Makgosi Peloakgosi believes in the power of education and understands the value of her forensic sciences degree. At the same time, she has a winning attitude and dreams of putting South African squash on the map.
To date, she has represented South Africa at the US Open and World Junior Championships, which she says she hopes to continue as a professional player and plans to make an even bigger impact on sport, like some of her greatest role models have.
The global Covid-19 pandemic hasn’t come at a good time for Peloakgosi, as she was looking forward to enjoying her first year playing as a professional.
She was also beginning to find her momentum after getting injured. In the months leading up to April, she says she felt like she was getting her groove back, but Covid-19 struck and has taken her back to square one.
Peloakgosi is keeping upbeat and focussing on the bigger picture which is to achieve her goals of becoming SA’s number one squash player, win the SA National Champs, and to represent the country at the Commonwealth Games.
Growing up in a sports-loving family, Peloakgosi’s parents encouraged her to take part in various sports and to play different instruments, however tennis was one code that caught her attention when she would imitate the players on the court and her interest continued to grow.
Having graduated from University of the West of England with a Forensic Sciences degree, she is in a great position to pivot, if needed.
Speaking with Celine Abrahams, Peloakgosi chats about some of the biggest lessons she has learnt so far in her career and name Serena Williams and black women in sport as her inspiration to succeed.
It’s a pleasure chatting to you! Please introduce yourself and tell us more about you.
Hello, my name is Makgosi Peloakgosi. I am 24 years old, proudly Pretorian and I am a professional squash player.
How has the Covid-19 lockdown impacted you and how are you managing this time?
Covid-19 did not come at a good time at all, personally! Uh, you know, this is my first year of professional squash, I’ve also just come back from an injury, so you know, the first few months were tough trying to get some momentum going and I felt like the months before leading into April, May and June, I felt like I was getting somewhere. I was getting to a place where I was starting to be happy with how I was playing and then, “Ah, no, not anymore!” So, I just feel like having to start again is (cringes), it’s a lot, but these happen, and we just have to keep it going and you know, we move on.
When is the earliest you expect to be back playing?
Well, the PSA has been suspended until the end of July and there is still so much uncertainty about…around this pandemic, so obviously there are constant talks happening but no one still really knows when we will be able to play again. Squash South Africa has followed the same guideline, so you know, the end of July is the deadline almost, but we never know what is going to happen. Also, we’re only a sport that can come back in Level 1, so that is very dependent on the country. So, I have absolutely no idea when I’m going to play again but I can tell you now when that happens, I will be so, so, happy!
How do you keep fit during this time and work on your squash game?
Well, I have mainly done my rehab programme just to maintain that foundation and make sure that I don’t get injured again. I’ve been doing circuits, yoga, pilates, you know, things just to have a good base. I’ve also been doing Zumba! I enjoy doing that at home, a little home workout. It’s fun because you can do it in your living room, dancing a little and just enjoying exercise and by the end I’m knackered but I’m really enjoying it.
I’ve also been doing ghosting, weird enough! I think I should tell my coach I’ve been ghosting; she’ll be very surprised! Ghosting is very squash specific so that also just keeps me thinking about the game.
How did you fall in love with sport?
“I think just being surrounded by people who enjoy sport made me love sport even more and just going to stadiums and that atmosphere when everyone is supporting their teams, it is surreal and is such a great experience, it brings so much joy!” – South African junior professional squash player, Makgosi Peloakgosi
I’ve always grown up around sport. My whole family loves watching sport, you know. My dad with his football, my mom and my sister used to watch lots of cricket and rugby, my gran used to love tennis! I used to imitate the tennis players while they are on TV, I would be grunting. I think just being surrounded by people who enjoy sport made me love sport even more and just going to stadiums and that atmosphere when everyone is supporting their teams, it is surreal and is such a great experience, it brings so much joy!
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like?
I was born in Pretoria and I’ve lived here my whole life. I grew up in Ga-Rankuwa until I was about 10 or 11 years old and then we moved just to be closer to school more than anything. Ah, I loved my childhood! I think I had a really good childhood, I’m lucky enough to have parents who support me through everything that I do and they encouraged me to try so many different things when I was younger from playing different instruments and lots of sport! I did ballet then gymnastics, I did swimming at one point. Just being allowed to explore with no pressure for you to excel really helped me understand why I love sports as well as really appreciate many different sporting codes. That was my childhood, just trying many different things.
When did you realise you wanted to make a career out of squash?
It was one of my first national senior champs and I was about to play on a glass court, there were loads of people and I wasn’t as never as I thought I would be because I went on to the court and I was like, “You have absolutely nothing to lose, this is a great experience.” I just tried to stay positive and personally, I felt that was one of the times I played some of my best squash. I felt like I went out there and I was competitive enough. I did lose, but I really just enjoyed it and having all the people out there supporting, the atmosphere, the experience, just all of it was amazing.
What have been your career highlights to date?
This is really my first year of playing pro squash, so nothing yet, ha ha ha…But as a junior, I was definitely representing South Africa at the World Junior Champs and also the opportunity to study abroad – I graduated last year…I studied Forensic Sciences at the University of the West of England. So, that’s it for now, but tune in because two to three years from now I’ll definitely have a longer list!
What are some of the lessons you have learnt along the way?
One of the biggest lessons that I have learnt is discipline, discipline and more discipline. I wouldn’t say that I have bad discipline, I just feel like if you want to be the best, you just have to be super disciplined. And, it’s hard to be thar disciplined all the time, it’s not an easy thing to do and I am still constantly learning how to do that.
“But I’ve learnt that it is okay to mess up, it’s okay to be frustrated, it’s okay to be upset, but it is always necessary to think about the bigger picture at hand.” – Peloakgosi chats about the lessons she’s learnt in her journey so far.
The other really big thing that I learnt is to embrace the squash journey. You know, just learning and being around such amazing, talented players, it’s great! Also, just knowing not to rush it! Everything will happen in its own time and learning that is tough. But I’ve learnt that it is okay to mess up, it’s okay to be frustrated, it’s okay to be upset, but it is always necessary to think about the bigger picture at hand. you might not be where you want to be, but you have never given up or stopped, so yeah, embrace that journey.
How would you describe the state of women’s squash in South Africa?
Squash is a small sport in this country so there aren’t as many players as you would like. There aren’t as many competitive players as you would like and you can see the positive side in that, that we built a small family, everyone knows everyone and it’s almost cute, you know, we enjoy each other’s company but at the same time I feel like competing against the same players over and over again, it can get boring or redundant.
Although you are getting really good matches, sometimes you just want to be exposed to completely different and I felt like when I was in England; I played different tournaments but I never really played the same people. Every tournament I played someone new and never knew before and just that thrill of playing someone and seeing what you can improve on, what you can’t, it’s different…It’s a different experience, so I do think we have some good, competitive players in the country which I am really happy about, I just feel like there should be more players. If there would be more encouragement for women to play the sport and sport in general.
What changes would you like to see taking place regarding promoting female squash players and encourage young, up and coming players to know that it is possible to make a career out of the sport?
In terms of promoting women’s squash and women in squash, I would like to see a women’s only tournament where you just highlight the women that are playing. Highlighting their skills, their talents and by doing this I think you can almost bring about a new sort of appreciation for why we are actually playing this, why we are around, you know. We are not just around for show! So, I think that will be one way to highlight the excellence that we do have in this country.
I would also like more tournaments with a higher prize money because it can get very discouraging. I’ve played this whole tournament, I’ve battled it out all the way to the finals and won and then your male counterpart is like winning 50 percent more money than you and then you ask yourself, “Why am I playing?” “Am I not good enough to receive the same prize money?” It can get incredibly frustrating, especially as a pro, a young pro.
In terms of support for women squash, I feel like, especially from a federation point of view or speaking towards Squash South Africa, I feel like I don’t get as much support as I would like. Being young and trying to navigate this sporting world, I would think that they would have more knowledge than me, more contacts than I do, just to really get me going, or even just introducing me to an organisation like gsport. I’m allowed this platform and with this platform so many opportunities can arise from this and that is support. It doesn’t have to be monetary support, just allowing me to network with different people or organisations because doing it by yourself can be quite daunting for most and you’re like a deer in front of headlights and you just don’t know what’s going to happen, so I just think that there’s not enough support available but we just have to keep on pushing, talking and see what can happen in the future.
What has been the biggest challenge for you in your career so far?
“Your movement is gone, your mentality is gone, you’re doubting yourself, there’s just so many things that come with injuries that becomes your toughest challenge and you have to think of the bigger picture and trust the process.” – Peloakgosi speaks about her biggest challenge of coming back to play after suffering an injury.
My biggest challenge in squash are my injuries! Ha, ha, my body knows how to get injured so that’s not helpful but you know, it’s not really the injury and it’s not really the rehab – I’ve learnt the importance of rehab and going back when your body is actually ready and not when you feel it’s time to go back – it’s definitely after, trying to get back on your feet, trying to remotely even play some squash. Your movement is gone, your mentality is gone, you’re doubting yourself, there’s just so many things that come with injuries that becomes your toughest challenge and you have to think of the bigger picture and trust the process.
Injuries don’t help at all! But I’ve got a really good team behind me and I’m just really thankful to have them because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t even be in this position.
Which sportswomen inspire you and why?
Serena Williams is the easy answer for this question simply because she backs herself. She has so much confidence in her abilities that nobody can tell her otherwise. You can tell her, “No, not good,” but she knows she’s the best, she has known that she is the best and hasn’t changed that mindset.
Everyone knows her for her hardhead, you tell her she’s not good and she will tell you, “I am good!” That’s why I really aspire just to back myself fully, completely, 100 percent.
My other answer is black women in sport as a whole. I do think that black women are constantly scrutinized, constantly having to show that they’re good enough when it’s quite evident that they are, questioned every single day of their lives, so yeah for me, I just think black women in sport are a huge, huge inspiration and having them there, having that representation is so important because if I didn’t have any black women, I wouldn’t even want to make this a career, I wouldn’t to be honest. I wouldn’t even want to think about this, so to all the black women that have paved the way and opened so many doors for this to happen, they are my true inspiration and it’s a legacy that I would like to contribute to and keep going for future generations.
What is your advice for young girls who are looking to following their sporting dreams?
“It’s so important to ask for help, I think that is what I will tell my younger self; to ask for help, don’t be stubborn!” – Peloakgosi encourages young girls who are looking to follow their sporting dreams to find mentors and never be afraid to ask for help.
For young sportswomen out there, if you want to be a professional, do it! It’s so important to ask for help, I think that is what I will tell my younger self; to ask for help, don’t be stubborn! Nine times out of 10 people are willing to help you and it might seem that support is non-existent but there are organisations and there are people who are willing to help you, so asking for help is such a big thing, especially when you’re young.
What is your greatest sporting ambition?
Some of my greatest sporting ambitions is to make the world Top 10, be South Africa’s number one, win the SA National Champs, also I would love to represent SA at the Commonwealth Games; be apart of that team, that would be amazing!
But I think my most important one in terms of me playing squash is to be competitive. I want people to know me as one of the most competitive players. I want people to know that if you step on to the court against me whether you’re better or not, that’s fine, but I have to win. I want to be on the court, I want to give my all 24/7 and when people step on they know that they are not going to have an easy match against Makgosi, so that’s important to me, to constantly be competitive, that’s pretty much it!
Photo 1 Caption: The global Covid-19 pandemic certainly did not come at a good time for South African squash player, Makgosi Peloakgosi, as she was looking forward to enjoying her first year playing as a professional. Photo: Supplied
Photo 2 Caption: Peloakgosi was also beginning to find her momentum after suffering from an injury and in the months leading into April, she says that she felt like she was getting her groove back, however the global pandemic struck and has taken her back to square one. Photo: Supplied