At the peak of his career, Kyambadde Stone, one of Uganda’s soccer stars at the time, was forced to end his career in professional football. During a game, he tore his ligament when a member of the opponent team intentionally ’took out’ one of his knees. With the injury sustained, there was no way Stone could continue to play in big leagues and therefore retired and returned to Uganda. His dream of possibly playing in the European Cup was now to remain a dream.
The tragic and unfortunate incident ended Stone’s story as a soccer star. But, where the story of the soccer star ended, the Legend of Stone began. It was the legend of one who had transcended from being just a soccer player to a leader, a visionary, a personification of humility and forgiveness.
In one of Dr. Stephen Covey’s workshop videos on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Michael Timmis of Cornerstone Development, mentions about his introduction to Stone. During his gap year, while he was visiting Uganda, he noticed the high rate of unemployment spread across the country. The youth were out of school and unemployed, which led to their corruption and compromised living conditions. On being asked about their interest, the young people, mentioned soccer. Not only that, they very soon came back with a coach; and the coach was none other than Kyambadde Stone.
The Republic of Uganda, in East Africa, is the second most populous landlocked country, sharing borders with Kenya, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania. Till the migration of Bantu-speaking population (probably from central Africa) to the southern parts of the country, about 1700-2300 years ago, the people of this region have been hunter-gatherers who sustained a living through foraging. The migrants introduced new skills such as iron working and new ideas of social and political organization. Later, in 1894, Uganda became a protectorate of the British Empire and remained so for almost sixty-eight years. On Oct 9, 1962, Uganda gained independence from the British as a Commonwealth realm with Queen Elizabeth II as head of the State and finally in 1963, Uganda became a Republic.
Uganda has rich natural resources including fertile soils, mineral deposits and untapped reserves of crude oil and natural gas. Its economy to a great extent is dependent on exports of fish, coffee and tea, amongst others. However, despite the natural resources, the country has been suffering chronic political instability that has resulted in a persistent decline in the economy. After the Amin regime in 1979, the country initiated policies for economic recovery for which it received substantial foreign aid. However, in the mid 1980s, with the outbreak of civil strife, the economy was setback once again. In 2000, Uganda was included amongst the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) debt relief initiatives, amounting close to $2 billion. Eight years later, in 2008, Uganda recorded an almost 7% growth despite the global economic crashdown. But the economic growth of Uganda did not necessarily coincide with the unemployment rate. With a 7% growth rate, its unemployment rate was still as high as 3.6% as per the Global Economy report. In the late 1980s and early 1990s as well, when Stone returned to the country, the unemployment rate was similarly high at approximately 3%.
After the tragic incident on the field, Stone moved on. He did not bear any vengeance or bitterness against life, fate or the person whose premediated actions ended his career and his dream. He just said “you had to do, what you had to do” and forgave him. It was possibly by this divine virtue of forgiveness that we was able to set himself free from miseries and accept life as it presented itself.
To err is human; to forgive, divine- Alexander Pope (English poet)
Stone was forced to give up playing soccer due to his injury, but he had not given up soccer. He was still very much in the game. Instead of withdrawing from life and into depression or self-pity, instead of sulking and breaking down in life, he decided to breakthrough life.
“In life we are all broken at sometime. When broken, most breakdown. Some break through”- Jeroninio Almeida (author Karma Kurry: for the Mind, Body, Heart & Soul)
On his return back to Kampala, Uganda, Stone, found a way to combine his passion for the game and vision to help improve the lives of the youth in his country. Coming from backgrounds with limited financial resources, most youths had taken up evil ways of spending time and earning a living. “People above 16 were unemployed, didn’t have money to go to school. Some were druggists, pickpocketers”- said Stone in an interview to ResponseAbilityAlliance. So, to give the youth direction in life, he formed a soccer team, called the WOLVES in 1989. For more than three decades now, Stone has successfully drawn idle youth off the streets of Uganda and into his personal transformation program. The Wolves football works on prevention by providing structured disciplined daily sports program to keep teenage boys from broken homes off the streets out of trouble and off drugs. Through football, Stone is able to reach out to teenage boys, many of whom have dropped out of school and are unemployed. He coaches, teaches and mentors them, providing them opportunities that will allow them to become proactive and productive men in society. The family-like culture of the Wolves, gives boys and young men opportunities to learn and relate to eachother in proactive ways that build a team-focused thought process that equips them to function more effectively in their diverse society (FranklinCoveySpeakersBureau). In 2010, he became the Vice President of Uganda’s Football Federation and an inspiration for the International Sport Connection. He has also served as the President of the Buganda Coaches Association. He now conducts training programs across the globe as an instructor for the Football Coaches in Africa.
In addition to football, Stone also helps the youth learn and develop other skills that would help them earn a living in case they cannot become part of professional football. The program is also aimed to help them function as productive citizens.
Stone’s life, passion, ability to breakthrough challenges and vision has been an inspiration to many, including the famous American educator, inspirational speaker and author and founder of FranklinCovey, Dr. Stephen Covey. He has been featured in one of Dr. Stephen Covey’s international bestseller, The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People and the 8th Habit. As FranklinCovey’s model transition figure, Stone reaches out to the world igniting purpose and meaning in professionals of all fields and all organizational levels. He is now recognized world-wide as an internationally acclaimed expert and speaker on leadership, mentoring and youth development. He has shared his experience globally in colleges, universities, churches and organizations including NASA and the United States Navy.
For many years now, Stone has also been closely associated with ResponseAbilityAlliance in the Clean Up Kampala Campaign. The program that helps coach the youth in soccer and acquire life skills. As a reward to many of their endeavours as responsible citizens, the program provides them with soccer kits and places in CornerStone Soccer and Life Skills Program.
“Stone Kyambadde was a successful professional football player until somebody in a match purposely ‘blew out’ his knee. He could have become vindictive or revengeful. He could have wallowed in self-pity or lives in his celebrity for the rest of his life. Instead he chose his response and devoted his life to inspire and encourage ‘youth at risk’ on the streets of Kampala, Uganda. With unrelenting passion he has reached out to the young men in his country so, that they, too can learn to govern their own lives, gain vision of becoming professional soccer player, then becoming economically self-reliant, responsible adults, fathers and contributing citizens”- Dr. Stephen Covey (ResponseAbilityAlliance)
Post-independence, the history of Uganda has been marked by intermittent conflicts and civil wars. Millions of people were displaced from their lives in the process, with huge number of causalities. These turmoils and instabilities along with high unemployment rates had led to corruption across all levels. Despite the turmoils of his own life, Kyambadde Stone decided to make a difference in the lives of the youth, who are the future of any country. He realized the potential of the youth and resorted to Soccer, a team sport, with the aim of giving them direction and a future. His efforts were geared toward giving both, an individual and his country, hope and future. His life, vision, leadership and coaching skills, have all become a legend and is acclaimed globally.
“Your life is entirely on you. What you have in your mind is what will shape your future”- Kyambadde Stone
Image credit- responseabilityalliance.com, youtube.com,iscoutreach.com, wwwnc.cdc.gov