Zanele Mdodana’s Full Circle Leadership Moment

Netball and the name Zanele Mdodana are synonymous and it’s really hard to separate the two. The former Proteas captain has been a strong advocate for the game on and off the court since her playing days and subsequently her retirement back in 2015. She has since in what she calls ‘gone full circle’ after she was announced as the new Proteas assistant coach, alongside Jenny van Dyk. Photo: Supplied

Netball and the name Zanele Mdodana are synonymous; you really can’t separate the two. The former Spar Proteas captain has been a strong advocate for the game on and off the court since her playing days and subsequently her retirement back in 2015. She has since, in what she calls ‘gone full circle’, been announced as the new Proteas assistant coach alongside Jenny van Dyk.

“This is a massive, massive honour. I consider myself extremely blessed to be seen as worthy to help contribute to the success of the Spar Proteas. 

Spar Proteas Assistant Coach, Zanele Mdodana

“It somewhat feels like I have gone full circle; I’ve played the game, I’ve played for the Spar Proteas, I’ve captained the Spar Proteas, I started my coaching journey eight years ago at Maties, competing at a high-performance level, and to be trusted with such a task it’s humbling.

I’m excited about what lies ahead for the Spar Proteas, and I am looking forward to being back in the fold, in a different position, but I understand the culture of the Spar Proteas. I have a bit of understanding of what it means to wear the green and gold, represent your country, having your country’s hopes on your shoulders. I also know there is work that is ahead for Jenny and I to be the difference.”

Mdodana has come up through the ranks and is now a leader in her field as she is highly knowledgeable in all things netball. 

This has seen her have a successful coaching career having spent the last eight years with Maties Netball, turning them into the current powerhouse that they are today. The former South African captain can now be seen as a senior leader in the world of netball and says her leadership style is inclusive in every sense of the word.

“I am a very inclusive leader; I love to surround myself with people who know more about an area than I do because then that’s my opportunity to learn. I delegate, I trust my team, who are experts in their field to run with things, and as long as they have a clear understanding of what the objective is and what’s the goal and that we are all just working towards that goal.”

With everybody being able to fully control their area of work, roles, and responsibilities are made clear. I am also a very consultative leader; I love to sit around a table and love to hear everybody’s views, put my views on the table, and we can come up with a better strategy of how to move forward.”

It’s been almost 10 years since Mdodana called time on her playing career, and it’s safe to say she has been more than successful as a coach. She celebrated a milestone birthday earlier this year and says with the way things have turned out, she feels overwhelming happiness about what her professional life looks like currently.

“It hasn’t been an easy journey. I turned 40 in February this year, and I never thought that I would be named as the assistant coach to the Spar Proteas to take them to the 2027 World Cup.”

“It feels like I have come full circle, having been a player, occupying a leadership role, as a captain for the Proteas having had many victories and successes against the top teams in the world. Now I have that responsibility to take the Proteas to the top, and make sure they break into that top three. It’s a mammoth task but one that we are capable of achieving it.

“I’m extremely proud of myself; I have had to be relentless, I have had to persevere, and at times I’ve been derailed but not denied. I have had to be steadfast and firmly hold on and pursue my dreams irrespective of the potholes, challenges, and struggles I have had to overcome. I am proud of myself for being patient and I feel now I am ready to be where I am, to do what I have been called to do.”

She also reminisced about her time with the Maroon Machine having helped the Western Cape team to their fair share of success and finally getting back the glory to the university’s netball team. Mdodana says that her time with the team was ‘life-changing and empowering’.

Adding to her coaching exploits, Mdodana also spent some time in Saudi Arabia in recent months getting school girls to learn about netball as the Middle Eastern nation looks to grow the sport in that country ahead of this year’s Asian Women’s Netball Championships. That experience was one where Mdodana could impart her wealth of experience on what could be the next generation of netball players. She is a great inspiration to those she coaches, but who inspires her?

“Caster Semenya, I have a renewed love for that woman. I was at her book launch and she is just something so special. She has had to overcome so much. She has had to persevere and endure so much and has come out strong on the other side. How humble and warm she is and she leads by example. Kass Naidoo, I actually call her my leader, she is a woman who has stood the test of time advocating for women’s sports breaking barriers, and shattering ceilings. Dominating in a male-dominated world when it comes to commentary.”

“Building this brainchild of gsport, being able to, through that, empower other women. She is selfless and it’s admirable how she constantly thinks of how to create a seat for women in boardrooms and around tables. If there is no seat, she just goes and builds a table puts seats around it, and says come occupy your space.”

“I love women who talk the talk and walk the walk. I struggle with women who say one thing and when it needs to be implemented, their words and actions don’t correspond. 

“I admire women who are ethical in their approach, who are pure and who are honest, who can look you in the eye and reprimand you, if they feel you are heading in a different direction but not doing it behind your back. They can actually call you in, and I have had the privilege of having Kass as that person in my life.“

In parting, she said she has received some pearls of wisdom when it comes to leadership from some powerful women and men reminding her of her worth and that if she believes in herself she can make her dreams come true. Given Mdodana’s stature not just in netball but in the sports world, she has some great advice for future leaders of South African sport who want to pursue their dreams.

“It’s about being truthful and being unapologetically yourself, I need to walk in truth and I need to lead and I need to serve and I need to give. Not be found in situations where my integrity is questioned, but also to show resilience because it’s not going to be easy.”

“To show the future leaders that it’s possible, hold on and just put one foot in front of the other. I am a firm believer that nothing worthwhile just lands on your lap. To cultivate, you need to learn lessons, even when you do fall short, how do you get up and how do you dust yourself off and keep moving forward.

“As long as you are not hurting anyone on your way and just to love.”

Photo caption: Netball and the name Zanele Mdodana are synonymous and it’s really hard to separate the two. The former Proteas captain has been a strong advocate for the game on and off the court since her playing days and subsequently her retirement back in 2015. She has since in what she calls ‘gone full circle’ after she was announced as the new Proteas assistant coach, alongside Jenny van Dyk. Photo:

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