Basketball as an Outlet in Umlazi West

Thandeka Thusi

August 7, 2023

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Thandeka Thusi, also known as Coach TT, is one of the most soft-spoken people you might meet. While soft-spoken, she is tough on participants because she wants to see them reach their full potential on and off the court. She also understands the obstacles that the young participants from her community face. Keeping them on track is a part of her life’s mission.

 

There was a time when Thandeka succumbed to the outside influences of gangs and peer pressure, amongst others. Thandeka recalls having a short temper during her upbringing. This phase in her life caused valuable relationships to turn sour, resulting in her losing the trust of friends and family. Another relationship that spoiled for a brief time was Thandeka’s relationship with PeacePlayers.

 

After years of being in the program and doing volunteer coaching in her free time, Thandeka became a coach at PeacePlayers in 2015. Thandeka has found long-term success in coaching, but it wasn’t so smooth early on. Peer pressure got the best of her and she was placed on probation from the organization for

6-months. She needed this lesson so that her participants and colleagues could get the best version of her. Two months into her probation, she humbled herself, and dedicated herself to serving her suspension in a more accepting way. After six months, “TT came back a changed person,” Umlazi Area Manager Thobani Ngubane says.


Once Thandeka got to know more people and hear their stories through her PeacePlayers experience, she realized that she wasn’t the only one who had justified reasons for built-up anger and aggression. She had been through a lot, and people hadn’t always treated her with the same thoughtfulness as PeacePlayers coaches did.


A few coaches who had a positive impact on Thandeka sparked her eagerness to have a similar impact on young people’s lives in her area. These coaches were Ntobeko Ngcamu and Thobani Khumalo. Coach Ntobeko coached Thandeka for the Umlazi West community team for two years. Thandeka recalls him being “kind and patient while allowing me to speak what’s in my heart. He helped me see life from a different perspective in understanding right from wrong in certain scenarios.” Another coach she has reverence for is Coach Thobani, also known as “Panda.” Panda was an Area Coordinator who consistently urged Thandeka to self-examine, which helped her understand that “I was more than I was giving myself credit for.” At this point, she knew she wasn’t reaching her full potential in her comfort zone.


Through life skills facilitation with Coach Ntobeko and, even further, through facilitating those same life skills with her participants, Thandeka became more at peace and less confrontational. Thandeka started to be more cautious of the things she said that might be hurtful to others. “I started to take things slow before reacting out of anger,” says TT.


By 2017, she was also selected as a Laureus Sport for Good Foundation YES Program participant. This came after Laureus recognised her ability to effectively lead and facilitate life skills sessions in her community. PeacePlayers coaching and the Laureus program helped Thandeka understand more about herself. She began to set goals and a vision, learning to identify her values and tune-in to her inner self. Ultimately, this helped her understand the role she could play in her community with the support of her peers.


Through her involvement with PeacePlayers and Laureus, Thandeka has had the opportunity to travel to Cyprus, Cape Town and Israel. Her trip to Cape Town was capped off with each participant receiving bursaries to study sports management, resulting in Thandeka being able to study at the Mangosuthu University of Technology.


PeacePlayers’ local training and global interactions have equipped Thandeka with the skills to strategically tackle and solve problems that affect young teenagers’ lives. Her approach is to help participants understand that they are leaders in their community who are capable change makers. Just like Coach Thobani made the court a safe space for Thandeka, she makes the court a judgment-free zone where, collectively, everyone helps each other tackle challenges faced either at home, with friends, or in the community.


Thandeka hopes to get more sponsors for their community team and court, which is in bad condition. The Cwebezela court has developed dozens of successful players who play basketball at different levels. This court will continue to have more success stories if its conditions can be improved. When asked to describe what her home court symbolizes to her, Thandeka characterizes Cwebezela courts as “peaceful, and a place for interpersonal growth, unity, life-changing experiences and therapy.” She has grown and been an example of resilience. With her newly created nonprofit organization, NUZ ALIVE, she organizes outreach projects that include clean up days at the school, the court and holiday festivals.


When Thandeka was a participant, she learned to socialize with other participants from different places, backgrounds, and ethnic groups. Respecting others for their differences was a pivotal turning point for her to be able to lead in the way that she currently does. As a coach, she openly shares her story, knowledge, and experiences locally and globally. Thandeka is now confidently entrusted with taking the lead in Umlazi when her area coordinator isn’t available to oversee the day-to-day operations. This is a complete 180-degree change from when she was suspended from the organization. Thandeka has seen first-hand the consequences of a few bad decisions, so she does her best to keep participants on the right path and lead by example.

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