Getting Up to Speed

“I never knew I would love football so much because I never got to play it”

My name is Mpumi Nkosi (13) and I am a young participant at Altus Sport in South Africa, an afterschool programme that teaches us about things like menstruation, puberty, gender equality and healthy eating — and we learn it all through football.

I never knew I would love football so much because I never got to play it, and wow, I never knew I was so fast for my age — but more about that later. 

I come from a community in South Africa where it is not common to allow boys and girls to mix or even for girls to do a lot of sports.

It can be quite dangerous too and we sometimes hear stories of children going missing in the area.

At school I used to sit in my classroom without saying much. I was really shy and never felt the confidence to chat with others.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to speak,  I just didn’t know what to say! I felt much more comfortable saying nothing at all.

One day, when I was 11, a coach came into our school during assembly and told us about Altus Sport.

They spoke of all the fun we would have and all of the new things we would learn and all of the football and sport we would get to do — even the girls.

They said that three days a week, for a few hours after school, we could go and play football and would learn things along the way.

I was so excited. It was amazing that we were going to get to do all of these new things that, deep down, I had always really wanted to do.

Despite my shyness I signed up immediately.

On my first day I was a little nervous and I hadn’t the confidence to take part in the football sessions but my new coach said that was OK and that I could just watch.

The programme was girls only and it was awesome to see them all play. After a few training sessions I began to feel much more comfortable and the girls and my coach were so kind — so I began to play too.

Man, football is so much fun, and I have found that I am actually quite good.

Initially it felt strange because when girls do get to play sports it tends to be netball. Here we were playing football — a game we were brought up to believe was for the boys.

Soon we learned this game is for everyone.

After each training session we would sit down together for an hour and learn about new things. They taught us about menstruation and how it is completely normal and that we shouldn’t feel ashamed.

They taught us about best hygiene practices for it, as well as puberty and healthy eating, and things that will help us in our lives.

Soon we moved to a new programme and onto a different coach. This programme mixed the boys with the girls. At first it was a little weird, but soon it began to feel so normal, and I have made great friends with everybody.

Together we all played football and different sports and we had so much fun. After each training session we would learn about gender equality.

Sometimes older boys don’t have to do things like the dishes or help out in that way at home but during our lessons we spent weeks learning that everyone should help out at home boys and girls.

Everyone should do the dishes, everyone should pick up the broom and sweep, everyone should cook for the families they love. Not only women.

Because of the programme I have made so many friends and I discovered that I have a real talent. Remember at the start of my story I said I never knew that I was fast? Well here I learned I was!

One day I was scouted to join the athletics team at school because they saw me run during my football training and asked that I represent them as a 100 metre sprinter.

Miranda, the programme officer, asked me did I know I was such a good runner before I came to Altus Sport and I laughed so hard and told her ‘no’.

If I hadn’t joined Altus, and if I didn’t play football, no one would have known — probably not even me.

When the pandemic hit South Africa, Altus made sure we got as much information about it as we could and we worked on little booklets to educate ourselves on COVID-19 safety.

The trainings changed a bit as a result but we still got to play some football and the learning never stopped.

Now I am finished in primary school I am going to high school soon. I just hope that even with the pandemic the next children who do the programme get the opportunity to have the same amount of fun as us.

The last year has been hard, and really scary. I hope the Coronavirus can end soon, and when it does, I want to return to Altus Sport and help coach young boys and girls like me and help them to gain the skills and knowledge that myself and the others in my programme have received.

And at my new high school — I will definitely be playing sports.