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Back You are here: Home Sports Rugby Kwa Zulu Natal Steve Botha: Maritzburg College Director of Rugby
Wednesday, 23 March 2011 12:45

Steve Botha: Maritzburg College Director of Rugby

Steve Botha Director of Rugby @ Maritzburg College Steve Botha Director of Rugby @ Maritzburg College

The newly appointed administrator of rugby at Maritzburg College, Steve Botha, is not one to sidestep potentially explosive questions.For one, he uses a simple but effective analogy to put to bed the notion that parents and teachers put too much pressure on schoolboy rugby players to win at all costs.

"The point of playing in any competition is to win," says the man whose life philosophy is to live every day to the fullest. "Even if you're playing darts or scrabble you play to win, so I don't think undue pressure is placed on the boys at all. Yes, the point is to win each match, but the key is to be humble in victory and gracious in defeat – that is the true measure of a rugby player or any sportsman for that matter."

Botha (43) has returned to Maritzburg College after a seven-year interval and wound up a productive four-year stint as the manager of the Midlands Rugby Academy at the end of last year, so he is fully aware of the high dropout rate of schoolboy rugby players once they have matriculated.

"Coaches and coaching educators are very aware of this and do take steps to minimise the dropout rate, but I don't think this is peculiar to schoolboy rugby alone," says the middle son of former Natal prop Bobby Botha. "We grew up on the side of the rugby field watching Dad play," the Greytown and Estcourt High-educated Botha smiles.

"At coaching courses there is attention paid to long-term player development, instilling the enjoyment factor, which encourages players to play into their 30s, but there are many other factors that come into play after young rugby players leave school.

"They discover new sports and leisure pastimes and obviously there is a lot more freedom to try different things once they are out of the structured school environment."

Indeed, the trend of a high dropout rate of schoolchildren from team sports once their uniforms are discarded is a fact that plagues cricket and hockey to at least the same degree. Post-school, carefree afternoons are replaced by varsity lectures or work commitments and the limited time available makes largely individual sports like squash, golf and cycling a whole lot more attractive than committing oneself to set times for team practices and giving up weekends for matches.

One can also speculate, though, that the provinces whose school rugby teams play in a competitive league format from as young as under-14 are not doing the players any favours, as the "win" factor is amped up to a significantly higher degree compared to those regions where a points table is anathema.

As a university-trained educator (University of KwaZulu-Natal Pietermaritzburg campus) and sports science honours graduate (Maties) Botha is uniquely qualified to comment on the increasing professionalism that is so prevalent in today's schoolboy rugby.

"Look, rugby is now a career option, just like the more traditional professions, so just as you would educate as professionally as possible a boy who leans towards the sciences, so do schools endeavour to bring out the best in a boy's sporting skills," says the multi-talented Botha, who held the South African record for the new javelin for one week while studying in Stellenbosch.

A case can also be made that just as a school makes every effort to make certain that the step-up from schoolwork to academic study is not too daunting – South Africa is littered with students whose failure to adapt to the rigours of tertiary education is well documented – so, too, should the secondary school rugby coach make every effort to ensure that a boy is ready for the pressures and skills level of Varsity Cup or junior contracts at the leading franchises.

And are the boys' achievements exploited in order to enhance the school's marketing value?

"Obviously there is a marketing spin-off if the school earns good results on the field," Botha says. "But that alone is certainly not what schools are aiming for. The fact remains, though, that, like in any endeavour, if you want to compete with the best of the best you have got to prepare accordingly."

As far as the charge that the boys are doing excessive gym work is concerned, the sports science aspect of Botha's university training quickly comes to the fore.

"The intensity of the gym work must be closely monitored and tailored according to the age group, and ideally according to the individual capabilities of each boy," says Botha, who coached in Italy for two years in between his mentorship of the St Charles and Maritzburg College first teams.

An alumnus of the International Rugby Academy of New Zealand (Iranz) that was formerly in Wellington and now works out of Palmerston North, Botha knows what he's talking about.

The fearless former scrumhalf and centre who played for Natal Schools' in 1985 and turned out for the Maties first XV for four years, says that at under-14 and U15 level, body-weight training is the way to go.

Botha, who also completed a high performance coaching course under the tutelage of former All Blacks and Lions coach Laurie Mains and holds just about every coaching qualification in the book, reflected that during his childhood he and his friends used to climb trees and ride bicycles for miles.

However, in an ever-encroaching world where crime is so prevalent, it is an option that is not feasible for most children anymore as it's simply too dangerous on so many fronts. Hence, the gym has replaced the great outdoors for aspiring young rugby players.

"At the age of 16, boys are more mature, are reaching maturity, so at this point you can introduce weights into their programme, squats, dead lifts and so on," he says.

The weight training must be designed for that particular age group and Botha says most of the top rugby schools employ a biokineticist to ensure that high performance programmes are not haphazard affairs and thereby detrimental to a teenager's physical development.

Many of the critics of modern-day schoolboy rugby decry the fact that so many aspiring youngsters appear to forego serious participation in the summer sports in order to prepare for the rugby season. This is especially shortsighted, the detractors say, as only a miniscule number of the very talented players out there are ever going to break into the big-time anyway. The argument goes that they are losing out on the sheer fun and camaraderie of playing a range of sports and meeting a wider pool of their peers.

Referring to Maritzburg College, Botha pointed out that most of the talented rugby players play other sports that complement rugby, such as water polo, basketball or athletics, while outstanding first XV and KZN provincial scrumhalf Stefan Ungerer is one of the most explosive batsmen in the strong College first XI.

"We must bear in mind, though, that with so many sports being professions these days, specialisation in a particular sport is a natural progression. Generally speaking, it's a fact that if you want to get to the top you have to choose early."



Botha coached the Maritzburg College first XV from 2001 to 2004 and before that, was the mentor of the St Charles first XV from 1993 to 1998. The man who sat on the Natal bench as a player during the 1990 Currie Cup season also coached the KZN U18 Craven Week team for three years, so he's eminently qualified to deliver his verdict on the quality of present-day schoolboy rugby.

"The whole professional approach is leading to improvements, so the quality is there, but we mustn't lose sight of the enjoyment factor," the father of two daughters says.

While holding the title of rugby administrator at Maritzburg College, Botha plays a major coaching role in the land of red, black and white.

"Broadly speaking my job entails the development of rugby at the school from U14 level upwards, coaching the coaches and assisting first XV coach Piet Snyman, with an emphasis on the backline, team strategy and playing patterns."

And while Maritzburg College has developed a reputation for its quality packs of forwards, Botha points out that the school has produced far more Springbok backs than lineout and scrummaging men.

"Catching and passing is the platform – handling is very important, as everything else goes with it to make the complete rugby player," he says.

And the temperament of rugby players varies from position to position.

"For example, your flyhalf and fullback are usually the cool, calm and collected types, while the forwards need to have some mongrel, that natural aggression to win the ball.

As far as the fortunes of the Maritzburg College first XV of 2011 are concerned, Botha says rather cryptically that they will be "competitive, capable of springing a surprise or two".

"Glenwood have been the top side in KZN for a number of years while Westville have been pushing hard, so it's going to be an interesting season."

Botha is looking forward to accompanying head coach Snyman and the Maritzburg College squad to the Grey High School Festival in Port Elizabeth during the first week of the holidays.

"There will be a number of top schools there, which should give us an indication of where we are."

And while the men that he admires most are those with small children – he and wife Katherine are the proud parents of two-year-old Abigail – one can't help thinking that Botha will be spending much of the year casting as keen an eye over the rugby-mad young men from the KZN capital's most illustrious school.

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