Coach T knows how to ball like a girl


The beauty of basketball doesn’t live in ankle-breaking crossovers or highlight-reel dunks. It’s in the ball floating in the air, swishing through the net. The squeak of sneakers on hardwood, the pummel of a dribbling ball. Thabo Marotola lives for these small pleasures. And he is passing his passion on to the girls and boys in his community.

Marotola’s love affair with basketball started when he was a kid, playing after school. A year after starting the sport, his coach died. While dealing with the loss of the man who had become his mentor, Marotola made the transition from player to head coach. Motivated by the belief that the joy of basketball should be accessible to girls as well as boys, he introduced the sport to anyone who wanted to play – regardless of gender. Today kids in Philippi and Nyanga know him as Coach T. His commitment to the sport, and refusal to be bound by stereotypes, has seen nine of his players – both boys and girls – selected to play for South Africa’s national team.

Marotola uses basketball to give children a chance to belong. The court is a space where he teaches persistence, focus and resilience. He sees basketball as a way to empower boys, and as a means for young girls to be confident in a sport known mainly for male athleticism.