Thobela Mathemba Thoba is a 36 year-old Sports Administrator who was born and bred in Motherwell, Port Elizabeth (PE). His love for sports reaches to way back when he was still a young boy, and he has channelled that passion into an active effort where he tries to improve the sporting lives of young children.
He attended Enkwenkwezini Primary School in Motherwell, Port Elizabeth and later went to attend Pearson High School after which he enrolled to study Sports Administration and Management at the Port Elizabeth Technikon.
“After I graduated at PE Technikon, I worked at Victoria Park High School where I still am as a Sports Co-Ordinator; I’ve been working here since 2003.”
He says his initial passion was soccer but then grew to realise that he enjoyed sporting as a whole and later became an athletics coach. Thobela says he has grown a lot over the years as an athletics coach; he had to ‘start from the bottom’ and worked his way up.
“When I started coaching athletics, I started from nothing as I had no knowledge and experience of coaching the sport. I attended coaching courses and did a lot of reading over the internet, coupled with watching video’s on YouTube. In 2006, I produced my first provincial athletes (two sprinters). The following year I was selected by Eastern Province Athletics to complete the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) coaching course.”
“I obtained my IAAF level 2 coaching qualification and I was appointed as an Eastern Province Athletics Coaches’ Instructor in the same year and whenever there was a coaching course in Eastern Province I would be one of the presenters,” he says.
Since then, Thobela says things just seemed to grow even further. “From there on everything just grew and grew in terms of coaching athletes. Since 2006, I’ve played a hand in producing more than 50 provincial athletes as well as four national champions in the sprints; 100m, 200m and Long Jump, including numerous national finalist and medalists.”
Thobela also founded an NPO in 2009 called the Mustangs Sports Academy, with the aim of running outreach programmes in rural and previously disadvantaged communities around PE and the Eastern Cape. He was forced to resign however after five years due to a lack of funding and chose to focus on coaching athletics
“What we did do however was to start up a women’s football club – Mustangs Ladies FC, which is still operating even today. They started at local league level in 2009, won promotion to play at regional league level and then ultimately won promotion to the Sasol Womens’ Provincial League at the end of 2013,” he says passionately.
Dedicated to his mission, that was not the end of Thobela’s efforts, as he later went on to start another company called ‘TJ Athlete Management’ with Jessi Heatley, a friend who is a Biokineticist inPort Elizabeth in March 2012.
“We started with five athletes and today we have over 60 athletes who train 6 days a week. We focus on athletes that want to perform at provincial and national level. They come to us and we groom them through our long-term training program, with the aim of having them reach the finals and possibly medal positions at nationals after three to four years.”
His efforts have also won him recognition from the government as he is contracted by the Eastern Cape Academy of Sports (ECAS) as a Sprint Mentor Coach.
“ECAS is a governmental program aimed at discovering promising sprinters from mostly the rural areas of the Eastern Cape, most of them have little or no access to coaching or training facilities. They are placed on ECAS’s high-performance program which I oversee.”
He says the athletes visit PE after every two to three months where they participate in a training camp for a weekend. He monitors the athletes regularly via calls and WhatsApp as a way to discover their progress and struggles.
“Also through ECAS, I have the opportunity to go out to rural areas and run coaching workshops for coaches and coaching clinics for athletes to promote athletics in rural areas of the Eastern Cape,” says Thobela.
Two years ago, Thobela was elected as the Chairperson of Eastern Province Athletics Track and Field and is a member of the EPA Board, overseeing all the province’s athletics programmes since 2014.
He has recently resigned from Victoria Park High School as he has even bigger plans which may better fulfil his ambitions. This will be through an “exciting” sports development project which he is currently working on, which aims at developing young township athletes.
“I applied for funding to run a township and rural development project in September this year. The original idea was to start up this initiative in PE Motherwell where I grew up, and where we would work with a school called Enkwenkwezini Primary School.”
The project involves providing 20 selected athletes (sprinters) in the under-8 to under-12 age groups with specialised coaching, academic tutoring and assisting them with a nutrition programme. “The funder loved the idea and insisted that we run the same program in Grahamstown where we work with Fikizolo Primary School.” He says the project is primarily aimed at sprinters competing in the 60m, 80m, 100m and up to 400 meters.
Thobela says his passion for sports, ‘especially soccer’ stretches way back. It was when he was in high school that he realised there were not enough efforts in nurturing township talent.
“I used to just flourish when it came to sports; I had a lot of support and coaching, and in the back of my mind, that made me set a goal for my life, to do something small but achieve great things. I grew up believing it was the government’s responsibility but I always felt that they weren’t doing enough to support youth sports development.”
He says he has sent many proposals to different government departments which either got turned down or stolen over the years. “I was lucky to have a parent (mother) that understood what I wanted and believed in my ambition, I sometimes don’t even sleep at night because I’m constantly looking at things I could be doing to make things better.
“I’ve started my own company, ‘Thoba Sports Consulting’, which is aimed at creating and managing sports development programmes for the previously disadvantaged communities. I’ve also founded an NPO called ‘Khulasande Sports Development’, through which all the development programmes will be driven.
“If you have a dream about something, it’s meant to happen. Obviously, it won’t happen easily or quickly, but one thing that young people should do is to persevere, work hard and make the necessary sacrifices to achieve their dreams. If you can dream it, that means it’s meant for you. Everything that I have achieved in my life I saw it beforehand because it’s what I wanted.”