Coach Bongani

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Coach Bongani (far right) with some of his team at Sithokozile High School in KwaDabeka

By Rolan Gulston

Originally from Harrismith, 25-year-old Bongani Tshabalala has made a home in the community of KwaDabeka, a township situated just east of Pinetown. Since joining CAST as a volunteer soccer coach last year, he now feels fully invested in the development of the youth in the community.

Growing up with an older brother and two younger siblings, Bongani sought to become independent from an early age. While he spent much of his time at the gym training for the game that he loves, he did not see playing soccer as being a long-term career. Instead, he focussed on education, and encourages his boys to do the same.

Bongani has been studying mechanics since October last year. He shares that, as a youngster, he was not always diligent in his studies and often influenced his friends to take up drinking, smoking and dating to fit in with his social circle. Even attending church was something he did only to please his mother. This changed when he turned 21, as he began to appreciate his faith and attend church regularly without being pushed. As he got older and strengthened his relationship with God, he realised that the only person he can compete with is himself. He now attends KwaDabeka Baptist Church, and plays an active role in the Youth Ministry.

He first heard about CAST through a friend last year after living with his brother in Joburg for a year and half. The community centre in KwaDabeka was looking for a soccer coach, and he immediately jumped on board, but what he found was a deep lack of motivation in the team.

Gradually, through implementing the uBabalo Whole-life Coaching Programme, the boys have developed a close bond, and have learnt the value of supporting each other, “Because when you are playing soccer, you’re not playing for yourself, you’re playing as a team.”

Under his coaching, the boys won their first 10 games, and are now placed in the Pinetown League. Bongani believes in pushing the boys beyond their perceived level of capability by organising for his teams to play matches against older age groups as a way of helping them to adapt and gain experience. “God is here and anything is possible,” he tells them.

The team is steadily growing in number as the word spreads. The Under-15 and Under-17 boys train together three days a week. As part of the uBabalo programme, the team spends time reflecting on scripture before each training session, and many of the boys have shown great spiritual growth.

“God is always there. He is always watching you. I know it’s not going to be easy, but if you work hard, it won’t go away. If it’s easy, it won’t last.”

Bongani tries to always be an encouraging voice for the team, “I have never disgraced them. I tell them they should believe in themselves and trust each other. When I’m sharing myself, I am healing too.” His supportive, yet disciplined approach to coaching and mentoring has endeared him to the boys, who often tell him, “You are part of the family, you are always open.”

This year was his first time attending the annual boys2Men Camp. As a leader at the camp and in his community, Bongani took this time to mentor the young boys in the group of 60 that were selected to attend the camp. It also gave the boys a chance to talk about the things affecting them. He helped them to recognize bad influences in their lives, whether it be the people in their social circles or even the music they listen to. After sharing his testimony, he also taught them about making wise choices, not giving in to peer pressure, and rather than trying to change their friends immediately, start by telling them about the camp and share Bible verses with them.

Bongani found that previously, when selecting a captain, the boys would often choose the loudest player in the team but, lacking in respect for others. He soon drew out the quieter boys who showed leadership potential, and once placed in captaincy, began to change the mind-set of the team; leading by example in their dedication to the sport and their school work. Others have since also improved in their school results, and with Bongani’s guidance, have been applying for bursaries for tertiary education. He has also made time to help them form a study group for Maths and Science.

Between studying, training at the gym and playing matches, soccer keeps the boys busy. “They are no longer bored.” Bongani, too, feels that he has changed. For the past year, he has abstained from drinking and smoking.

“You should accept the way you are, and change the way you do things. Just having fun and buying lots of clothes won’t take you anywhere. Only education. God will provide everything later on.”

Bongani has a passion for youth development, especially empowering the young boys entering adolescence. Bongani’s dream is to empower them to become self-sufficient, productive members of their community. He, himself, has tried to set an example of this by seeing to his own groceries and rent of R550 a month. May was a particularly difficult month for Bongani, without money to afford food and basic necessities, but he still committed himself to training at the gym with the boys. He now receives a monthly food parcel from CAST’s Relief Services, which has been a great help. He hopes to one day have the means to support the boys in buying their soccer boots and kit. “I know I’ll accomplish that, but I know the path won’t be easy.”

Bongani would like to continue coaching, as he feels he is gaining a lot of experience, especially when working with the younger boys. “It’s something different, I am adapting.” To support Bongani in his mission to empower the youth, contact George at CAST on: 031 266 8830 or george@cast.org.za

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