Giving every child a sporting chance

| September 11, 2012 | 0 Comments

The Knysna Sports School

By Mark Willemse

Knysna Sports School (KSS) was founded in 1992 by Keith Cretchley for the purpose of coaching primary school children of all races and cultures who do not have the opportunity to play sport.

KSS focuses on development, and our funds come from the Knysna Sports Development Trust, donors, fundraising initiatives and coaching clinics. We do not receive any form of government or corporate funding. A disused sawdust dump site was turned into what is now known as the Marlin Road Oval. A club house was built with the help of parents and the community, and provides offices for KSS staff as well as change-room facilities and a tuck shop. In winter the fields are used for hockey, and in summer cricket is played.

In 2009, I joined KSS as a coach. My involvement grew over time and when Knysna Primary School became the custodian of KSS, my portfolio as a member of the governing body became the KSS. My role is to ensure that KSS continues its mandate of sport development while operating within its budget, utilising all the resources at its disposal.

The KSS model and community

KSS provides professional coaching in hockey, cricket, cycling, Tag rugby and golf to primary schools in greater Knysna where facilities and other resources are lacking. Coaches travel to the schools to coach junior primary children, while the older children practise at KSS. We believe that utilising a ‘travelling coach model’ is the most efficient and feasible way of achieving our objectives.

Additionally, our coaches give cycling, hockey and soccer lessons to children in Reenendal, approximately 20 km outside Knysna. Matches are played between all schools in the area as well, and we enter teams in local and regional tournaments and events. KSS is open to any child who wishes to participate in the sporting codes we offer, and we encourage the children to make some form of contribution towards match fees and transport costs. This seldom happens as these children are from the poorest of poor families, living in the so-called coloured areas of Hornlee, Sunridge and Fraaisig, situated on the eastern side of Knysna. We also coach in the northern township of Concordia at Thembelitsha Primary School. When I became part of a feeding scheme at this school, I soon realised that children in the Foundation Phase had no sport skills training whatsoever. The schools lack resources and are seriously understaffed and underfunded, so sport is a luxury. KSS gives these kids the opportunity to play sport.

We are reliant on four full-time and four contract qualified and dedicated coaches, who have a passion for sport and children but who will not receive a competitive salary in return. It takes a special person to have the patience and compassion to do this job. Our coaches have to multitask, and their duties vary from ground maintenance to cricket pitch preparation and giving presentations at schools. Training is an ongoing element of their personal growth in their posts. We have chosen people who are good at what they do and show the passion necessary to carry out their duties. Our staff is diverse and multicultural – from Vernon, a 21-year-old cyclist who started as an intern and is now in charge of cycling, to Shelley, who is a mom, a provincial hockey coach/player and the KSS school secretary. Iain is a big guy with a big heart and the Tag rugby and golf coach. Willem and Zolani are Rheenendal locals who showed the desire to get kids off the street and now coach cycling and soccer respectively.

Feeling financial strain

Generally, most of the primary schools in the community provide rugby for boys and netball for girls. We coach hockey, cricket, cycling, soccer, golf and Tag rugby as we feel that these sporting codes offer the children some continuity when they move from the Foundation Phase to senior primary. Cycling is a sport growing in popularity because of the rugged environment, and the fact that we have financial backing from Rotary Knysna, in conjunction with Pick n Pay and other donors. The Knysna Golf Club contributes financially to golf development and any child that is interested in the game.

Like most schools in this country, the schools with which we interact are feeling the strain of the world economic crisis. Many parents are not able to pay school fees, which has a negative effect on the productivity of the school. In non-fee paying schools, the government contribution is barely able to sustain the school, let alone enable the school to offer any form of extramural activities. Lack of time, facilities and resources do not afford less-fortunate schools the luxury of basic skills sport coaching. Those that can, concentrate on the mainstream sports, with limited numbers able to participate. The majority fall through the cracks in the system with only the cream of the crop floating at the top.

KSS model has great potential

Our aim is to reach as many of those kids who fall through the cracks as possible. Sport teaches discipline, commitment, social skills and personal development. This, in turn, gives the child a sense of security with the possibility of personal achievement and success. We hope that these values that are taught will become a lifestyle and enable the child to prosper in future endeavours.

We believe that government could utilise institutions built on the KSS model. The School Sports Policy Action Plan, implemented by the government late last year, plans to implement extramural sport at all schools by the beginning of 2013. Physical education has been allocated time in the curriculum – two hours each week in Grades R to 3, 1.5 hours each week in Grades 4 to 6, and two hours each week in Grades 7 to 12. We are still to see any momentum with this initiative in our area.

When schools join our programme, we show them how they can help sport not just survive, but thrive. We can help them institute sustainable community projects to acquire unused equipment, clothing and other resources.


Our greatest challenge is to ensure that every child we meet has an opportunity to play a sport. Lack of finances to purchase and maintain our vehicles and equipment, as well as to attract the best available coaches with good salaries, are major hurdles to overcome.

Additionally, some schools see us as a threat because we are treading on their ‘turf ’. Sometimes, some of them make it very difficult for us to do our work. We’ve also had to deal with unscrupulous individuals who’ve tried to use our model to start their own initiatives, thereby splintering the community.

While our goal is to become self-sufficient and financially independent, we are constantly in search of donors – so relationship building is of vital importance. KSS has established many good partnerships with the schools and other organisations that visit our beautiful town, such as the USbased Knoxville Rotary group, which donates bicycles every year during our Oyster Festival races to disadvantaged children.

A vision for the future

My vision is to grow KSS into an institution that creates even more opportunities for disadvantaged children in sport. In the future, I would like us to be able to offer professional coaching clinics in a variety of sport codes to wealthier families who can pay fees. This will finance our core development work.

Through solid partnerships with government, higher education institutions, civil society and the private sector, this school must become the centre of sporting excellence in the southern Cape region, not only coaching children but ensuring that coaches and teachers are properly trained in order to give all children the opportunity to play some sport.

I live in one of the most beautiful places in South Africa and I am doing something I love. I am blessed to be able keep doing what I do to ensure that the disadvantaged children of this town are afforded the opportunity to play sport. I want to see provincial and national teams represented by the best players possible at all times. KSS is doing its bit to ensure that.

While many children we have coached in various sports have gone on to represent their provinces and some their countries at all levels, I am most proud of what we achieve each day.

Category: Featured Articles, Spring 2012

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