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By Brian Sokutu

Senior Print Journalist

Mix sports and books: Balancing sports and academic performance

In line with global studies demonstrating the significant effect of sports and academics, a teacher believes engaging pupils in sport and academics has numerous benefits

Life science teacher Nicholas Bixa’s approach of balancing sports and academic performance at Star College Pretoria is paying off – if continued achievements by Grade 11 pupil Noah Tesfay are anything to go by.

In line with global studies demonstrating the significant effect of sports and academics, Bixa believes engaging pupils in sport and academics has numerous benefits, including improved physical and mental health, enhanced cognitive function and better academic performance.

Open minded

While most academic schools in South Africa lean more on books than sport, Bixa says: “As much as Star College Pretoria is an academic school, promoting science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem), benefits of school sport – including physical fitness, character development, improved academics, social skills, stress relief and goal achievement – are undeniable.

“As we move forward, let us remember that encouragement and support are key to unlocking the potential of pupils through sports. We always teach them to set reachable and specific goals – allowing for pupil growth and making sure they perform best at their own comfortable state, knowing who they are.”

Bixa’s approach to teaching is “to make sure I have critical skill that will allow my pupils to be open-minded, are altruistic, compassionate champions who make better choices and love humanity, their living species and nature.

“I allow them to deeply reflect about themselves, challenging them so to be great individuals. I also teach them behaviour and respect for everyone. Self-respect and self-belief are key in meeting achievable expectations – solving discipline issues.”

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His example is Grade 11 school prefect Tesfay – a top academic pupil who has shown great leadership qualities; a leading participant in the 2023 South African Agency for Science & Technology Advancement (Saasta) Olympiad, having achieved national and international gold colours.

The Saasta prize-giving ceremony – under the auspices of the department of science and Innovation – is due to take place between July and August. Describing the pupil as “a very academic student, who has since Grade 8 held the first and second position”, Bixa says Tesfay also excels in sport.

“Taking part in such prestigious events as Saasta helps pupils foster critical thinking and to use science, mathematics, coding and robotics to solve social, academic and life problems. “This improves pupil’s self-esteem – also becoming academics who have a place they belong in, recognised for their academic successes by competing with their like-minded pupils.”


Tesfay, a senior basketball school team player, and also a talented swimmer and soccer player, says he participates in sport to relax his mind.

“I find that sports participation helps to improve focus and my mental health. “I believe that working hard has to be complemented with resting.

“I would like to reach higher heights and will not take this as a cue to stop my work for success. My success serves as my inspiration. My strategy has been to consistently work at home and at school, with focus. I study daily to understand school work and to supplement it,” says Tesfay.


Against a background of having attained a 100% pass rate and 96% bachelors passes, Star College Pretoria is among the best performing institutions in SA.

“We aim to create a secure, nurturing – yet challenging – environment that is built on positive relationships, developing the whole pupil emotionally, socially and academically,” says principal Murat Kalayci.

“We care for and appreciate each of our pupils as unique individuals – each with distinct talents, interests, needs and different qualities to serve the community.”

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