On April 20, Peter Alegi (Michigan State University) gave a Baraza lecture titled, “Shaka’s Progeny: Youth Football and Masculinity in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.” The presentation focused on the Izichwe Youth Football Program in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. The program was founded in 2010 by Reynold Thabo Dladla, a footballer (African Wanderers, AmaZulu Royals) who began coaching after his professional career ended. Dladla had a vision of combining soccer training and education in a program that would produce smart kids, engaged citizens, and good footballers.
Izichwe was created outside of the South African Football Association in order to maintain full autonomy in training and competition. The program was funded by a grant from the National Lottery and by the Norwegian football club, Viking Stavanger. Following tryouts for youth under 14, fifty boys were invited for five years of training through the program. Participants would go to school then train daily from 3 to 5pm, eat together, and study for an hour before going home.
The program placed a high importance on fundamentals and character development. Dladla and the coaching team intended to create men who know responsibility for others before self. They promoted the idea that football is a highly intellectual activity and thus encouraged players to think for themselves and take responsibility for their own training. There was little emphasis placed on winning, instead focusing on player development and empowerment.
Only one cohort was trained during the duration of the program, and eventually the team dropped from 50 to 25 due to the program’s high expectations. Despite this, the team succeeded in youth competition and eventually entered adult leagues in 2014. The program was also successful in its focus on education, as most graduates went on to university. However, the Izichwe program ended in mid-2016 following loss of resources and related bureaucratic issues. Although not all youth finished, the philosophy and values of the program live on in the players. Many have football careers at various levels, and many are enrolled in university.