'Road to Glory' books inspire kids to get off the sofa & onto the sports field
There are many valuable life lessons to be learnt from this series of books that tell the stories of SA sporting legends like Caster Semenya and Chad le Clos
Mike Peters*, at the age of 10, would rather spend his time watching YouTube videos and playing Fortnite on his Xbox than almost anything else on offer. This he does in a sedentary position on the couch, covered in a blanket, head slightly raised on the arm, eyes a little glazed over.
But mention sport and Mike is off that couch sooner than you can say "he scored". If there's anyone available with whom to kick a ball around, challenge to a length of crawl, hit some wickets or practise a rugby pass, Mike is game. The same goes for most of his friends. Sport is their saving grace and sports stars are their gods.
So, in a stroke of genius, publishing house Jonathan Ball has come up with a series of books to inspire young readers to get into the garden or onto the field to emulate the courage, conviction and commitment of local sports stars.
Written for kids between the ages of 10 and 14, the series takes them close to all the action, and all the ups and downs that are part and parcel of a life devoted to achieving in the sports arena.
The Road to Glory series covers the life stories of some of SA's sports legends, foregrounding the discipline they needed to become national and international heroes in their fields.
The first stars to be profiled in the series are rugby star Siya Kolisi, world and Olympic champion sprinter Wayde van Niekerk, cricketers Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers, footballer Percy Tau, Olympic gold medalist Caster Semenya and Olympic, world and Commonwealth Games champion swimmer Chad le Clos.
In Road to Glory: Caster Semenya, the life of the brave and controversial runner is traced from rural Limpopo, where she grew up in relative poverty, to the University of Pretoria, where she was noticed by coach Jeremy Daniels (the author of this title) who became her mentor and trainer.
The book tells the story of her fierce determination, despite being constantly taunted about her appearance. She discovers soccer and immerses herself in the game, even making the boys' team. Beyond just a story of sporting prowess and a commitment to make the best of her ability, Semenya's story is also one of triumphing over bullying and ostracism, something many children can relate to. Battling controversy over her gender on the track and in the media, she went on to win gold at the 2016 Olympics.
Wayde van Niekerk was quick off the mark from the time he was born, according to the writer of this title, Carlos Amato: "Two months premature and weighing no more than a litre of milk, his life was in danger. But little Wayde survived and grew to become the world's leading sprinter."
His first success on the sporting field was in rugby. He excelled at the game despite being small and skinny. From the book kids learn that Wayde was motivated by his mother Odessa's brilliance as a sprinter before his birth - during the apartheid era when black athletes were not given the opportunity to excel on the biggest stages.
His story has other lessons too: Wayde constantly stands up for the weak against bullies, and gives generously to those less fortunate than himself.
Chad le Clos and Percy Tau are the sixth and seventh books in the series.
Percy's story is one of rags to riches. He grew up in Witbank, one of seven children raised by a single mother. "There is one thing that brings the Tau boys together: soccer. At Mmagobana Primary School, they quickly make a name for themselves on the soccer team."
Percy's mom wanted her son to forget about the beautiful game and get himself a real, responsible job. Percy had caught the football bug bad, though, and against his mother's wishes he joined the Sundowns Youth Academy, where he met Pitso Mosimane, the Sundowns coach who recognised the boy's talent.
Percy had to deal with the heartbreak of losing a brother in a car accident, and of defying his mother, who blamed football for the family's woes. Yet there's glory to be achieved with a strong spirit - and Percy was offered a position to play for Brighton, in one of the biggest deals ever offered to a South African footballer.
Hundreds of hours spent in the swimming pool during his childhood finally resulted in Chad le Clos beating his long-time rival, Michael Phelps, at the 2012 Olympics.
His story is one of honing his natural talent with complete dedication, but also one of overcoming great challenges in his life, including worrying about both his parents' health.
The series is written in easy-to-follow, accessible language that tells the stories of these South African heroes in ways that kids can easily grasp.
The lessons of commitment, discipline and perseverance are common among the stars represented here. But even more than this, the lessons of humility, humanity, fair play, good sportmanship and guts shine through as lessons to our kids - lessons they'll never learn from PS4 Fifa19 or Fortnite.
*Name has been changed to protect the innocent.