festival in Lagos (Eko 2012). She returned with a bronze medal, a feat that was last achieved 23 years ago even before her playing days.
In 2014, the Plateau State Government appointed her to a much higher role based on her qualification. Among the coaches at that time, Jacqueline was the most qualified and that catapulted her to the post of the head coach of Plateau Peaks. Despite falling short in experience for 15 years of the other coaches available and the present Rocks coach, Jacqueline’s gender was overlooked during her appointment.
In addition, her exploits at the Eko 2012 Games proved decisive when the appointment was made by the Plateau State Sports Ministry. “The last time they won a medal was 23 years ago ( 1979) I have not even started playing and for a woman to break the jinx coming third after beating the host team Lagos in 2012, and you know how difficult it is beating a Lagos team. All of these made them appoint me the coach of the male side,”said Niagwan to ACLSports.
To enhance her qualification, she went to Midland College in 2015 for a three months course after she missed out on an invitation by a University in Miami the previous year due to lack of funds. During her time at Midland College, Jacqueline got recognition for being the only female coach in the Nigeria Basketball League
The American media and public gave her a first class treatment, as she was all over the media, TV, newspaper, a moment in her life she won’t forget. It was a shock to the American media that a woman like her could coach a male basketball team in Nigeria.
Niagwan revealed to ACLSports how her training at Midland College played a great role in impacting positively on her players thereby yielding good results.
“In my first year with Plateau Peaks, we were able to scale through to the final eight. In 2015, my team was the 2nd best defensive team in the league and made it to the final 6 but didn’t qualify. After my training in the US, I had a good time with my team. We finished 2nd in the savanna conference behind Kano Pillars went to the finals and finished 5th something we have never achieved in our franchise history.”
On her preference on coaching a male or a female team, Jacqueline picked both groups.
“I can’t pick any though girls have their problems, fighting, gossiping, and strife. Boys also have theirs too but being a coach you should know how to coach, handle any of the two sides and be flexible even if they are children so I won’t pick any between the two,” she said.
The job is not void of its challenges a notion shared by Jacqueline Niagwan. Faced by the problem of acceptance in a league dominated by male coaches, indeed her hurdles are far from been surmounted.
“It was difficult to accept me as the only female coach in a male’s league. But I stood my ground, deep down I knew I deserved it. I didn’t allow any of the talks disturb me in any way. With prayers, I was able to conquer. Like in my team, four of the players are married , sometimes I have to shout at them, punish them, correct them and you know how men are with their ego they won’t want that to happen to them. They had no choice but to accept me as their coach in the long run. I made it clear to them, respect me so I can also do same”.
One cannot also look beyond her gender been a big factor that stands out when instructions are expected to be obeyed by her players. But the Plateau born coach has successfully handled likely challenges with minimum fuss.
Jacqueline has not ruled out a move away from the Home of Peace and Tourism as long as the decision is right.
“It is possible for any other woman to coach in the men’s league as long as you set your mind to do it. You have to be strong, prayerful determined, but they should make up their mind to face challenges. But if I can do it then any woman can,” she said.
Her dream as the first female coach in the men’s league will be fulfilled when she wins the Kwese Premier Basketball League and participates in the continental basketball competitions.
“That has been my dream and I am still working towards it by the grace of God it will come to a reality winning the League and going to the continent with my team,” the former Rocks forward concluded.