MOBILE, ALABAMA – WATCHING the children kicking soccer balls at Lyons Park on Tuesday, May 28, Zenzo Ndlovu saw more than a little of himself in each of the boys and girls.
True, the land of their youth is thousands of miles away from that of his native Zimbabwe, but while playing the world’s most popular sport in the setting sun, they could easily be family.
Such is a sense Ndlovu – known as Coach Z – is happy to foster through his non-profit organization Soccer4Life, which brought the 7- to 11-year-olds together on the city park’s lush green field.
It was the third practice of his team, which will compete throughout June as a low-cost, Christian-led opportunity for families in need. And even though other leagues are just finishing up their seasons all over the bay area, Ndlovu’s connections in the area have made it so his kids can play some of those groups in the coming month.
Ndlovu, born and raised in Bulawayo, has been involved in Mobile’s sports scene for more than a decade, having won a championship with the University of Mobile while attending on a soccer scholarship and going on to coach teams through the Mobile Soccer Club.
And now, the professional web developer and designer is doing something he feels is greater, and more in line with God’s plan for him: making soccer available to the underprivileged and those in the community who have never experienced it before.
“I’m trying to live my life through these kids, because when I was growing up I didn’t have anything,” Ndlovu said. “I’m trying to bridge that gap, so that anybody can have access.”
His first attempt at accessibility was to price the summer camp at $150, but even at that reduced rate – some leagues are as much as $800 for the summer – many families didn’t have the means to register their children. So Ndlovu dropped the registration fee down to $25, shouldering a brunt of the operational costs himself, which is why nearly a dozen kids were firing shots at the four goals he set up at Lyons Park on Tuesday afternoon.
Sitting in the shade provided by her mother’s umbrella, Ashley Roberson Daughtry watched her 8-year-old daughter Vivvyia on the field with Coach Z and the other kids and clapped her hands, smiling.
“I want them to know that someday you’re going to stop playing . . . but your relationship with Christ is going to stay,” Ndlovu said.
“I know for him to cut the cost, that means he’s having to pay for a lot of this himself,” Daughtry said. “That way it’s not about the money, it’s all about the kids.
“And I applaud him for that.”
It’s not just a more affordable option for Daughtry, it’s also a better opportunity for Vivvyia, she said. Ndlovu offers a “more hands-on approach” to the game, which she is picking up on, Daughtry said.
“He’s teaching her more skills and she’s really catching on,” she said.
If increased participation and access to Soccer4Life means he has to find funding in his own pockets and elsewhere, Ndlovu said he has faith in God it will happen. Nothing else matters than the opportunity he was meant to open to those who need it, he said.
“Right now, the interest is there,” Ndlovu said. “They want to play, they haven’t played, and so I’m going to do this.”
Sharing his faith is part of that mission, right alongside teaching the skills of the game he’s always loved, he said. Through Soccer4Life, prayer begins and ends each practice or game, to offer perspective among other benefits, he said.
“I want them to know that someday you’re going to stop playing (soccer), football or baseball, but your relationship with Christ is going to stay,” Ndlovu said.
That aspect of his coaching appeals to Daughtry, who said she sees a larger purpose to her daughter’s participation beyond exercise and recreation.
“They need to know it’s not just about the game, that there’s a bigger picture,” she said. “It’s all about discipline; it’s all about caring about your teammates.
“You’ve got to think about more people than just yourself.”
Ndlovu said he expects Soccer4Life’s summer season to be over by the first week in July, and after a month off, registration for the fall season will commence. Information for fall will be dropped off at area schools, and available at Soccer4Life.com, he said.
Anyone wishing to help with equipment and other needs are encouraged to do so through the website, as Ndlovu hopes to purchase instructional soccer DVDs and additional equipment as soon as possible.
Together with former Warriors, Young Warriors and Highlanders captain, Thulani Ncube, they run the Biya Tournament, which has its roots in the high density suburb of Gwabalanda in Bulawayo-Zimbabwe’s second largest city.