When youths participate in sports, they have enhanced emotional, intellectual, physical, psychological, and social development, a study shows. Additionally, there are advantages associated with behavioural alterations, including reduced behavioural issues, delinquency, and substance misuse.

Two young men, Khakalethu Mqikela and Mihlali Zozo, show how turning to sports helped them become focused and driven individuals.

The grip of negative influences

Khakalethu grew up in Newrest, Wellington, and his family experienced financial difficulties, often struggling to make ends meet. At 15, he became involved in gang activities due to lacking direction and positive actions to occupy his time.

Mihlali resides in Mbekweni, Paarl and faced similar challenges. While he always dreamt of becoming a professional soccer player, he lost track of his studies and started hanging out with the wrong crowd. That was until he met Sizwe Tabata, a positive and influential figure in his community.

Mihlali and Khakalethu joined Sizwe’s organisation Maude Tabata Soccer Academy (MATA), revolutionising their lives.

MATA, a non-profit organisation, provides soccer training to boys in Mbekweni. They also offer personal growth opportunities to help youths redirect their lives towards a brighter future.

Positive reinforcement

MATA collaborates with Community Cohesion, a non-profit organisation offering psycho-social support, education, and training. Together, they provide emotional intelligence sessions for boys at the academy, enabling them to navigate challenges and develop vital life skills.

“Some boys were giving me problems, and they started fighting each other. We collaborated with Community Cohesion, and they offered to do anger management sessions with the boys in the team,” Sizwe said.

A dream of inspiring others

Khakalethu was recognised for his humility and leadership skills and is currently the captain of the senior team at MATA. He aspires to create a better future for his family, free from the financial difficulties he faced growing up.

“My goal is to create a life where I can provide for my family. One day, I hope my children will know life without financial problems,” Khakalethu said.

Khakalethu’s experiences inspired him to become an educator, aiming to positively shape the lives of children, whether on the soccer field or in the classroom.

“I find the way teachers educate and discipline learners inspiring. I love how they help shape the thinking and perspective of children, and that is something I want to do, whether in a classroom or on the soccer field,” he expressed.

The next soccer star

Sizwe regards Mihlali as one of the most talented players he has ever encountered. Mihlali hopes to become a professional soccer star.

“I know that being a professional soccer player will not be easy; getting the right exposure and access to resources are limited in townships. However, I believe that with the right support, mentorship, and opportunities, I can overcome these barriers,” Mihlali enthused.

In a remarkable turn of events, Mihlali has been selected to join a soccer academy in Spain, set to depart from South Africa in October 2023.

The stories of Khakalethu and Mihlali serve as a testament to the power of positive alternatives, mentorship, and personal resilience. Despite the challenges they faced and the negative influences they encountered, their involvement with Maude Tabata Soccer Academy has transformed their lives.