Mark Watkiss: Cricket Coaching and Playing in South Africa

My time in South Africa was, without doubt, an amazing experience and one that as I reflect on now was life-changing, to say the least.

When preparing for my journey I did feel nervous, but also excited due to the top-class support from the Sporting Opportunities UK team. Any questions or queries I had were all answered which made me feel much more at ease. On arrival, the in-country team was superb and helped me and the rest of the group settle in quickly! The in-country staff were also superb throughout the whole three months and really are a credit to Sporting Opportunities. They were always there for everyone, no matter what.

My three-month placement went by in a flash but I experienced so much on a day-to-day basis that it was like I could have been there for a year or two. On a sad note, I have to say that I was shocked by some of the things I saw when working in the townships. The poverty is heartbreaking and every day you just wish you could do something to change it and give the people living in the townships hope and most importantly ‘A Chance’.

My group was large but we quickly found a common ground and we became one big family within days. I made so many friends both within the group and with local South Africans from the cricket team I joined and played for during my stay. It’s funny that even though my new friends are from many different places, I feel like I have made friends for life. Experiencing South Africa with them made it even better!

I couldn’t reflect on my time in South Africa without mentioning the kids. Those that are thinking about securing a placement with Sporting Opportunities should realise it is all about the kids! It is hard to find the words to describe the personal feeling you get when you work with the township children of South Africa. These children have nothing! I coached a cricket team at a primary school but out of 11 kids, only 3 of them owned a pair of shoes. However, I have never seen so many naturally talented athletes in one place before! Every school was the same without a doubt. The kids were amazing, fun and made you feel like a famous film star every day when you turned up to coach them. They will love you and show you so much appreciation! The sad point is that in the end you will have to say goodbye to them and trust me that is an emotional killer. Every day I wonder what life has in store for them all. Most of all, I just hope that they are happy.

I know I only made a small difference to the people I got to know and love within the communities of South Africa, but at least that is something. My life is also so much better because of my placement with Sporting Opportunities.

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