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Monday 11 November 2013

Gray hails 'life-changing' South African adventure

Student Becky Gray recounts her amazing Premier League-funded stint as coach in South Africa

  • Children in South Africa take part in the holiday camp at which Becky Gray coached

  • Becky starts catching practice with the girls

  • The netballers put Becky's coaching into practice

  • Many of the children Becky taught came from underprivileged backgrounds

  • Summer camp proved a huge hit with those who took part

  • Becky's teaching helped the girls develop a sense of inclusion and self-worth

  • A farewell letter from one of the girls taught by Becky

  • The children enjoy another of Becky's amusing warm-up routines

  • Children of all ages were keen to get involved in Becky's classes

Each year the Premier League gives out millions of pounds to help clubs, groups, institutions and individuals - in the 2012/13 season it was £45m - in the United Kingdom and abroad.

While much focus goes on the large projects, some of the smaller ones are having a big impact, too. One of these is the International Small Grants Fund (ISGF). This year Becky Gray, a student at Sheffield Hallam University, spent the summer with the Football Foundation of South Africa coaching netball to children from the township of Gansbaai and helping educate them as part of an exchange programme funded by the ISGF.

It was an experience Gray describes as "life-changing" and one that has convinced her to take up a career helping underprivileged people in the United Kingdom.

Here is her story…

Gansbaai challenge

In July 2013 I undertook a life-changing challenge in South Africa. I spent 11 weeks in a small seaside town called Gansbaai, volunteering for the Football Foundation of South Africa. The Foundation is a non-profitable organisation that was set up with funds and expertise provided by the Premier League and which provides sports programmes to the local township communities.

My job was to set up a netball club for the Foundation and work with a local coach to progress her coaching education and confidence further.

"I felt that going to a deprived area and helping would be a great way of becoming a more competent and experienced coach"
Becky Gray

I chose to take part in this project through Sheffield Hallam University because there are not many opportunities to coach netball overseas and I felt that going to a deprived area and helping would be a great way of becoming a more competent and experienced coach.

When I arrived there were many boys attending regular training sessions but a minute number of girls participating, so my job was to create a welcoming experience for the girls of the townships.

I had noticed when visiting the townships there was a problem with under-age drinking and sexual abuse so the other female volunteers and I decided to host a "Girls-Only Day".

'Girls-Only Day'

We went to the local schools to promote this and had a very good turnout. We used this opportunity to inform the girls of the sports we had available to recruit new members. This was successful and now there are lots of girls attending on a regular basis.

"It was amazing to pass on the knowledge I have gained through my studies"
Becky Gray

Once the netball was up and running I decided to work closely with the local coach, Nabisa. I spent time teaching her basic ICT skills and made session plans and I also helped bring out her confidence when coaching. It was amazing for me to pass on the knowledge I have gained through my studies.

The holiday camp was really memorable. When I first arrived there were about 50 children waiting to be registered. They have so much energy all the time and smiling faces although their home life is not fantastic and they do not have a lot of money or any luxuries.

Each day 250 children turned up, some days we even had to turn children away because we had insufficient staff to keep them in the safest possible environment.

The warm-ups were the highlight of my week. The coaches and volunteers took it in turns to perform a silly song in the middle of the circle which the children repeated. After the warm-up there were different activities such as sport-specific relays and team building. This was a great week for me as a coach because I learnt lots of new innovative games and different warm-ups.

Dibinesa programme

One great project was the Dibinesa programme, a project that teaches the kids about their local environment through sport and fun activities. It was an eight-week course and at the end we took the children to a camp on the beach. It was incredible to see how just being around people that love them and show them affection can make such a big impact on a child's life.

"It was incredible to see how just being around people that love them and show affection can make such a big impact on a child's life"
Becky Gray

For "Girls-only Day" we decided to take a group of the netball girls to Elim home, which is an organisation that looks after severely disabled children from a young age up until they are 18. We wanted the girls to give something to those less fortunate than themselves.

They made bracelets to give out to the children at the home along with a wash rag, a bar of soap, shower gel and a toothbrush. We gave the girls a message that even though they do not have much, they are privileged to still have their health.

My most memorable moment throughout my placement was meeting the children. I cannot express how rewarding it is to just spend time and be such a role model to children who have practically nothing. Seeing them grow and improve as young netballers was a fantastic achievement.

South Africa was a real eye-opener for me personally and professionally. Originally, I wanted to take up a career in teaching but after three months of experience in a deprived environment I would like to work in the community in the UK.

Just providing a space for children to come and have fun without worrying about bullies or crime on their streets would give me a great sense of satisfaction.

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Key Points

  • Sheffield Hallam University student Becky Gray spent three months in South Africa teaching netball to underprivileged children
  • The trip was part of the Premier League's Football Foundation course
  • The "life-changing" experience has persuaded Becky to take up a career helping underprivileged people in the UK