Game Changer: The Connection Between Sports and Mental Well-Being

Game Changer: The Connection Between Sports and Mental Well-Being

October 10 is celebrated annually as World Mental Health Day, and is globally significant as a chance to take stock of where we are in terms of our mental health. 

As we all become more aware of the importance of our mental well-being, it’s equally critical to learn about the aspects that positively affect our mental state. In a sense, building mental fitness can be considered a sport in itself.

The power of physical activity

It’s no secret that regular exercise can significantly impact our physical health, but what often goes unnoticed is its profound influence on mental well-being. Physical activity has been linked to reduced stress, anxiety and depression while boosting self-esteem and overall mood.

Having an active lifestyle has benefits overall for our well-being,  for example, being active releases endorphins that enhance the feeling of contentment overall. This chemical release not only boosts your self-esteem and helps you concentrate, but it aids better sleep too.

Mental fitness is described as a person’s ability to think clearly and make efficient and effective decisions, and mental fitness should be approached holistically, with value being placed on physical activity as a key contributor to your overall well-being.

At Nokuphila, our holistic approach to wellness is taken seriously, and one of the ways we’ve been achieving it is through our fast-growing sports programme.

Netball: More than just a game

Netball is more than just a game at our school; it’s a tool that teaches our learners about the power of teamwork and communication.

Netball is one of the many sports our school uses as it gives the learners great insight into collaboration, thanks to our coach and Head: Sports Organiser, Paul Ntini. Netball requires both physical and mental strength, and we are hugely passionate about it for this reason – it takes great discipline and teamwork to strategise in this technical sport.

Nokuphila offers netball as an extracurricular sport from the age of under 10 and this year, we have been able to join the Ivory Cluster 2. A cluster is a group of schools from the same area that create leagues of different sporting codes in order to compete.

The Under 12 and Under 13 teams experienced a flawless season, not conceding a single match. 

Soccer: Goals beyond the field

Soccer, known as the ‘beautiful game’, has brought joy and determination to our students at the school. Beyond physical benefits, it has taught the learners the value of goal setting and more importantly, inclusivity.

This year has been a landmark year for our school, with the recent inclusion of girls soccer teams. Soccer coach, Debra Malinga, has been teaching at the school for the past 8 years, and has headed up the girls soccer coaching in 2023.

Malinga is personally passionate about soccer because she has too often seen girls being denied the opportunity to play the game, on account of it being a ‘boys sport’.

At Nokuphila, we received enough interest from our female learners to form girls teams and enter them into the league. Malinga coaches the Under 11 and Under 13 girls teams, with our school offering this extracurricular from the age of 8 onwards.

Soccer or ‘i-diski ’ as we affectionately call it, is more than just a sport for our learners. It’s a much loved way to pass the time, with the learners playing informally during break or after school.

Their love for the game has sharpened their skills as the girls often play with the boys and the mixed teams learn a lot from each other. They had an excellent first year in their sports cluster, with the girls coming in 3rd place out of 17 schools in both Under 11 and Under 13 teams.

Volleyball: serving up confidence

Volleyball has served as a powerful metaphor for life at the school. The sport demands precision, focus, and quick thinking – skills which are instrumental in boosting cognitive abilities. It’s not just about hitting the ball over the net; but also about developing mental agility and becoming well-rounded individuals.

Our volleyball coach Thokozile Malaza loves the sport, having played when she was at College. The isiZulu teacher takes a lot of joy from coaching the mixed teams.

Our two volleyball teams practice weekly, and although there’s not a very large league in which to play, our school has achieved great success in 2023. We are proud to say that we have won all our matches at a league and friendly level. 

 Success Stories

A positive side-effect of our school’s sports programme has been the ability to showcase to learners the profound effect of harnessing their talents on the sports field.

Many of our netball girls have qualified for their local super league teams such as Mighty girls, Super Girls, and the Ivory Park stars, while some of the soccer girls have been selected to play for teams like All Nation in Ivory Park.

Two of our alumni that have achieved massive success are siblings Tswarelo and Lesego Chiloane. Tswarelo was selected for the South African Netball World Cup team earlier this year, while her brother Lesego plays for Mamelodi Sundowns, a Premier Soccer League first tier team. 

 Striving for gold

The Nokuphila sports programme exists not only as a way to keep the learners fit and healthy, but as a positive extension of our holistic approach to caring for our learners.

Energetic Paul Ntini is the perfect educator to drive our sports programme forward. As an English teacher with an Honours in Inclusive Education, he is perfectly poised to understand the learners unique needs, and has spent the past few years developing strong relationships with both the students and his fellow sports co-ordinators.

In 2023, our school formed a special sports committee dedicated to creating the sporting codes that allow them to compete at cluster and district levels. Ntini has great aspirations for the growth of our programme, and hopes to see more of his fellow teachers getting formal training.

Ntini has ambitions to grow our academy and school partnership network, with the ultimate goal of more scholarships being awarded to talented sports stars.

 After the final whistle blows

Nokuphila seeks to build a holistic child, with the primary goal being to nurture and motivate them to excel in any activity that they enjoy.

As we reflect on World Mental Health Day, let’s remember the integral role that physical activity plays in maintaining healthy minds. Our school’s sports programme is a shining example of how exercise can uplift spirits, instil confidence, and foster resilience. It’s a testament to the idea that healthy bodies truly lead to healthy minds.