Sport: the kick-off to success
Schools triumph against adversity, but better facilities are still vital
SCHOOL sports are an essential part of a child’s development and lay the foundation for South Africa to achieve international sporting excellence. However, roughly 34% of schools in the Western Cape may have no access to a field.
Springbok captain Siya Kolisi came under heavy fire this week for comments he made when pointing out the different levels of support for budding sports stars, depending on which school they went to.
“Imagine if I did not go to an English school. I wouldn’t have been eating properly, I wouldn’t have grown properly and I wouldn’t have had the preparation that the other boys did,” he said in an interview with Japanese media.
While pupils diet at different schools is difficult to determine, the condition of sporting facilities between different income level schools is stark – and many schools do not have any access to sports fields at all.
According to a 2014 survey, 66% of Western Cape high and primary schools had access to a sports field. Out of the 1 454 schools, 959 said they did have access to a sports field, while 495 said they did not.
This was the most recent information the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) was able to provide and is potentially inaccurate because schools may have interpreted the question differently, according to spokeswoman Millicent Merton.
One school known for sporting excellence, despite minimal resources, is Mondale High School in Portlands, Mitchells Plain.
The school’s sports co-ordinator, Valhatiem Raynard, said his young stars succeeded despite not having access to pristine tracks and fields.
“We don’t even have proper grass really,” Raynard said. “We’ve got such a lot of professional soccer players coming from our school, but we don’t have a soccer field. Last year we were crowned the Super A champions for athletics – yet we don’t even have a field that we train on.”
It’s up to the teachers to spot kids with potential and give them the chance to thrive.
“Teachers play such a vital role in the development of children and their sporting abilities,” he said. “We try take them to the Bellville Stadium to train. We put in a lot of extra effort. It’s very difficult to even get a professional coach into our area, because there’s the stigma of Mitchells Plain.”
Raynard also said it’s risky for children to stay late after school for training, when they may not have transport home and could fall victim to criminals.
“It’s dangerous for the kids to be around after hours, so that also takes the time away from wanting to train,” he said. “At the affluent schools, it’s no problem for kids to stay until 6 o’clock for training.”
The discipline and ambition displayed by Mondale’s young sports stars also reflects in the classroom. Raynard said the school achieved a 100% pass rate out of 254 matriculants in the 2018 class.
“The fact that they are achieving what they are achieving, with the circumstances and facilities they have, is actually a miracle,” Raynard said.
Mondale offers soccer, athletics, netball, chess and table tennis – with cricket starting up again this year.
“We are really trying the best with what we have. If facilities would be improved at most schools, our sporting achievement throughout our country would improve. If you want an Olympic 100m champion one day, you need to find kids at grassroots and make sure the facilities are there for them.”
Proteas cricketer JP Duminy has dedicated himself to improving cricketing opportunities for children in Mitchells Plain and Strandfontein through the JP21 Foundation.
“Infrastructure for any sport organisation is a crucial part of success, so if we are able to provide that for up-and-coming youngsters in any sporting code, that can only stand them in good stead for an outstanding career,” Duminy said.
Good grassroots access will translate to excellence at a national level.
“It comes down to exposure,” he said. “If young kids are exposed to top level infrastructure and opportunity, you’re going to have an influx of kids with extreme talent coming through to the top levels.”
Sports are a crucial part of helping a child develop in every way, according to sports scientist Caylee Cook, and have repercussions through to relationships in adulthood. Cook is doing a PhD in exercise science, focusing on early childhood activity.
“Physically, it develops motor skills and fitness, a healthy body and bones. It also gives social emotional benefits, as learning to interact with team members teaches children to regulate their emotions,” Cook said.
“Sports also very much benefit a child’s cognitive development and their performance at school academically.”
When children don’t have access to sports at school level, Cook said, they never learn the joy that comes from playing sports and never consider them as a career.
“You also see they’re often getting involved in things that might not be positive – sedentary behaviours like too much time watching TV or on an iPad or they could be getting involved in things that aren’t safe.”
Merton said the department funds an after-school programme to make sure underserved youngsters have access to sport and other activities in the afternoons.
“The Mass participation, Opportunity and access, Development and growth (MOD) programme provides school-going youth with access to various fun-filled, play-based and modified activities in recreation and sport, as well as in arts and culture, on a daily basis,” Merton said.
“There are currently 181 MOD centres across the province that provide sport and recreational activities to over 40 000 registered participants from disadvantaged communities and underserved schools.”
The soccer ground at Bulumko High School in Khayelitsha contrasts poorly with the artificial turf at Bishops High School. AYANDA NDAMANE|