The lives of girls from Ocean View are being changed through a programme that melds sports and life skills.CoolPlay is a Laureus Sport for Good project improving the life skills of 1000 children across the Cape through rugby and netball. The programme offers a combination of expertise from a child psychologist and a sports scientist, delivering drills that contain within them survival skills from children with tough backgrounds.Over 40 of these are from Ocean View, where CoolPlay champion Grace Mapfumo Yantolo works with three schools to teach a series of games and conversations centred on eight coaching cards – developed by child psychologist Linda Bruce – that develop five life skills: Personal awareness, social awareness, responsible decision-making, self-management and relationship building.The life skills on each card teach children how to manage their emotions, behaviour and interactions with others, with the vehicle of teaching these skills being sport.Grace’s daughter played netball at Kleinberg Primary School and she would often go and support her and watch the girls play. She then spoke to the coach and volunteered to help. It was while she was volunteering that she was approached by CoolPlay, she says.The CoolPlay coaching training gave Grace a skill set to help her deal with “any situation, no matter how hard”. “I wanted to know more. I had a passion to reach the girls and to teach them,” she says.Grace has been coaching girls at Kleinberg and Marine primary schools and Ocean View Secondary School.“It started with me. I am who I am today because of the training. The life skills you are putting into kids are the skills you’re equipped with.”The programme is based on statistics that only around 40% of youngsters matriculate across Cape Town. Learners routinely witness or face violence inside and outside school, and half of children surveyed have recently seen a weapon at school, the organisation says in a statement. In addition, girls suffer from gender-based violence and can show a lack of confidence and self-respect.Some of the girls coached by Grace come from these difficult social circumstances, says Grace, having been exposed to gang violence or poverty or being raised in single-parent households.She has had to counsel learners who have lost loved ones to gang violence, and even lost a member of one of her teams at Ocean View Secondary in a murder.“It took me time to get over that. I become close to the girls. She was only 14 or 15 and had been playing a very good centre. We as a team had to work on it and I had to bring it in sensitively to the coaching sessions,” she says. “It affected the girls very much.”Grace played netball throughout her school career after joining her first team in Grade 3. But her love for the sport was only a small part of what drew her to coaching.“I wanted to learn more – how to teach the girls, how to give, how to handle situations.”Through the coaching, Grace has seen changes in the girls’ behaviour.“My daughter used to be the only African girl on the team and I noticed that she and other children from Masi didn’t fit in. CoolPlay teaches them life skills like discipline and respect and now they work as a team, show love to each other and understand different backgrounds. They’re now a team and have a bond,” she explains.The coaching cards teach girls to have character and be a good example to others, Grace says, and they are applying the lessons outside the coaching sessions and passing them onto other learners.Grace has noticed the biggest difference in the girls’ level of discipline.“I had girls who didn’t want to be taught. After a time they would come running up to greet me and offer to carry my bag, excited for the lessons. If they are reprimanded now, they show remorse. The show love and commitment – they arrive on time – because they want to learn,” she says.Many of the girls have shown improved grades as well.“Sometimes the girls were mean to each other or rude. I had to use my parenting skills [as well as my coaching skills]. You need to have passion, patience and love for the girls to bring out the good in them.”The real aim for Grace is to see the girls smiling and “preparing for their futures”.“It’s not about competition or even netball. It’s all about life skills,” she says. “If I can change the life of any child, let me do it.”V For more information email email@example.com.