LAST WEEK Friday witnessed 320 enthusiastic learners from 32 primary schools around Soweto converge on the pristine Arthur Ashe Tennis Centre in Central Western Jabavu to participate in an Inter-Schools Tennis tournament held under the auspices of the Moving-it, Moving Matters programme.
Part of a national sporting event known as GASP [Get Ahead Sports Programme] funded by Total South Africa, the initiative is designed for 10 – 11 years old Grade 5 learners to engage in appropriate and enjoyable physical activity each week.
GASP is one of five planned talent-advancing events scheduled throughout the course of 2016 and this year the focus is on tennis.
Ten learners were selected from each school and a further ten from two schools in the Mbombela area were selected to take part in the competition, along with another ten picked from Yeoville schools – with both teams from the schools without Soweto having been winners in their respective district GASP events held earlier this year.
The programme’s mission is embodied by principal backer, Total South Africa who recognize education as an important element of its corporate social investment strategy, whilst seeing the Move-it, Moving Matters and GASP system as holistic in the manner in which communities become empowered by the cumulative effect which ensures positive changes in health, as well as the creation of excitement which result in growing active people – all through the medium of sport.
Ventured Total SA’s Sustainable Development Manager, Nyameka Makonya, ‘’GASP brings sports to public schools. Through this, children are given a platform to showcase what they are capable of, and showcase their potential. Our schools have no coaches and sometimes even lack playgrounds, we as Total South Africa through the Move-It, Moving Matters programme are trying to help close that gap.’’
As giggling, sweating and enthusiastic pre-teenagers were being put through their paces across the 14 courts constituting the complex, Makonya further expounded on her company’s vision by mentioning how the Department of Education have included the programme in its curriculum and pointed out to partnerships which also include Tennis South Africa – who assist in the exercise of identifying potential.
Counting material support offered in the form of rackets, instruction manuals on rules of the game in addition to coaching personnel, Makonya spoke of aiming at a two-tiered physical training and classroom regimen also combining literacy and numeracy.
Arguing that the new dispensation doesn’t pay attention on physical education, she made an impassioned plea for parents to be involved in their children’s sporting pursuits.
A duo of participants at the event ,14-year old Candice and her sibling, 13-year old Alicia Makoala didn’t have to worry about that form of support as their mother, Fabia sat courtside watching as her disciplined daughters put on a four minute exhibition match for the multitudes of attendees which served to demonstrate unto them the basics of the game such as how to play and score.
Students at St. Matthews Private Secondary School in Rockville, the sisters are members of the Arthur Ashe Tennis Academy which they joined back in 2011 after a neighbour friend encouraged them to try their hand at the game. The selfsame friend had since quit playing – they mentioned wistfully.
Watching them move around the center court pending the period, Dr Claire Nicholson, the inspiration behind the development of the programme, instructed them to put on the exhibition match – caressing the balls with neat forehands and varying over and underarm backhands, it was clear and enough evidence that they have made gainly progress through the ensuing five years and are ones to watch in the foreseeable future.
In fact, Candice, who is in Grade 9, has already garnered a silver medal at the schools nationals held in Durban in July of this year from representing the Gauteng province.
The siblings, whose parents actively encourage them by also exposing them to grand slams by watching them on Supersport on their telly back home, seem to have other forces converging in their development’s favour since they were also chosen to play an exhibition game with none other than the world renown Williams’ sisters, Venus and Serena when they visited the complex named after the only black male player thus far to win a grandslam and fellow American, Arthur Ashe –when the siblings held a clinic there, back in 2012.
In the Makoala sisters, with the correct developmental training and support from the local fraternity, who knows what the horizon would offer something along the lines of the country eventually having female players of colour on the world circuit following in the footsteps of the Ross Fairbankses and Amanda Coetzers of this world – or even better, getting a taste of actually winning some international tournaments!
And as coaches headed by the hosting center’s Oupa Mothopeng and the Johannesburg Country Club’s Jason Wilson oversaw the hive of activity strewn around the world class courts of the complex under a scorching Soweto sun, a distinct voice bristling with tireless fervour could be heard incessantly prodding and intoning a mixture of niceties and gems such as, ‘’Beautiful tennis is going on here, amazing tennis!’’ and, ‘’Shake your opponent’s hand and acknowledge them by saying, thank you!’’
The voice belonged to none other than the previously mentioned, Dr Nicholson, who is the immediate past head of the field of study, Physical Education, Sport and Human Movement Science at the University of the Witwatersrand.
As earlier pointed out as being the inspiration behind the development of Move-It, Moving Matters for school children as well as the talent harvesting programme, namely, GASP – her research, teaching and professional contributions have been concerned with her performance enhancing advantage of exercise and physical activity in the context of education, therapy, leisure and high performance sport.
Moving It, Moving Matters is a learner-driven, physical activity programme designed for application in outcomes-based curricula for the intermediate phase [8 -12 years] learner. The purpose of the GASP, her programme’s website informs readers, is to advance motorically talented children, from within a region/district, into sport systems and structures thereby enabling these young performers gain access to the national ‘’talent’’ network. The goal of the programme is to level the playing fields between the so called advantaged and disadvantaged child using movement, play and sport as the agent of change.
Judging by the composition of the breakfast and lunch packs, which were meticulously wrapped and included a nutritional balance of sandwiches, fruit and dairy offerings handed out to the hundreds of learners massed around for the tournament – it wouldn’t come as a surprise if she also had a hand in deciding what constituted edible treats for the boys and girls.
The day’s chosen diet was even complemented by an offering by one of the stakeholders to the occasion, in the form of Futurelife having a stand adjacent to the center court from where helpings of health shakes were being handed out! Nicholson, who has previously represented her country as an athlete, a coach, a selector and administrator, is all at once, a visionary, heroine and the sort of national asset sorely needed in societies.
And worthy of a mention on the subject of the imperativeness of parents having to support their offspring, also present was actor, Patrick Shai, who when asked whether he had perhaps showed up at the event to watch any of his children, unhesitatingly gave a response which probably encapsulated the nature and spirit of the occasion by declaring thus: all are my kids!