“At Young Bafana Soccer Academy, #changinglives is more than just a motto, it’s the result of hard work, discipline and faith in your abilities”. Those are the words of Bernd Steinhage who with a passion for football and education, established the Young Bafana Soccer Academy in 2010 with the aim of providing a safe environment for youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds to express their love for soccer.
Over and above providing a place for these youngsters to hone their soccer skills, the academy also focuses on their education. It’s a safe place where they can go and do their homework after school.
The foundation has come a long way over the last 8 years. Initially, there were just eight children at the school, now they have over 120 – and the cooperation with the schools still exist.
The World Cup in 2010 piqued lot of young children’s interest in soccer. However, the majority of them could not afford to pay fees for a private club or their transport to practices and matches. All they wanted was to play the game in a safe and productive learning environment.
“The rule of thumb was that for every 10 paying children, Young Bafana would give a scholarship to a non paying child. Having realised the positive impact these scholarships had on the children, the program expanded rapidly” – Steinhage.
In 2012, the first performance team was established in which mostly township children from the surrounding Lwandle and Nomzamo areas played together with children from socially stable backgrounds.
In 2014, Young Bafana inaugurated a compulsory educational program due to the poor learning conditions, lack of English proficiency and various other daily challenges the children are faced with.
The academy received broad support from interns from all over the world and Young Bafana experienced a successful 2017 season. The U18 team finished 4th in the super league. They also made it to the Coke Cup final (the biggest national amateur tournament) where the team secured the second place.
The U14 team gained promotion in the 2nd year of competition and completed the league program unbeaten. The U12 side finished the season in 3rd place, just 3 points off earning promotion in the first year.
The sporting success story emphasizes the quality of the internal structures as well as the passion shown by coaches and players, both on and off the field.
This year brought its own excitement: Gazprom Energy’s social project — Football For Friendship has given five individuals from Young Bafana the opportunity to attend the FIFA 2018 World Cup in Russia this month.
Bernd Steinhage will be joined by coaches Veron Peter and Graham Knott as well as two under-14 players, Hlonela Sitenge and Solethu Mabhenu.
This will be a dream-come-true trip where the youngsters will get to see their soccer heroes in action.
Hlonela is also tasked with being a journalist at the World Cup, and Solethu (who has never been overseas before) is looking forward to soaking up every bit of the experience and coming back with even more passion and determination than ever before.
As for their long-term goal: “By 2022, we want our own facility including football pitches, a school and boarding facilities.” – Steinhage
The dream may seem ambitious, yet Young Bafana continues to change lives on a daily basis.