• Kaunda Chama

Machanguana applauds Jr. NBA efforts in youth development

WNBA Legend Clarisse Machanguana presenting Academic Achievements Awards at Gala Dinner on 25 October

For centuries the sports domain was reserved for boys and men, but in recent decades, girls and women have taken their rightful place in this space and are getting more opportunities to showcase their talents.

From the soccer field and track and field, to the tennis and basketball courts, girls and women have staked their claim, and backing this up is their development from a young age right through to professional level.

WNBA and Mozambican basketball legend Clarisse Machanguana believes that getting girls involved in sport from an early age helps them adopt a more active lifestyle, make healthier lifestyle choices and and also gives them an edge in life because of the life skills they obtain.

She was speaking at the ninth Royal Bafokeng Jr. NBA League finals that were recently hosted in Phokeng, in South Africa's North West Province, where both boys and girls games were played.

“This league is an example of the beauty of planting a seed. I have been here a number of times before and seeing how much it has developed is impressive, because not only are the kids, coaches and their parents involved, but the entire community is supportive of it,” explains Machanguana.

She adds that one of the challenges in some African communities is allowing girls to get involved in sports like basketball and understanding how great that is for their development.

“Although basketball may not be the number one sport in South Africa, it is great to see these young girls being interested in it because they will gain more than the on-the-court skills. There are values that the sport comes with that transcend to real life and will help them become more goal orientated, disciplined and respectful, all of which are key to building a person's self esteem and helping them with social integration,” Machanguana said.

Through her foundation, which was launched in Maputo in 2014, she has spearheaded the use of sports to mobilise kids and advocate for causes that prevent practices that handicap their futures development. These are initiatives such as HIV prevention and recently the foundation has been advocating against the practice early marriages and teenage pregnancy.

“In certain parts of Mozambique, girls as young as 12 years old are allowed to get married, and these are obviously still children and because of this, they are almost guaranteed to become prisoners of poverty because they will not finish their schooling,” she explains.

Machanguana's vision is to educate boys, girls, community leaders and government officials as well on the importance of encouraging girls to first further their education before considering things like marriage, as this will make them more productive members of their communities.

“We have to work as a nation to bring this change about, because sometimes if you only teach the girls that early marriages are wrong in a community that teaches boys the opposite, you create a platform for conflict,” she notes.

Machanguana had a desirable journey to a professional basketball career, which saw her graduate from the Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia USA and played professionally in Spain and the WNBA. She also represented her country at the 2006 Lusophony Games in Macau, China.

“When I created my foundation, one of the things I also wanted to do was to show kids that if they work hard, they can succeed even if they were born on a continent with so many challenges. I also wanted it to be a bridge to enable some of them to study abroad,” she said.

On the flip side, she has also made it a point to tell the youth that success can not only be attained overseas, stressing to Mozambican kids that they can also make a success of themselves in their own country as long as they take the right steps to doing so.

Kgosi Leruo Molotlegi (left) presenting MVP award to High School Boys Final's MVP Goitsemang Ditsheko (middle) with FIBA Africa President Anibal Manave (right)

Machanguana took time to commend Kgosi Leruo Tshekedi Molotlegi, the King of the Bafokeng Nation for his vision in making sport a key focus in uplifting the the youth of his kingdom.

“Sports also help people develop networks that will benefit them in the future, but what is good about programs such as this one is that, like my foundation, it also focuses on health. That is one thing youths sometimes forget forget, they concentrate on sports and academics and don't pay equal attention to their health,” she noted.

Through her foundation, which works with 30 schools in Mozambique annually, Machanguana also encourages kids to pair their sporting ambitions with education because it broadens their future career opportunities. “A sporting career can come to an abrupt end due to a serious injury, but having an academic qualification will give them other options,” Machanguana notes.

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