Varsity Cup – A Leadership Experience – The Maties Sport, Stellenbosch University, Chief Director’s Story

When I drove to work just after 07:00 this morning, it hit me, that the 2022 Varsity Cup, #RugbyThatRocks, is over and for the #MaroonMachine it didn’t end well!  I truly felt the sadness only this morning, because last night, after losing the cup, I had all sorts of emotions building up, but needed to make sure I try and switch-off to get at least 5-hours of sleep.

We tell the stories of our student rugby heroes and heroines involved in the Varsity Cup, the team involved on and off the field, and we seldom share what is happening at a leadership level, so I decided to tell my story.

It starts with observing and experiencing the commitment of our team in the gymnasium by 06:00 and training sessions starting at 07:00, and most importantly, lectures, assignments, tutorials, tests and examinations to be attended to, as a priority, 7 days a week.  At Stellenbosch University, Maties Sport and Maties Rugby, we take academic achievement very seriously and with a pass rate history of 80%+ over the years, the outstanding commitment for holistic success by our student-athletes is something I continue to admire and respect.

At a leadership level, for universities especially, it is assumed that we have all the resources, especially Stellenbosch University, and it is correct that we are a very privileged university.  The fact of the matter however is, that the Varsity Cup competition has grown in leaps and bounds, and considering the high level of competition, it means that every Director of Sport needs to invest and invest more, to ensure that a great product is presented every year.  The reality is if we don’t, including becoming more innovative, sponsors will be challenged and fans will not attend or watch our beautiful competition.

At a leadership level my responsibility with my team is to ensure that we have the following in place:

  1. A sustainable recruitment and retention system – impacted by several factors such as academic qualifications to ensure admissions, bursaries, programmes to support mental well-being, competition support, including consideration of clashes, global rugby calendar changes and critical, a good development programme.
  2. A holistic high performance sport system – driven by both internal and external partnerships to ensure a responsible player management system, that at times I do question. We sometimes are faced with a territorial approach when it comes to player management, instead of ensuring that collectively we build a system that benefits the players. Ultimately the focus should be to ensure graduation for our student rugby players.
  3. Succession planning – for coaches and support staff, with the necessary training and development, mentoring and well-being support.
  4. Top class facilities – it is not only about daily maintenance, but medium and long-term planning that will ensure the hosting of training, friendly competitions and ultimately delivery of a top-class facility for the Varsity Cup games. We sure have done an outstanding job for many years.
  5. Partnerships – internal and external partnerships are critical and at Maties, considering the history and importance of rugby for the university and the town, you can imagine what my day, week, month and year look like 😊 I value partnerships for various reasons, and most importantly for the fact that it can make us stronger. It is not always easy to deal with different stakeholders and to decide what partnerships are most important, but if we remain focused on the result, it is possible to have great partners and at Maties Rugby we have a superb group of Alumni and corporate supporting us and we are grateful for their continued belief and support.
  6. Team Culture – the most important ingredient to ensure a well-rounded team and this is not my direct responsibility but that of the coaching and support staff, with me ensuring that the required expertise is in place, and as universities we have no shortfall of such resources.

When as a Director of Sport I don’t ensure that all the above and more are in place, having the biggest budgets will not give you the results of holistic success.

So, you see folks, the behind-the-scenes workhorses, ensure that all the above happens, and we remain humble and grateful for the opportunity to serve, celebrate, cry, be angry, connect, learn and most importantly, experience the feeling of winning and losing.  We lost the Varsity Cup final last night, but we surely gained a lot too and for that, I remain so proud of our Maties Rugby team and support staff, because making it to a final is never easy.

For me it is not only about the glory days of winning, but to face the not so shining days, remain optimistic and ensure that we are ready for the next season.  So much is expected of us and rightfully so, but it gives nobody the right to ridicule and pass negatives comments, because it is only if one truly knows what it takes to be a student-athlete, that you might have the right to pass judgement.  I, and especially our team, feel the pain of losing but we accept our defeat with dignity, because it is now time to take a rest, regroup and return to the gymnasiums and rugby fields soon, to press the restart button, so that we are ready for the 2023 season.

Lionel Messi once said: ‘There are more important things in life than winning or losing a game’ and I had to remind myself about that this morning.  The most important responsibility is to provide leadership that will enable holistic success and for us at Maties it is to achieve academic success first, a top-3 position for our high performance and competitive codes such as rugby and ensuring the well-being of our athletes and coaches.  We also celebrate and support our players to get selected for representative teams, especially the Springboks and must do so responsibly.  It is not that we don’t work towards winning, we always do, or that a number 1 spot is not important, but in my job, I got to take the punches at times and move on.

It remains a pleasure and an honor, win or lose.  The #MaroonMachine is gutted but filled with pride and glory for presenting, once again, the best Varsity Cup final, and I truly hope it provides some consolation to our team.

Until then folks, as the Maties Sport leader, I am satisfied that we once again proved that we were committed to ensure that Together Everyone Achieves More!