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Joy Ola: Female players must shun mediocrity to excel in scrabble

One of the most promising scrabble players in Nigeria, Joy Ola, has said female players must develop self-belief to compete favourably with their male counterparts.…

One of the most promising scrabble players in Nigeria, Joy Ola, has said female players must develop self-belief to compete favourably with their male counterparts. In this interview with Trust Sports, the 19-year old who has won eight medals at three editions of the National Youth Games (NYG) and emerged as the female player to win the maiden Africa Youth Scrabble Games, (AYSC) in Lagos spoke on how her father ignited her interest in the sport, the challenges and how she intends to combine scrabble with her education.

At what age did you start playing scrabble?

I have just clocked 19 years but I started playing scrabble when I was in primary five at Township Primary School in Jos.  Then I was eleven years old and I continued throughout my Secondary School days at Tin City College also in Jos.

How much support did you enjoy from your parents when you started?

I will say my dad introduced me to scrabble. I remember a particular day, I saw him playing Scrabble with his friends and I really got fascinated by the words being displayed on the board. So, I told my dad I was interested and he gave me the support. He guided me through the journey and since then I have become passionate about learning the game as well as growing in it.

So, will it be right to say your dad influenced your choice of scrabble as a sport?

Yes, he noticed that was my passion so he decided to support and push me through. It is for this singular reason that I dedicate the little accomplishments I have made so far to God and to my dad. If not for his unwavering support, maybe I wouldn’t have been an upcoming scrabble star today. Dad, this is to say thank you for all your encouragement. 

You and your sister play the game of scrabble. What’s the feeling when you face her on board?

It is usually a family affair. The rivalry is always healthy but fierce because I usually do my best to beat her. In fact, even when we are playing for leisure, you will think it is a real competition. I am the one enjoying the rivalry the most.

How will you describe your performance at the 2023 African Games in Ghana?

I think my performance at the all African Games was not bad, I did well but I wish I did better. However, I am grateful to God for the opportunity to represent my country at that level. Even as scrabble featured as a demonstration sport, the memories will linger in my mind for a long time. Although I failed to win a gold medal in singles, I was in the team that won gold in the team event. And I want to add that my participation at the Games is great motivation.

What would you say denied you a gold medal in singles?

I went there prepared but I think I was a bit nervous because it was my first time playing in an international competition. So, if there is anything I wish I had in full dosage it is confidence. It is not that I didn’t believe in myself but I feel I wasn’t confident enough. But it was a learning curve. I will improve in my future performances.

How do you intend to leverage on your experience in Ghana to improve your game?

I have learnt that team spirit is the key to success when it comes to team events. I have also learnt that psychology plays a role on you either positively or negatively in the game. When a player is psychologically motivated, he or she can do the unimaginable. However, when one’s self belief is low, it will definitely impact negatively on his her game. So, I have to work on my psychology as well as my confidence. I also have to work on my board navigation and endgame which is what I am already working on. Moreover, I had the opportunity to meet with more experienced players and I was able to learn useful lessons from them.

You won the maiden Africa Youth Scrabble Championship (AYSC) last year, what does that mean to you?

It actually means a lot to me given the fact that I am the only female player to finish amongst the top three at the AYSC, and it really shows that female players can do better than the male counterpart in Scrabble if given the opportunity and if they work hard. That feat has also strengthened my resolve to work harder and do better.

You have also won many medals at the National Youth Games. Take us through your exploits at the games.

Yes, I have not attended any edition of the games without finishing with a medal. I won two silver medals in 2017, two silver medals and one bronze in 2018 and three gold medals in 2019. I am hoping to amass more medals in future games before I graduate from the cadet games.

The game of scrabble is said to be dominated by male players. What is your assessment of the performance of female players?

Well, I strongly believe that female players can do better than their male counterparts but female players tend to relax a bit over little achievements. There is also the erroneous belief that women can’t rise above the men generally. If only we are able to kill the spirit of mediocrity and work harder, we will definitely be unbeatable.

What have been your major challenges as a young scrabble player?

I think finance is one of the major challenges which translate to sponsorship and also getting scrabble equipment as well as traveling expenses for local and international competitions.

You spoke about your dad but how much support are you enjoying from the Nigeria Scrabble Federation (NSF) and Pan African Scrabble Association (PANASA)?

I think the AYSC organized by PANASA under the leadership of Mr Adekoyejo Adegbesan has really been a great motivation to young scrabble players, and I think the NSF has really motivated us by giving us the opportunity to express ourselves and compete with the stronger hands in tournaments. I look forward to more competitions for younger players.

There is a generation gap among the female scrabble players in Nigeria, do you see yourself bridging that gap?

Yes, I see myself bridging that gap. I am not the only one. Many of us are coming up to raise the bar for female scrabble in Nigeria.

How are you combining scrabble with academics?

I know that there is life after scrabble so I am not spending the whole of my time on the game. I am combining the game with my education. Therefore, I am right now working on my admission into university.

Where do you want to be in scrabble in the next five years?

My plan for the next five years is to represent Nigeria in international tournaments and come out tops. I also plan to be a role model to young scrabble players, especially female ones.


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