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27 November 2023 | Story Cindé Greyling | Photo SUPPLIED
Student Athletes
The KovsieSport and SCD teams and student-athletes during the Project Empower and GROW certificate and celebration ceremony.

In the latter part of 2023, KovsieSport (KS) Soccer, in collaboration with Student Counselling and Development (SCD) at the University of the Free State (UFS), introduced a transformative self-development initiative for student-athletes. The GROW programme, an acronym for growth, resilience, optimism, and wellness, is a meticulously structured, resilience-based project firmly rooted in Positive Psychology (PP). PP methodologies aim to foster human strengths, psychological capabilities, and overall flourishing. 

Cultivating an optimised mind for an optimised body 

Dr Munita Dunn-Coetzee, Director of SCD, emphasises the critical link between physical and mental well-being for student-athletes. Pushing their bodies to excel significantly influences their mental health,” she notes. “Creating awareness and a supportive culture within sports teams is important.”  The GROW programme, initially piloted by students four years ago on the Bloemfontein and Qwaqwa campuses, demonstrated statistically significant improvements in students’ subjective well-being, resilience, hope, and noteworthy reductions in experiences of depression and stress. Encouraged by these positive outcomes, the programme was subsequently integrated into KovsieSport. 

Balancing the equation: The other side of sport

Tobias van den Bergh, Senior Psychologist: SCD, underscores the multifaceted nature of well-being. While physical exercise is a potent natural medicine supporting mental health, he highlights the importance of addressing emotional, spiritual, cognitive, social, and physical aspects of well-being. Van den Bergh cautions against the potential harm associated with exercise when linked to high-pressure performance goals or unhealthy objectives, advocating instead for a holistic approach to well-being. 

Bridging the gap: Impact of the GROW programme

The GROW programme successfully bridges the gap between sports and mental health, fostering increased trust among student-athletes. Godfrey Tenoff, Senior Official at KS Football, observes enhanced cohesion among participants, affirming that the programme positively influenced their preparedness for life’s challenges. Makhaola Mohale, one of the attendees, encapsulates the sentiment, stating, “The biggest takeaway was to always have a heart and mind of gratitude.”

Celebrating victories: Stop at the top

On 27 October 2023, the GROW Certificate and Celebration Ceremony acknowledged student-athletes who completed the project, the event served as a reminder that, beyond the pursuit of victories in sports, investing in mental health is a significant triumph. In the words of the author, “Congratulations to all our student-athletes who completed the GROW-programme.”

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