Our Legacy – Part one

To get a better understanding of our origins, who we are, and what we stand for, here is the story of Mthandazo Ndabeni, better known as Coach Thomas and the founder of CTYD:

When I was a kid I loved playing football, but as a teenager I made some bad choices. It started with bad habits such as substance abuse. I neglected football and dropped out of school. I found myself in a really dark place. Emotionally and spiritually, I felt like my soul was trapped and I needed a way out.

As a person who grew up Christian, I regretted those choices. So, in December 2001, I went back to church as my mother had always wished for me. My mother believed in me and prayed a lot during those trying times. The church community supported me. I stopped doing drugs, but I still abused alcohol. In 2002, I went back to school. I began to miss playing football. One day, in my grade 12 classroom at Masiphumelele High School, I said to my friend Mavala, “I need to go back and play football.” But Mavala just laughed at me; he did not believe I could make it. But I never gave up.

Several months later, Mavala introduced me to his neighbour, Mr. Mashayela, who loaned us some football jerseys and a soccer ball. We started a club called Juventas. We then recruited our friends from the tavern, the school, and my street.

Everybody was enthusiastic at the weekly practices. But on matchdays, we were preoccupied with drinking. Those who did not drink suffered, and one by one they left the club. 

By August 2003, the few players who remained decided to quit as well, leaving me alone with nothing but a ball. At that point, I told my younger brother, Abo, who used to tag along with Juventas, “Go to Kolobe Street and call your friends to come and train until this ball is punctured. Then, after that ball is used up, we can all quit.”

After the first day of training with the eleven/twelve-year-old boys from the street, I told them to tell their friends at school about the club. To my surprise, I had about fifty kids at training, and I was so nervous! Even though I had so many kids to train with, I was still into the party life, and I kept disappointing the kids on the weekends because I was not available to coach them or organize games for them.

The ball finally wore out, but the kids had made a plan. They asked one of the boys to bring his basketball so that we could train with it. Their hunger and desire to play and their enthusiasm was the driving force. While I only used them to wind down the clock to exciting weekends, the kids were just thrilled to have an opportunity to play.

Mavala supported me when we played our first under-thirteen games. Afterward, the kids came up with the idea of playing regularly. I kept telling them that without jerseys and no money, we were not ready. But the boys kept insisting, “We will play without any kit, as long as we can play. We are ready!

They were right: the next game ended at a 1-1 draw after our comeback in the last five minutes. The junior teams in Masiphumelele were New Castle, Young Pirates, Bombers and Doves, and now us: Juventas. We were the new kids on the block.

We continued playing until 2004, but I was still drinking. One day, I was at some tavern in Luntu Street in Masiphumelele, and a guy came up to me and said, “Dude, there’s a group of kids asking to see you.” When I looked through the window, it was my boys looking for their coach so they could play their game. I went to them and lied, saying the game was cancelled. The look on their faces was heartbreaking. I knew I had to change. 

The kids went back home with their heads down. I went back to the tavern, but I did not enjoy myself as usual. My heart was broken too. I felt sad for telling them lies while the fire of their enthusiasm for soccer was burning strong within their hearts.

In 2005, my mother said the church members wanted to build a shack – a house made of metal sheets and wooden planks – at my her house for weekly church services. I agreed and they started building. On the following weekend, I was in Luntu, drinking as usual, when suddenly it got cold. I said to Mavala that I would go and get myself a jacket from home. When I arrived at my street, I heard the sound of gospel music and clapping at my house in the shack. I was surprised. While I was out drinking, I had forgotten the time and even the day. That day was a Sunday. I turned on my heel without the jacket because I was so embarrassed. I did not want the church members to see me drunk. 

That day I quit drinking.


“There can be no greater gift than that of giving one’s time and energy to help others without expecting anything in return.” – Nelson Mandela

Part two

The boys and I kept on playing soccer. In the meantime, these boys grew into men. We are now named Young Stars Football Club and are playing in every league from Under 10’s to the grown-up teams!

In 2018, I started the surfing program in addition to soccer. I met the first group of boys who wanted to learn surfing while working Gap Year South Africa. Jessica Gould, who was my employer, ran the “Ubuntu Surfing Program”. But she could not continue teaching.

I had to do something to make sure those boys could continue surfing.

I mentioned my wish to continue the surfing program to one of the Gap Year South Africa volunteers, Grant Larson, who came all the way from Montana to South Africa. Grant said straight away that he would help me. What we needed most was equipment – mainly wetsuits and surfboards – and transport. With the kids in mind, Grant started a GoFundMe campaign. He said he would raise funds and did exactly that.

We started surfing as the Kasi Surf Club in October 2018. Back then, we were part of the Masiphumelele Youth Development which is now called Coach Thomas Youth Development.

Right now, there are many new members. Young and motivated kids. They are enthusiastic about surfing and cannot wait to tame the ocean’s power by riding South African waves.

Part three

Since we took over the surfing program, the workload has increased immensely. Not only because of the new types of coaching with new kids, but also the new equipment and new expenses – not to mention the paperwork that came with it! During the past years, we have learned many lessons and developed the eagerness to grow not just in numbers but also in impact. The Covid-19 pandemic was another challenge that we faced.

We know that girls need education through the lessons that sport teaches us in the same way that boys do. Therefore, we aim to equalize the participation of all children in our programs. Swimming and hiking are programs that have been developed during the past two to three years. These have already shown their potential to achieve gender equality, not only in the programs’ participation but in the kids’ minds as well.

We have also learned that the more we grow, the more we need to share the workload, and that is why we reached for the non-profit status. A group of motivated members on a voluntary basis is the foundation of Coach Thomas Youth Development. We push for progress proudly.

This progress is followed by loads of paperwork and administrative work that cannot happen in our living rooms anymore. CTYD needs a proper office, a space where we can work efficiently on new ideas and improvements. Also, we see the need for a place that can be used as a storage area due to all the equipment donations that we have received throughout the years. Building an office is the goal that we are working on at the moment.

Why don’t you come and join us?