Primary schools across the country are hard at work gearing up for the preliminary rounds of the under-12 Danone Nations Cup competition, including those in Gauteng, the province that has produced more national winners in the competition than any other.
And, according to Sunnyboy Ramadikela, team manager of Mangwele Primary School in Soweto and one of the Gauteng contender schools, it’s not just about winning the title, and the overseas trip that goes with that. “It would be great to go to the World Finals in France,” Ramadikela said, “but playing in the Danone Nations Cup means a lot more than that to us.”
He sees the competition as a great opportunity to teach life lessons to boys at this age, through the medium of sport. “There are not many sponsored tournaments at primary school level, yet this is a crucial age in the development of young people. We enter because we want to win, of course, but we recognise that through entering we are able to introduce valuable concepts to the youngsters.”
From a soccer point of view, the Danone Nations Cup is important because it introduces the kids to competitive football at an early age and gets them into the philosophy of setting goals and striving to achieve them, Ramadikela said. “It gives the players an opportunity to engage with others from different schools and broadens their football minds.
“But, more importantly, it also keeps kids away from activities such as crime and taking drugs; it teaches healthy eating habits and makes them realise that commitment brings success in life.”
Ramadikela believes development needs to start at grass roots level and he is grateful to Danone for caring about the communities that support their brand. “At this age we should be teaching players to be more disciplined and to start playing structured soccer,” he said. “Then we can start looking for the individual attributes needed in players.”
Among those qualities, he lists: quick thinking in any situation; keeping calm under pressure; the ability to create space and using individual flair to create passing or shooting opportunities for other teammates.
Mangwele Primary is in Diepkloof, Soweto. It has 336 learners and is 52 years old. It is a regular competitor in the Danone Nations Cup, but has been knocked out at the cluster stages in recent years.
They are busy with trials at the moment, ahead of picking a team to play arch rivals Khomanani Primary School in a friendly later this month.
Ramadikela sees Qhobasheane Primary School as their biggest competition in the district. “We have never beaten them, but we will be prepared for them this year.”
There are challenges at Mangwele. The biggest is that they do not have their own fields and have to travel to practice and play. “That creates transport problems and, of course players these young have to be carefully supervised,” Ramadikela said.
“But the kids enjoy playing in the competition and look forward to it every year, so we are there again and will be using our participation to teach those valuable life lessons.”