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2020 would have been a great year for the SPAR Baby Proteas (South Africa under 21) as they would have participated at the Africa Qualifiers ahead of the 2021 Youth World Championships in Fiji. We caught up with SA under 21 Head Coach Dr Elsje Jordaan and found out what she has been up to.

Netball SA: Coach, thank you very much for your time. The world as we knew it has changed and we have been under lockdown for over two months, how are you keeping sane and safe?

Elsje Jordaan: It sure is uncertain, challenging, and strange times for everybody, but at the same time a unique opportunity to create new and sustainable improvements to the quality of our well-being, personally and professionally.

I have had a couple of surgeries over the last few months, so the lockdown allowed me the time needed to recover and regain my health and strength.  As part of my recovery I started training again, so I have been able to recuperate without the pressure of getting back into action to soon.   The last couple of months reminded me about the small things in life that we often take for granted.  I am celebrating life and the good people and things in my life; I have had time to clean my gratitude lenses.

I also moved to a new house before the lockdown, so the first couple of lockdown weeks I used to unpack and settling into my new place.  I have had time to do a lot of analysis, restructuring and planning new ventures and ideas for my business and life.  The planning will now need to turn into action.

Although the lockdown comes at a great cost to all of us, it has come at the right time for me and what I needed in my life.

NSA: How has this lockdown impacted and affected your plans as a coach?

EJ: The lockdown has had a massive influence on our preparation of the Spar Baby Proteas and increased the pressure that we are under to prepare a team to participate in the Youth World Championships.  Official trials and a training camp had to be cancelled due to the lockdown. We are now facing challenges to conduct trials to allow us to reduce the extended squad to a smaller group, that will be able to function under the Covid-19 rules set-out by government as soon as we are permitted to commence with trainings.

Our Telkom Netball League (TNL) preparations with the North West Flames were also abruptly stopped due to the lockdown.  Although the players are training and working hard during the lockdown, we miss each other and the camaraderie we all share.

NSA: Can we please take a few steps back and speak about your days as a netball player. How did that come about? Where did you start?

EJ: I started playing netball when I was 6-years old.  My dad was a teacher in Mokopane, and the Under 9B netball team was short one player.  Because I was a strong and a tall 6-year old, my dad offered me as a stand-in player to the coach.  So, I played U/9 netball for 3-years J.  From there I was very privileged to fall in love with the sport of netball and to serve my country as a player, national captain and now as a coach. I was a very promising swimmer as well, but my love for team sports was greater than for individual sport. My netball career grew through ups and downs in the fantastic netball school system, playing provincial netball from U/12 – U/18, then Varsity netball and ultimately internationally for the South Africa. I also had the wonderful opportunity through an invitation by the legendary Joyce Brown, to train with the Melbourne Phoenix (now Vixens) in 2000.  During this training period I had the privilege to train with a number of Australian Diamond players, like the legendary Sharelle McMahon, Eloise Southby, Susan Meany and Liz Boniello, to name only a few.

Looking back at all I received from netball it humbles me and makes me aware of the responsibility to put back into developing this beautiful sport.

NSA: Do you recall how it was when you earned your first cap for the national team?

EJ: I don’t think anybody ever forgets their first cap.  I was capped for the first time in 1999 against England in Manchester.  We were on tour to Jamaica and played a once off test against England.  It was a fantastic evening.  Leana De Bruin (who went on to played over 100 tests for the Silver Ferns) and I debuted in this match.  We sadly lost the test by 2 goals, but it was a fantastic game, highly competitive and it was a contest all the way through.  Both Leana and I played the full hour, so we were extremely fortunate to have such a dream start to our international careers.

NSA: You also captained the Proteas at the 2003 Netball World Cup in Jamaica, how was that for you?

EJ: I became the captain of the Spar Proteas during a tour in 2002 in Australia and New Zealand.  I have always relished leadership challenges and enjoyed the extra responsibility.  Leading South Africa into a World Cup was a massive honour but also a huge responsibility.  Marlene Wagner was our coach and we had a fantastic captain-coach relationship.  We had a great World Cup campaign and sadly lost against England with 1-goal in our quarter finals which denied us a place in the semi-finals.  We didn’t have the same level of financial support/investment and technical support as the other teams during those years.  So, to be competitive against the top teams in the world, whom at that stage all started semi-professional leagues, was extremely satisfying. During that time, the players and coaches, did not blame or complain, we just got on with the job.  We worked as hard as possible with what we had, to be competitive.  Marlene Wagner was a true professional and taught us to be excellent ambassadors for South Africa.

NSA:  Can we please talk about the transition from being a player to now coaching. How did that come about and was it difficult in any way?

EJ: My mom passed away in 2003. After we lost her, playing was never the same for me anymore.  I decided to retire in 2004.  We just finished competing in a very successful home series against Australia and New Zealand and it just made sense for me to stop playing. I realized that my level of motivation and purpose to be an international player was impacted negatively by the passing of my mom as I was still mourning her death. Integrity is critical to me and I realized that if I would not be able to give a 100% to the team anymore, I should make way for new members.   I also started working full time and finding the time to commit to trainings that is asked of any international player was just not possible for me anymore.  A number of reasons convinced me that it was time to retire.  I walked away from playing with no regrets.  I also always knew that I wanted to coach.

I started my coaching career at Gauteng East and looking back it was the best thing for my coaching career.  It is a region that doesn’t have the luxury of having a university to supply an endless pool of talent and we really had to work with the players we had, since a number of the region’s top players also move after school to study at tertiary institutions.  I was forced to work very hard at my coaching and to find solutions to compete against the stronger netball regions.  I have some fond memories of my early days as a coach and being part of Gauteng East. Christine du Preez and her team did excellent work in growing and developing netball in that region. They gave me my first opportunity at coaching, and I will always be grateful for that.

The transition was very easy for me. Since I stopped playing, I never had the urgency to play again.  I never accept invitations to be part of legend games because I rather hold on to memories about playing  when I was still able to do it properly J.  Being a coach is much tougher than being a player, since you cannot leave anything to chance, and you have to lead and guide the players to go and do the job on court.  Sometimes there is a lot of frustration in coaching, since you just want to get on court and do the job yourself, but most of the time it is very rewarding.  My coaching approach to any team I work with is athlete centred but coach driven so I love the responsibility of leading the process and take great pride in guiding the players in my care.  I feel even more part of the action now than when I was a player.

NSA: You have worked as one of the coaches with Norma Plummer and Nicole Cusack, what are some of the lessons taken from there?

EJ: I worked for about 3-years with them and it was a very interesting experience.  During this time, I realized how important it is for the coach to be able to put together her coaching staff as well as the medical staff, since these are the people who take care and make sure the players are taken care off.  The trust relationship between the team management is vital for the success of any team and if there is no synergy between team management,  the players suffer.  High performance sport is played under extreme pressure and if the coaching staff is not comfortable with each other and don’t get along these high-pressure situations often expose weaknesses.

I had the opportunity to observe how you build a winning culture and I realised how long it takes to build such a culture.  I also realized how important it is to have a high-performance system for players at their home base clubs, since a lot of the hard work is done by these coaches and club systems.  The majority of the Protea starting line-up is currently playing in professional structures where they are taken care of and is managed by world-class high-performance systems that has been developed and refined over many years.  Part of the SPAR Proteas’ success over the last couple of years must be contributed to these opportunities.  Norma and Nicole played a massive role in opening the doors to these environments for our players and they deserve recognition for that.  What the players then brought back with them into our Protea environment have paid off in some great results in 2019.  As a coach I felt that although I had knowledge about the game, the Australians taught me how you get to a certain standard, how you maintain that standard and what you cannot compromise if you want to have a winning team.  As a coach you ultimately have the responsibility to ensure that the team grow and perform and if you compromise on certain things you compromise your ultimate goal.

NSA: Amongst the many accolades you have, you have also sat on the bench as a Head Coach for the Proteas Fast5 team.. How different is this format of the game as compared to the traditional netball game we all know?

EJ: Oh, I absolutely love Fast5 netball.  You need to be extremely strategic, which is one of the skills I love about coaching.  It is extremely fast and because of the short time of the matches the power plays and the high scoring shots, a team is never settled or in control of the game.  I remember our one game against England, who played with their traditional line-up that eventually went on to win the Commonwealth gold medal in 2018.  We drew that game with a bunch of youngsters and almost no preparation time, only because we took our long shots at the right time and used our rolling subs correctly.  It was a riveting game! So Fast5 offers any team, with a good plan and effective execution, the possibility to be competitive and that is very exciting.  Fast5 needs a completely different mindset than the traditional game.

NSA: In 2018 you made a switch from Gauteng Fireballs after two years there and joined the North West Flames, you finished third at that year’s Netball League. Was the move an easy one to make?

EJ: I was very disappointed to leave the Fireballs; when I joined the Fireballs, we had to rebuild the team after the team had a couple of disappointing seasons.  We manage to put together a very special group of players and build an exceptional team culture.  In 2017 we qualified for the semi-finals.  We were leading our semi-final match throughout the match and only lost by 1-goal in the dying seconds of that game.  2017 which was a special year for the Fireballs, so I often still wonder what would have happened if we stayed together for one more season.  It was very ironic that the team we lost our semi-final against was the NW Flames and here I am joining them.

It turned out to be a wonderful  switch and I really enjoyed being back ‘home’.  I played most of my netball in the North West province, so it was wonderful to be back and almost felt like a circle that is completed.  I am still with the NW Flames and love every moment of being a Flame.  I enjoy the students, their mischief and energy.  I enjoyed the new challenge of working with younger players and aim to influence them positively as players and their netball development but also mentoring and guiding them as young women.

When I think back of the players being part of both these teams I am in absolute awe of their talent and dedication.  I often remind myself how privileged I am to work with such talented players and quality human beings.

NSA: You are now the SA under 21 (Baby Proteas) coach, we have the World Youth Championships in Fiji next year, how confident are you of the current team that you have?

EJ: I have been very excited for this opportunity since I can put together a team from the best youngsters our country has to offer.  A true privilege.  The Covid-19 pandemic has slowed a lot of our momentum, but our team management are positive and feel up to this massive challenge.  We currently have a great mix of players where there is height, speed and a lot of power.  We have a very clear idea of what it is that we are looking for.  There are still a few positions that I am not completely convinced we have what we need, but time will tell if we can find other players and better the players with position specific coaching.  It is currently very difficult to comment on the strength of the team since we have not seen any of the top 4 countries u/21 teams and we have no way to measure where our current squad sits.  But I am prepared to say that I am very excited about the prospects of several players, time will tell how the combinations will settle and which will work best.

NSA: The team was supposed to be competing in the Africa Qualifiers this year to make it to Fiji next year but now due to COVID 19 lockdown that has not happened. How much of an impact has this had on your plans and preparations?

EJ: The International Netball Federation (INF) announced on Tuesday that all qualifiers have been cancelled due to Covid-19 and the current World Rankings will be used to determine the rankings and qualifying teams.  This is disappointing for us since we would have loved to be involved in our first official project.  Netball South Africa is currently working hard to secure other opportunities for the Spar Baby Proteas and hopefully these projects can still be realized this year.

NSA: The 2020 edition of the Telkom Netball League was scheduled to start in May, but it is also delayed, how has this impacted your readiness and preparedness to get the team ready for this tournament?

EJ: It influences the periodization of programmes tremendously and players who were already in their in-season/competition periodization phases had to be tapered back into pre-season phases and with all the uncertainty around dates due to Covid-19 regulations, it is extremely difficult to plan any programme adaptations.  At this stage it might mean that we can miss an entire year which will have a massive implication on match readiness.  We will literally have to catch up 2 seasons in one.

NSA: How are you keeping the teams (under 21 and NW Flames) fit and ready during this time?

EJ: The players receive their programmes from the S&C coach with weekly adaptations.  With the NW Flames we have a weekly Zoom meeting, just checking in and see how everybody is doing.  We also have a very active WhatsApp group where we set out week challenges to try to learn something new of each other – it creates a lot of laughter and fun.  It is however a very unnatural way of interacting with each other, but I realize that we must make the best out of what we can.  This is an opportunity to model to the players how to think and act when challenged beyond your control. Skills they will need in netball and in life.

With the U/21’s it is rather difficult since the group is still very big and interaction is very difficult since the players are not that familiar with each other and consists of players across South Africa.  I am in contact with some of the players coaches who provides me with feedback on the players training and health.

NSA: What message of encouragement would you give to netball players who are having a bit cabin fever during this lockdown?

EJ: This too shall pass.

Get yourself a daily routine, set out goals for the day, schedule literally your whole day and make sure you achieve the goals, that will give you a feeling of accomplishment and purpose.  Try to do the things you never get time to do and do it without feeling guilty.  Make sure you get some sun (and FUN)  every day.

Dr Elsje’s Fun Facts:

Favourite Meal:

Braai vleis or Oxtail during the cold winter times


Savanna Lite or Cola Tonic and Sprite Zero

TV Show or Movie:

At the moment: Ozark


At the moment “Don’t give Up on Me” – Andy Grammar


At the moment “The barefoot coach” – Paddy Upton


Anything by the sea – I love to swim in the sea.


“Every athletic team should have a woman who plays every position, never makes an error and knows just what the opposition is planning… but so far there’s been no way to get her to put down her popcorn and coke to come down out of the stands!  “ – Unknown