Former international netball star pays it forward mentoring young girls
A MOTHER, an international star, a mentor, a role-model and an all-round success story, Zanele Mdodana may have retired from international netball, but this Bluewater Bay woman is far from giving up the court.
Born in New Brighton and raised in Kwamagxaki, Mdodana credits her primary school teacher for pushing her to play the sport that would one day make her an international star.
When one comes across Mdodana, there is no denying her athleticism. She’s tall, lean, fit and very importantly, she’s a woman, and a single mother at that, to a seven-year-old boy.
“For everything that I’ve achieved, it wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for my parents. They were there for me and my son and were able to fill that ‘mother father’ void when I was away on national duty,” Mdodana said.
The 31-year-old former netball player said she grew up a tomboy, played cricket with the boys and didn’t play with dolls with the other girls, which annoyed her mother at times because she believed “a girl should be in the house by 5pm, close the curtains and make tea”.
Having only started her netball career at the age of 10, Mdodana reminisced on how badly her first netball match had been against another PE school and how she almost gave up then and there on the sport.
“My first match was against Walmer West. We lost 8-4 and I was actually the shooter and I missed all those goals. I was like no ways, I’m done with this; I’m not going to play a sport where I’m going to lose. Eventually she [the coach] changed me to defender and that’s been my position ever since,” she said.
The former national captain of the South African netball team made the decision to retire from playing, much to the surprise of many of her fans and teammates.
She received a full bursary to study at NMMU and did sport management majoring in netball, qualified and now works at the university’s sport bureau as a sport manager. Currently the most capped player with 82 caps, she has three Commonwealths under her belt, including one World Cup.
“I really did want to go for 100 caps but it wasn’t meant to be. There’s a different level of fitness when it comes to netball and it’s also a sport where you constantly have to be on the court. ”It requires agility, innovation and footwork. It requires speed – otherwise you are literally 10 steps behind your teammates.
“You only get those qualities when you play. Unfortunately I didn’t get any game this year having missed out on the Netball Brutal Fruit Cup earlier this year,” Mdodana said.
Even though netball is Mdodana’s first love, she now has the time and opportunity to focus more on her other passions such as taking part in triathlons and mentoring young women who want to make their own own dreams reality.
“For me, being with the young ones is where I want to be because not only can I coach them in the sport but I also want to transform their thinking and their minds,” Mdodana said.
“Our children need living examples of success and its possibilities as I walked the same path as most of them.
“My success today is not mine alone, but I received a lot of assistance to get to this point, so I need to hold other children’s hands and walk them along the same path,” the NMMU assistant coach said.
Mdodana also heads up a project called Vision Girls that has been running since 2012, where she takes girls from New Brighton, Zwide, Kwazakhele and Veeplas to coach them play the sport on weekends.
“We’ve recently started writing letters to each other and just to read some of the things these girls go through is intense. Sometimes, just to say a kind word would make life just a little bit easier,” the netball icon said.
Other than being a mentor, assistant coach and sport manager, Mdodana recently started doing netball commentary for SuperSport matches.
“What’s important now is to improve on that, gain as much experience as I can, empower myself and go to courses if there are any and hopefully commentate internationally and analyse matches.
“From there I would hopefully be able to branch out to even more sporting codes,” Mdodana said.
Her message to the youth was discipline and persistence and said nothing beats those two combos.