Nicolas Kock, executive director of the programme, points out that the pillars of the programme are much broader than just cricket skills. They include in addition the promotion of academic achievement, preparation for viable careers, leadership development, and community involvement.
Since its inception, the SS4LS programme has assisted more than 110 cricket students to complete their degrees.
Most of these graduates pursue successful careers and many of them have become prominent leaders in their community, he said.
The SS4LS initiative started in 2000 when Craig Marais was recruited as the coach and senior player James Albanie, who bought into the vision of the programme.
Albanie volunteered to travel from Touws River to join the squad every week in Cape Town without any compensation.
Over time the club gradually moved from 2B level up to 1A. In the 2007/08 season UWC completed a hat-trick of awards. They won the two-day competition, one-day competition and also claimed the T20-spoils. No Western Province club has ever done this before or since.
One of the historic moments for Kock came when UWC won the 1B-club title in the 2004/05 after four seasons in the 1B-league.
They were aided by Gareth Knott, who captured 7-42 to rock Claremont on their home ground in the first match of the season against a unit that boasted the presence of Jacques Kallis and Alan Dawson.
Over the last 16 years, UWC’s cricket has also experienced a sharp upward curve in comparison with other universities, rising from 18th in the country to the top tier. The institution reached second place several times at the USSA tournament since 2007/2008.
“One of the most important outputs we have had for the WPCA, is our contribution to the development of black African crickets that completed their degrees, and, in turn, became part of the club structure of the Western Cape.”
Mpilo Njoloza, Aviwe Mgijima, Mafinki Serame, Lesiba Ngoepe, Sikhokele Camagu, Emmanuel Seberame, Ronald Masinda, Abongile Sodumo and David Sepele are some of the players that engaged in the programme.
“Given the appropriate institutional space by WPCA, this contribution through the programme can increase exponentially and address transformational challenges within the region head on,” Kock said.
What alarmed him, was that after matric many cricket players are contracted to Western Province or the Cobras without enrolling in any tertiary educational program.
About 80 % of contracted players lose their contracts after two years. Then those individuals have to start working, but they will struggle to find jobs and they might easily be completely lost to cricket.
The SS4LS-programme assures their continued academic development, and thus retain them as cricketers.
Very early on the board realised that the traditional sport-scientific approach would not deliver the desired results.
A more personal approach to people-development was needed. Players required a medical support, a nutritional plan and an academic development structure to yield fruit.
Prof Paul Avis, a former leading South African tennis player in the 1970s and 1980s, was brought in to nurture the so-called soft skills of the players.
These are skills on how to address personal problems, how to absorb pressure, and how to utilise it to develop a winning mentality.
A key part of the person-centred programme was to make the players essential partners of the decision-making program in setting academic and cricketing goals for the season.
These goals get evaluated on an annual basis with the players during their individual academic and sport debriefing sessions.
Contrary to what critics say, the programme is not focused so much on winning trophies, as on developing champions for their communities.
These players are also equipped with life-skills and the academic grounding to pursue careers that sustain their continued upward social mobility while serving society.
Kock is immensely proud of achievers like Robert van der Ross, who presently captains Victoria. In a recent game against Primrose, Van der Ross called back the last batsman from Primrose who was wrongly given out.
The stakes were high because, as a result of this decision, Victoria was relegated.
However, Van der Ross was given a special sportsmanship award at the prize-giving ceremony of Western Province in May.
Prof Johann Graaff, chairman of the SS4LS Board, pointed to the positive impact that the multi-facetted university environment has had on cricket at UWC.
“We have had biokinetics, academic support staff and psychologists, among others, who have been connected to the programme,” he said.
He said a movie like Coach Carter has been iconic in making players understand the script of SS4LS.
In this movie, an extremely successful basketball coach at an American ghetto school stops team training to insist that players focus on their school work. That move causes uproar in the team and at the school. So, Carter sat the players down and asked them one by one, ‘Where’s your brother? Where’s your father?’
Many were either drop-outs, in jail or unemployed – of those that were still alive. The key principle at stake here is that sport is a dangerous and, for most part, a very short-lived career.
The drop-off can be very sudden and disastrous for personal careers. It is no accident that there is such a high rate of depression and suicide among young sportspeople.
“We also want to invest the formula that we entrenched at the University of the Western Cape at other institutions like schools. We have already identified schools in Muizenberg and Bellville where we are busy implementing the SS4LS-programme,” Prof Graaff said.
He dismissed suggestions that such a programme can be easily copied and used in other institutions without the special brand of value-driven leadership that is exemplified by Kock.
“You need a special culture and atmosphere, like the one that is evident at UWC,” he added