How important is competitive sport in the schools?
MB: I think it is very important to be competitive in whatever you do, but you also have to get the balance right. Here at Maritzburg we have 12 official sports and we cater for elite athletes and by athletes, I mean that anyone that plays sport here is viewed as an athlete. For example, it is important that our Under 14G rugby team, for instance, is getting on a bus this weekend to go and play Affies in Pretoria, so you are going to have 30 kids at that level giving it 150%. One team will win and one will lose and that is great! Obviously at the elite level we push for excellence in every respect in attempting to prepare the pupils for a successful career in sport after they have left school.
Living up to 145 years of history and tradition
So the present level of competitiveness of school sport is good in your opinion?
MB: Yes, I think it is good but I also think that with the advent of professional sport, school sport is at times going a bit over the top. I think parents are getting too involved, too many parents think that their youngsters are going to cut it at the top level as professional sportsmen. Don’t get me wrong – it is good to have dreams and goals, but such a small percentage of players who leave school actually cut it in the professional arena. We must never forget that it is about one school playing against another school, giving it 150% and may the best team win. We would expect that all the games we play to be highly competitive but played in the right spirit and when you walk off the field it is “game over” – no shouting at the referees, no parents chirping at the refs and so on. For every kid, every game, regardless of the team they play for, it is a game they want to perform well in. You know the guy who plays for the under 14 F or G’s doesn’t walk on the field saying “it doesn’t matter” – he wants to win that game and that is the culture that we think, arrogantly or not, we have, that is, a winning culture at the school and we try to live up to 145 years of history and tradition that we have developed in this time.
Is the school tradition a motivating factor at Maritzburg College?
MB: There is huge tradition and that fact just doesn’t go away. We keep reminding the kids of what they are in it for. I will be telling the players that this is not just another game; it is about the history of the school, the old boys, the parents and the rest of their fellow pupils.
How do you cater for all the sports?
MB: Rugby has traditionally been our brand here, and of that there is no doubt. However I would say in the last 20 years, hockey, cricket and water polo have started to play a major role, so we think we have struck a good balance with the other sports. Of course there will always be the rugby factor because historically, College has been known as a rugby school and that will always be the case, but we have certainly produced many international sportsmen across a wide range of sports.
What recent achievements have you been particularly proud of?
MB: Well I suppose coaching 4 guys who are now playing in the recent Dolphins set up; 5 guys who have been a part of the South African Men’s Hockey Squad and who are in contention to go to Beijing for the Olympic Games. Those things make me more proud than actual school achievements as such. We have had great results here; the first XI Cricket Team have won the Day/Night Series 9 times since I have been coaching at that level, and with hockey we have a record that is the envy of many.
Arguably, some say that in KZN, Maritzburg College has been one of the schools which has set the benchmark for other schools, how has this been maintained for such a long time?
MB: Well it is quite hard. You have to have a huge budget to try and compete with other schools and we don’t have a huge budget as far as bursaries are concerned. We see it as a challenge; we must be on our toes to stay ahead of the others. It is important to stress that we are focused on our academics here even though we are labelled as a sports school and we are totally against guy’s gyming or training during the academic day. We train before and after school and keep the boys focused on their education. We are pushing out on average 60 ‘A’ aggregates a year which is significant, and we were one of the 137 schools countrywide recognised by Mrs Naledi Pandor for achieving a huge number of university passes in matric. We want sport to always remain an extra-curricular activity and not to interfere with the school’s academic routine.
Steroid usage is going over the top
Let’s touch on a topic which is whispered about, steroid usage amongst schoolboys, is it a problem and what can be done about it?
MB: Yes it is a problem, steroid usage by boys is going over the top, but for me we are not getting too much support from SARFU, it costs a great deal of money to do a drug test, you are looking at in excess of R3000 per drug test, but to me SARFU should be pitching up at schools and then at the end of a game randomly testing the players. That is how it works at international level so why should it be any different at schools? I have a major problem with it – why should some boys have an unfair advantage? We definitely do not condone the use of illegal substances to enhance sporting performance.
Does the school put much emphasis on facilities?
MB: There is a massive emphasis on facilities. We have got 7 tennis courts, 4 squash courts and access to 14 cricket fields that we manage and maintain, 9 rugby fields, (these double up as soccer venues in soccer season), and an abundance of cricket nets. We also have a full size water polo pool. The state-of-the-art artificial hockey field is the top water-based surface that is available and was re-laid at the start of 2008. And yes, at College we have wonderful facilities that for a government school are arguably without a peer. In addition we have an excellent High Performance Centre that is accessible to all pupils with a resident full time biokineticist and physiotherapist.
How demanding is the job of Sports Director for Maritzburg College?
MB: I would say that it is very demanding because I teach as well. Whilst teaching keeps me in touch with the school kids as it were, I find that it does interfere with my day-to-day work. Ideally I would prefer to be fulltime in this post and not teaching at all. Organising tours, the fixtures, the transport, the catering and hosting of festivals is the day-to-day work after which I am heavily involved with the coaching of cricket and hockey at 1st team level.
How important would you say the support of parents and old boys is?
MB: Look there is a subtle difference between support and interference. Support is backing what the school is trying to achieve but interference is having aggressive opinions and not backing what the school is doing. Every school is dependent upon parents and old boys, there is no doubt about it, but it must be a supportive role and not from a personal point of view. I don’t like parents who come to watch their kid play; I like parents who come along to watch the team that their kid plays for. When Johnny is out for nought then “cheers!” and they’re off, that doesn’t make for good “team ethic” which we place a huge emphasis on.
How high is the level of coaching?
MB: Yes it is very high at College. For rugby we have an old boy, Brian Bateman, who coached the Natal Wildebeest to the Vodacom Cup a few years back. Most of our top coaches for rugby are all NRU level 1, 2 and 3 coaches. In hockey we also have a vast depth and lots of experience with provincial coaches down through the age groups. In Water Polo we have got Steve Lamarque who has coached at National U18 level, whilst we have a professional tennis and basketball coach – so yes, our coaching is good. As a coach you want the players to keep improving each week, and this being the case, then you are doing your job. So you will find that the ‘A’ team coaches here are uncompromising, passionate and very competitive and hopefully this approach will prepare the guys for the next level of coaching that they will get after school where the professional coach will be just that, namely professional in the true sense of the word. We want to equip the boys to be able to step up to the next level once school is over.. However it is getting harder and harder to attract top level coaches and teachers. Teaching is just not attracting and keeping the people it used to and to attract school masters who can coach at a reasonable level is getting more and more difficult.
Competitive, passionate and disciplined
What is the sporting ethos at Maritzburg College?
MB: We ‘play to win’ but definitely not at all costs. ‘To be the best that you can be at all times.’ That starts on the training pitch and we put our practice into action in the match situations. Competitive, passionate and disciplined perhaps describe the qualities that the guys display here at College. I get a very warm feeling when a Graham Ford tells me “you know I love it when the College guys come down to train in Durban because I know that they are disciplined and up for anything”, and those qualities will always hold these boys in good stead.
Coaching for nearly three decades, would you say regarding sport the kids have changed?
MB: Yes without doubt. They are becoming less physical; we are dealing with the computer, TV and cell phone era so there is a lot more entertainment available for the modern kid that requires less energy expenditure. The art of playing, climbing trees, climbing up ropes, even playing ‘stingers’- those days seem to be gone which means that the kids are generally less physical. I see more grade 8 kids who are not developed in their upper bodies than ever before. One reason is that generally the primary school physical education teacher has almost been phased out so you just have a normal class teacher taking them for P.E. However, because more kids, and in particular the top athletes go to the gym and take supplements they are generally well developed and bigger.
What about when a team really gets beaten soundly by the opposition, is it difficult to pick them up after a heavy loss?
Look nobody likes to be beaten but there is a lesson to be learnt in standing up and playing to the end and making the opposition earn their win. Yes, you do get a few roasties but so do the opposition that is what life is about. Life is all about ups and downs and it is how you come out from the downs that people will measure you by. I measure my guys not by how they win but by how they react and step up once they have been knocked down. I want guys who, if knocked down, can bounce back up and get back on the winning trail.