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Back You are here: Home Sports Hockey Kwa Zulu Natal Zimi Shange Reaches For The Stars
Sunday, 31 October 2010 22:44

Zimi Shange Reaches For The Stars

SOUTH Africa U17 hockey goalkeeper Zimisele "Zimi" Shange is a girl who is going places. Pietermaritzburg born and bred, Zimi represented her country at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in August and it was an eye-opener on many fronts.ZIMI_VS_PAARL_GYM_-_Copy

Interviewed by SA School Sports on her home pitch, the splendid, new Shelagh Bowness Greenfields Turf in Pietermaritzburg, Zimi was brimful of youthful enthusiasm for her chosen sport.

"The Youth Olympic Games were amazing, especially making new friends and learning about different countries, but the biggest learning point for me was when we played and lost every game there. To me that was a wake-up call that I really need to step up my game and really work hard at it because international level is no joke," explains the livewire Pietermaritzburg Girls' High School student, whose GHS team-mates, Sne Zungu and Hlubi Sipamla, were also in the team.

"Considering the fact that we were expected to come last and play badly made us come together as a team and try to prove people wrong," says the girl who is still in grade 11 and should be among the prefect body at her school next year, according to her peers. "When we started to play to peoples' expectations and proving to them that what they had been saying all along was true, was not great. The vibe on the field was not great at all times because peoples' emotions would clash and a bit of tension would arise but we managed to overcome that quickly.

"And we wasted our opportunities in front of goal a lot but off the field we were there for each other and decided to give every game our all."

South Africa ended sixth and last in the girls' hockey tournament, but this should be put into perspective, as the equivalent SA U17 boys' squad didn't even qualify for the Youth Olympic Games, losing to Ghana U17 in a nailbiting final in East London in February this year.

South Africa as a hockey country also learnt that they are some distance behind the top hockey nations in the world.

But it didn't get Zimi down too much, as she recognised the challenge this high-tempo hockey represented to a group of South Africa's most promising schoolgirls who had never experienced such pace and skill back at home.

As Zimi says, "the opposition was great because every game was a challenge and the rate at which the opposition was playing was way up there compared to ours. And playing against them was a huge learning curve for us.

She identified immediately what she needs to work on if she is to fulfil her dream of playing for her beloved country at the World Cup and Olympic Games.

"I need to work on my speed and agility and to back myself in every decision I make," she says. "And, most importantly, I need to work on my mental focus and stay focused on the actual game and what's unfolding in front of me right now and not focus on how many goals I have let in and the thought that I might be letting my team down."

This sort of honest self-appraisal is not always found in teenagers who are highly regarded for their sporting prowess but Zimi's maturity in recognising the areas she needs to work on should ensure she gives herself the best possible shot at going all the way to the senior national team.

She was in fact praised by some of the hockey reporters in Singapore for her outstanding goalkeeping in some matches, in a side that was, on the whole, well beaten. How did she keep her focus when under so much pressure?

"I think the only thing that kept me going was the fact that I had team-mates counting on me and I didn't want to let them down. And that was my focus because personally I had given up on myself because I don't think that I played that well."

Zimi must be careful, though, not to be too hard on herself, as so many talented teenagers can be, which tends to hinder, more than help, their careers.

She does leave time for fun, though, and counts her favourite movie as being Love and Basketball, her favourite actor as Boris Kodjoe, her top TV programme as The Boondocks and if she could be anybody in the world, it would be "Riley Freeman from the Boondocks".

She said the South Africa U17 team was down after suffering heavy defeats to the Netherlands and Argentina but at the same time they recovered quickly as they recognised the high quality they were playing against.

"I think our best games were against South Korea, New Zealand and Ireland and the only game I was proud of was the one against Korea."

What was different about the way the teams attacked your goals compared to what you are used to in SA? "The teams had a lot of skill and eliminated players easily, and they weren't afraid to take shots from anywhere and if you got hurt, well so be it, because they didn't care - they just had an unquenchable hunger to score, no matter what."

The SA U17 coach, Rob Pullen, who played for South Africa and coached the national men's team, believes Zimi has the talent to go all the way, but a lot of work lies ahead to polish her inherent talent.

"Zimi needs to work hard on her fitness. She has talent but will need to work hard in all areas if she is going to go the next level. She needs to work on closing down and recovery saves. Short corner flicks are also a concern. She communicates well with her defenders and must continue to do so.

"I had an individual chat with all the players and on Zimi, she impressed in some of the games but due to lack of training and coaching, she did make the occasional errors. I have no doubt that she is a very committed, energetic goalkeeper. If this could be coached correctly, she will have every opportunity to compete at the senior level.  One of her great strengths is her ability to communicate continuously during a match to her players. This for a coach is a must.

"Zimi needs to be under a good coach/mentor if she is to get herself in shape. By this I mean all aspects, fitness, training, video analysis etcetera.

"At the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore Zimi has seen that she is smaller than most goalkeepers and will have to work even harder to compete in the future. She does have raw talent and this came out in many of our games. She was very good to make a first save and then be ready to close down any further shots. Her posture also gets her into trouble, as she tends to be flat-footed at times, which results in her reactions at times being too slow.

"Zimi is a very likeable person and always a pleasure to coach."

Getting to know Zimi the person is easy, as she speaks freely about her life.

A true-blue Maritzburger, Zimi was born in Edendale Hospital on 20 May 1983 and went to Northern Park Primary School in the KZN capital.

Her mother, Phindile Shange, and 15-year-old brother, Lwazi, are close to her heart.

"My mom is the biggest influence on my life because she's always been there for me and as a single parent she provides for my needs, while the biggest influence on my hockey have been Mrs Bentley, my primary school teacher, and Ms De Winnaar at high school, as they saw the potential in me."

Apart from her mom, Zimi's most admired women are Oprah Winfrey and Queen Latifah.

The girl whose favourite hockey player is North West and SA midfielder Celia Evans, a former GHS scholar, started playing hockey when she was 10 and began playing goalkeeper in primary school. "I use to play anywhere, for whichever team was short of players, but I really sucked when playing in a position other than keeper," she laughs.

"Being a keeper is hard work and that's what I love about it. It teaches me that nothing comes easy in life and one has to just keep working at it. Apart from that, it's fun and challenging because I enjoy diving around putting in that something extra to make a save."

And what does the athletics, basketball and soccer fan dislike about being a keeper? "The kit gets smelly at times, and that's not cool, but funny enough I am lazy when it comes to washing it," she grins, adding that she would love a stick and kit sponsor. Currently she uses Obo goalkeeping kit and a Kookaburra stick

"Seriously, I love playing for my Pietermaritzburg Girls' High School because it's known for its excellent hockey, and the pressure that comes with upholding that status is great because it pushes us as a team and makes us work as a unit, produce great results and play to the best of our abilities while doing so.

"GHS is an excellent school because we are known for our amazing academic and sports results and have benefited immensely from that through new facilities. And having a lot of girls at one school helps because there is a variety of people to meet and you learn about different cultures and religions," says the goalkeeper who would most like to meet Nelson Mandela, "just to thank him for all he has done for the country".

Zimi, who enjoys "any music that's R&B", first made KZN Inland at the age of 12 and every year after that. She made KZN Inland at 15, 16 and 17 years and played for the U16 Inland team twice and played for the U18s this year.
The phutu and McDonalds-loving Zimi made her SA debut at age-group level at the U17 Africa Youth Olympic Games Qualifiers earlier this year in East London, which qualified the national team for Singapore and the Youth Olympic Games this year.

Is she hoping to get a hockey bursary? "Yes, I am hoping for a hockey bursary but if I don't get one I'm working hard towards getting an academic bursary," she says.

"I would really love to go to the University of Pretoria because they have an amazing High Performance Centre, which I enjoyed training at with the rest of my SA team-mates, and Tukkies is an excellent varsity for training purposes as well as being one of the best academic universities in the country. But if I don't get accepted there, UCT and Wits are my other options."

Zimi's GHS first team coach, Taryn de Winnaar, believes making the right choices is crucial for those players who are nearing the end of their school careers.

"I think, as with all younger people, the greatest challenge Zimi faces in the future is making the correct decisions with regards to that future. Zimi is fortunate to have a very supportive family and she is also motivated to be successful, and this will stand her in good stead," De Winnaar says.

As to Zimi's type of personality, De Winnaar is in no doubt: "Zimi is a popular learner with an outgoing and very friendly nature. She is a polite learner towards both adults and towards her peers. She is a focused person who likes to involve herself in all aspects of school life and in this regard she is most reliable.  She also has an excellent sense of humour!"

As to what personality attributes suit her being a keeper? "I think her outgoing nature definitely suits her goalkeeping the most.  She is not scared to get stuck in and play hard.  She is also not scared to rev up her team-mates and create some friendly competition at practices."

The girl whose pet hate is cats is doing the double science option at school and is intent on studying for a degree post-school.

"I want to be a Civil Engineer one day. I have yet to consider my other options, but I am set on being an engineer."

Zimi's life philosophy is that with God all things are possible, and there is no doubt she is reaching with enthusiasm and determination for her dreams to come true in every single aspect of her life, while also not forgetting to enjoy the journey.

Jonathan Cook was the 2007 joint SA Hockey Writer of the Year and can be found at

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