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Soccer legends teach football skills to their young charges, but their primary focus is teaching life skills, giving the youngsters a solid foundation for their future.
THE shouts of young voices, punctuated by yells of ‘laduma!’ as a goal is scored, echo against Hillbrow’s high rises.

 

 

Youngsters enjoy a game of street soccerYoungsters enjoy a game of street soccer

It’s Football Friday at the Orange Cruyff Courtat the BG Alexander buildings and a group of youngsters are enjoying a game of soccer.

But this is not just any game of soccer. These future footballers are on a mission to change the character of South African football, according to their coach, soccer legend John “Bull” Sibeko.

“Our aim as South African Soccer Legends is to develop communities through soccer.We are encouraging youngsters to develop a healthy lifestyle through sport,” he says.

Sibeko, a former Witbank Aces player, is just one of the soccer legends around the country who are teaching young people how to play good soccer– and lifeskills. The youngsters are taught ball skills, and most importantly, how to become respectable members of society, according to Sibeko.

“During our training sessions, we teach kids how to respect each other as human beings, how to resolve problems amicably and most importantly how to live a clean life free of drugs and alcohol.”

The project came about after the soccer legends realised the fate of some of the current crop of top flight players, who haveeither wasted away their earnings through extravagant lifestyles, or live a life of drugs and alcohol abuse. This is all due to a lack of life skills required to deal with sudden fame and fortune, says Sibeko.

“Most of the current players areunder a lot of pressure. From total poverty, some players have been thrust into celebrity status almost overnight without going through any form of counselling whatsoever, resulting in misbehaviour.

“Communities, however, look up to these youngsters as role models. Youngsters wishing to become football stars also look to these youngsters as role models. In other words, society expects a lot from these soccer players.”

Professional soccer clubs
The blame can be put squarely on professional football clubs which are “result oriented”, according to Sibeko. The coach has to deliver results to the detriment of the personal life of the soccer player.

 

 

Soccer is all about respecting your opponents, says Bull SibekoSoccer is all about respecting your opponents, says Bull Sibeko

Families also have to play a role in raising their children to become responsible citizens. Reflecting on his childhood, Sibeko recalls that when he was growing up, children were “raised by the community”.

“Every adult played a part in the wellbeing of a child regardless whether they were his own or not.”

An area which should be playing a crucial part in the development of the child is the school environment. Unfortunately, schools are now focusing solely on academics, sidelining extramural activities like sport, which play a vital role in the overall development of the child.

“As soccer legends, we have been through quite a lot. As part of the project, we are also working with schools to impart what we have experienced through years of playing sport and being in the limelight. Sport should never be divorced from the learning experience of the child even though we do emphasise education. We use our experience to teach.”

Going back to his playing days, Sibeko becomes animated. He says during the 1960s right up to the early 1980s, soccer players played for the love of the game. Playing football was part-time and they played for “passion”.

“After our playing days were over, our chapter was closed. Most of us were uneducated and had no skills. We were unemployable. It was only after the death of some of our most prominent colleagues that we woke up said let’s do something for the young soccer players or they will fall into the same pit.”

It was the death of former soccer greats like Welcome “Star Black” Jama and Thomas “Zero” Johnson that Sibeko and fellow soccer legends decided to form the South African Soccer Legends three years ago. “These players died painful deaths without any money. They died destitute,” says Sibeko.

Life skills
And this should never happen to the current crop of players, he adds. The situation may be different today – with players being paid handsome salaries and bonuses – but life skills are most needed for these players to better manage their lives.

 

 

Executive Mayor Amos Masondo with some of the soccer legends at Orlando StadiumExecutive Mayor Amos Masondo with some of the soccer legends at Orlando Stadium

“We have just entered into a partnership with the University of Johannesburg [which is] tailoring a life skills programmefor legends who can then go out to communities to teach youngsters to develop a healthy lifestyle through sport.”

Besides working with schools to inculcate life skills in youngsters, the soccer legends are also working with prisons to impart soccer administration and life skills to prisoners and prison staff. So far, they have been to Boksburg and Modderbee prisons.

Coming back to the programme at the Orange Cruyff Centre, Sibeko says he is working with over 200 youngsters from the inner city, some as young as five years.The soccer legends had a contract with the Dutch Embassy in South Africa to train youths at the centre, but it expired last year.

“Children, both boys and girls, are taught basic football skills through street football. Street football is the foundation of the 11 vs 11 soccer game and this is where they get to learn soccer skills quickly and effectively.”

Life skills are also taught. “Always integrate life skills during training. The primary aim is human development and winning comes second. At their age, we teach 70 percent life skills and 30 percent football skills,” adds Sibeko.

One of the youngsters playing football at the centre, 16-year-old Masixole Blandile, says he has learned a lot from “Coach”.

“Sibeko has taught me to respect my friends, my teammates and most importantly my parents at home. We take him as our parent. He says school should come first for us and football second.”

Another soccer player, 15-year-old Tshepiso Moremi from Coronationville Secondary School in Westbury, says she likes to play football. She enjoys passing and scoring goals for her team.

“What I have learned from Coach is that we must know what we want in life. We must not fight, swear or quarrel but we must love each other.”

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