Stellenbosch University water polo player excels in the water and classroom

Former Stellenbosch University (SU/Maties) water polo player Lwazi Madi, who is also currently the captain of the South African national water polo team obtained his Master in Sport Science degree cum laude during the April graduation ceremonies.

Madi who is an exemplary student-athlete has been at Maties for seven years and topped off his qualification with other notable achievements, one being awarded Maties Sport Sportsman of the Year 2021. In keeping with being a university that promotes a holistic student-athlete experience, Madi has gone above and beyond expectations. When asked how proud he was of his recent achievements he said, “I am extremely proud of everything that I achieved in 2021. It was by far the toughest year for me, but I set my goals early in the year and worked hard to achieve them. It still feels crazy to me when I think of last year.”

The 27-year-old speaks of a crazy year, this is because it included events such as the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Currie Cup and University Sport South Africa (USSA) competitions. Emotions were heightened for Madi in 2021, “Captaining my country in water polo at their first Olympics since 1960, coming second with Maties at the national water polo competition in Durban (Currie Cup), winning Sportsman of the Year with Maties and USSA whilst finishing a Masters degree with a Cum Laude topped off what felt like the perfect year,” he remarked.

“Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined completing a year like this but through hard work and dedication, I managed to make it all happen and I am extremely proud of my achievements. It would be difficult to highlight one emotion as you go through so many when you have a year like this. I am grateful for experiencing the year I had in 2021 and couldn’t have done it without the support and guidance from loved ones, team members, supervisors and coaches,” he expressed.

Madi’s Masters supervisor Associate Professor Heinrich Grobbelaar from the Department of Sport Science at SU admits that Lwazi had an average undergraduate run however excelled as he went into his postgraduate studies as it was more aligned to his interests and experience as a high performance athlete. “I probably took a bit of a gamble to take him on as a postgraduate student, and did so because of the character and determination that he demonstrated, along with his friendly, outgoing and respectful personality.”

Although Madi faced a strenuous academic year due to the pandemic and shift of sporting calendar, Professor Grobbelaar insists his cum laude achievement was well deserved. “I will always remember Lwazi as a student-athlete, one who prioritised both, and equally so. He enriched my life and made my supervisory role interesting, even though it all happened in an impersonal online space. I wish him all the best for the future, and SU should be very proud of him!”

The Covid-19 pandemic had an impact on Madi, however he kept determined and motivated in his own way: “Towards the end of 2020 I knew that 2021 was going to be a challenging year for me. Everything had been mapped out and I needed to make sure I had a plan to tackle every obstacle in order to achieve all I had set out for. There were challenges that caused disruptions in the year such as Covid, and that had the potential to derail some of my goals. Fortunately, I was invested in doing the best that I could in 2021 and continuously thought of the bigger picture at the end of the year.

Towards the end of the year and the completion of my degree, I struggled with motivation but with the support from the people around me, it helped me find that little bit of motivation and propelled me over the finish line. I distinctly remember looking at my USSA gold medal and staring at the pool and gym in front of me, in that instance, I was taken back 7 years to my first day of university and I couldn’t believe just how fast the time had gone. Stellenbosch University helped me become the best student-athlete I could be, and I am thankful that I chose to attend this university. It truly holds a special place in my heart,” he said with gratitude.

Grant van Velden, Manager: Sport Technology and Training Innovations at Maties Sport says he has been privileged to see Madi flourish inside the Innovation Centre at the Maties Gymnasium where he took him for individual visual skills training sessions.  “Here we worked on his eye-hand coordination, reaction time, and eye tracking skills, all of which are important visual skills for all types of goal keepers to develop.  It didn’t take Lwazi long before he was breaking records on the different pieces of technology, many of which still stand today, and I doubt will be broken any time soon.  Such was his passion for enhancing his visual skills, that as a postgraduate Sport Science student, he often led visual skills training sessions for his fellow water polo goalkeeping teammates at Maties Water Polo.  I know that he credits a lot of his success to the many hours he spent in the Innovation Centre and it has been great to see a student-athlete who is prepared to work hard, both in and out of the pool, achieve such success.”

Some of the key lessons other student-athletes could take from Madi especially with reference to his training regime/schedule according to van Velden was his relentless commitment to honing his craft when it came to his water polo training and his ability to balance this perfectly with his studies which showed extreme maturity and very good time management skills.  “For me the main lesson for fellow student-athletes to take from Lwazi is that you have to have a plan and be well prepared – plan your days, weeks, and months ahead of time so that you are well prepared and can give yourself the best chance to succeed in your academics and on the sports field,” he added.

When asked on his advice to student-athletes that are upcoming, Madi took the opportunity to impart invaluable knowledge to fellow student-athletes saying:

“Firstly, it is important to set goals for yourself if you want to achieve something. I always had my goals written above my desk as a constant reminder of what I wanted to achieve. This creates a sense of accountability for yourself and motivates you to be the best version of yourself, in a sporting and academic context.

Secondly, surround yourself with people who support and encourage you. These are the people who provide you with the motivation you need when you’re at your lowest, and they can help you reach your goals.

Thirdly, making use of university resources and facilities. When I was in first year, I was shocked by the number of high-quality resources and facilities the university had to offer. I made use of many of these resources which created variations in my training, which helped mould and nurture me as a player.

Lastly, give yourself some down time. As student-athletes, we are under immense pressure to excel in our sports and academics. One should take time from their busy schedule and take a break from it all. Whether it’s hanging out with friends or going for a walk, it is important to take that time to just decompress. This would often help me when I felt overwhelmed by my academics and sporting commitments,” he explained.

Madi has distinct hopes for the future, both in his sport career and on a personal level: “I want to continue playing and captaining my country in water polo. Paris 2024 is only two years away and I want to be a part of the team that goes. I want to use the knowledge I have obtained through my Sport Science degrees to help improve the level of water polo in the country. At some point, I would like to go back to university to complete my PhD, but at this moment, I want to take the time to work with other sporting disciplines and grow myself as a Sport Scientist,” he concluded.