By Jackie Bischof
Monday, May 3, 2010
Now that World Cup tickets have gone on sale, much of the soccer world is looking forward to the June games. But for female soccer players in South Africa the big month is October, when their country hosts the African Women's Championship.
The under-17 girls practice almost every weekday at 6 a.m. and then again at 4 p.m., after school. Rachel Sebati, 17, captain of the academy, says the sponsorship was a huge relief for her parents, who wouldn't have been able to provide her with similar opportunities in her small largely rural province of Limpopo.
The chance to play professional soccer often provides life-changing opportunities for young women in South Africa, which with its population of over 48 million people has one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the world and high levels of crime and unemployment.
"At first my family didn't want me to play because they thought it was a very rough game," said Sebati, who has been at the school for four years. When they saw her skills develop and the opportunities it brought, however, they came around.
"They're proud of what I'm doing," she said.
Shona Hendricks, a sports scientist at the University of Pretoria's High Performance Center who works with players at the academy, says that while women's soccer has made gains, much more is still needed. Players, she says, need more consistent competitive training year round. Psychological training is also essential, she says, as the national teams often falter when playing away games, because of rough crowds, elite overseas teams and aggressive players.
"That's one of the biggest problems we have in women's football: Our girls are not psychologically strong enough to play away games," she said. "You have to be tough to be a female soccer player."
Born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, Jackie Bischof is currently a part-time editorial research assistant and freelance journalist in New York City. A graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism in New York, she blogs regularly on http://jaxbischof.wordpress.com.
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