Dorette Badenhorst couldn’t have asked for a better start to the tough act of having to follow in the footsteps of Norma Plummer, who took the Spar Proteas to new heights and transformed the team. Badenhorst led the Proteas to Africa Netball Cup victory in her first assignment as head coach, ensuring a smooth transition from the Australian’s successful tenure.
Finishing the championship having won all six matches gives hope to netball faithfuls that the senior women’s national team is in good hands. Badenhorst replaced Plummer after the latter guided the national team to a top-four finish in the INF World Cup for the first time since 1995.
Badenhorst was there, too, as part of the technical team that produced magic in Liverpool at this year’s World Cup. She took the baton firmly in her hands as South Africa stamped their authority on the continental showpiece that normally features eight nations, but Tanzania pulled out at the 11th hour.
Badenhorst beams with pride and her face glows when she speaks about her love for the sport. “Netball is my life. It’s my passion,” she said with a wide smile. “I just love coaching. I love making a difference in the players’ lives, giving them an opportunity to be the best they can be.”
One of those players, Dumisani Chauke, is now working side-by-side with Badenhorst as her assistant coach. This is not the first time they have worked together.
Their relationship goes back further than most people realise. Badenhorst coached Chauke a decade ago at the Africa Youth Netball Championship with the Baby Proteas.
“Dorette and I go way back. She was my coach in 2009 when we went to Tanzania,” explained Chauke. “Our relationship has grown from just being a player and coach. We started working together at the World University [Netball Championships] and SA Under-21. Even when Norma and Nicole [Cusack] were still here, we were also part of the group of coaches that were being mentored. Our relationship has grown. The level of respect and trust that we have between us is something of a comfort because we know we will be moving in the same direction.”
Proudly South African technical team
Having produced great results in the past, including the gold medal they won at the University Netball Championships in 2016, Netball South Africa (Netball SA) is counting on Badenhorst and Chauke’s relationship to deliver a fruitful tenure that will culminate in a good showing at the 2023 Netball World Cup in Cape Town.
Choosing to go with the pair couldn’t have been a difficult decision for Netball SA. The duo were already among the top coaches in the country to have worked with Plummer. Zanele Mdodana, Jenny van Dyk and Berta de Kock are some of the other coaches who had the opportunity to work and learn from the World Cup-winning Plummer.
Netball SA president Cecilia Molokwane asked Plummer for recommendations on who would be suitable to take on the hot seat after she had vacated it. Molokwane and the association want a proudly South African team when the netball world hits the African continent for the first time.
“It was time that a South African led the team, especially since we’re going to host the 2023 World Cup. We wanted South Africans to sit on that bench to show that we have people that are capable to take us through,” said Molokwane.
The former Baby Proteas head coach prepared for the kill in the continental competition, to set up the rest of South Africa’s journey to the World Cup. The 100% win record sent a strong statement.
“It’s not easy outside of the high performance system to still perform at a high level, but being with Plum and getting the opportunity with Netball South Africa, I stayed up there and that’s one of the reasons I am appointed, because Plum did give a thumbs up for that,” said Badenhorst.
Following in giant footsteps
Badenhorst, however, doesn’t want Plummer’s legacy to be used as a benchmark for her in this new journey. Being coach of the Spar Smileys, made up of South Africa-based Proteas during the Telkom Netball League, doesn’t count for much. The results from the Africa Netball Cup, however, count for a whole lot.
The Proteas’ victory was a huge confidence booster, but the dynamic duo’s real test of their readiness to lead the side will be the three-match Test series against England, who denied them a bronze medal at the most recent World Cup. The Proteas take on the England Roses in Cape Town on 29 November, 30 November and 1 December, followed by the Vitality Netball Nations Cup in Birmingham, England, in January.
“It’s important to go and play the best netball that we can, because we need to remember that in the World Cup, four of the African teams did really well and ended up in the top 10,” said Badenhorst.
Not only did South Africa display impressive netball in Liverpool, so did Zimbabwe, Uganda and Malawi. These countries made history by getting all four African representatives in the top 10 of the World Cup.
Their performances were a fitting precursor to the World Cup that will be played on African soil. The Proteas’ chances rest on a coach whose career dates back to 2006, when Badenhorst managed the South African Under-19 team. She has grown a lot since then.
“Netball SA has invested a lot in me in the last 14 years being a coach for them at different levels, [managing] different teams. I think growing through those 14 years has given me this opportunity,” she said.
The making of a coach
Badenhorst spent the bulk of those 14 years as the coach at North-West University. Pukke is one of the few high performance centre universities in the country. Olympic 800m champion Caster Semenya is one of the most notable athletes to have gone to Pukke after she left the University of Pretoria. Badenhorst also coached the Dr Kenneth Kaunda District and the North West Flames in the Netball Premier League.
“I hadn’t been with Pukke for the past two years, after having been there for six years. That was a stage where I could build my CV. I got to coach the SA university team. It’s great that I got an opportunity at that level. It’s great coaching at that high performance level because the support you get at that level is just excellent,” she explained.
Being the coach of a senior national team might be the highest honour bestowed on a coach. But for Badenhorst, this is just the beginning as she wants to grow even further in the sport.
“For me, coaching is giving. It’s not about me. It’s about the players, it’s about the country. It’s important for me to never think I’m good enough, I still need to learn. I need to step up every time and use people around me to become better. I will work closely with the high performance coaches in the different provinces. I will go regularly to the different provinces to make sure they [the players] are on the level that we want them,” she added.
“I will travel a lot and go coach those players. It’s hard work, it’s different. Luckily, I’m not married. I don’t have a husband or children to look after so I can do it full out and be available for the players and the coaches. It’s going to be important, as coaches in this country, to work together.”