Kaylin Swart doesn’t want to talk about Trinidad and Tobago. She prefers to think about France. But there would be no France for the Banyana Banyana goalkeeper if it wasn’t for her disastrous trip to the Caribbean with the women’s national Under-17 team in 2010.
Almost 10 years ago, the first South African women’s team to qualify for a World Cup was rudely reminded of the gulf in class between them and the best in the world. With Swart in goal, Bantwana conceded a whopping 17 goals in three matches – including 10 in one game in a 10-1 thumping by Germany.
“I was young. I have grown a lot since then. My game has changed big time,” Swart says. Though it’s a chapter the 24-year-old from Port Elizabeth would like to forget, she expanded on her experience from her first World Cup. “We were so focused on playing and being in the moment that we didn’t take the results to heart. It was a little overwhelming, that’s for sure. Back then none of us were in a structured league. If we could all talk about 2010 now, we would have different answers. It was an eye-opener, but also a great experience.”
Another World Cup
Swart will have the opportunity to create new World Cup memories in France from 7 June to 7 July with teammate Jermaine Seoposenwe, who also played in the Under-17 World Cup in 2010 and was also part of the Banyana team that qualified for the global showpiece for the first time. Banyana booked their place in the World Cup by finishing second in the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations (Awcon) in Ghana last year.
Despite losing to Nigeria in the final, Banyana were a hit in Ghana because of their brand of enterprising football. Lebogang Ramalepe, Janine van Wyk and Thembi Kgatlana were named in the tournament’s best XI with Swart and Linda Motlhalo on the bench. Kgatlana was also named Women’s Footballer of the Year by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) at their awards ceremony in Senegal on Tuesday. Desiree Ellis bagged the Coach of the Year award.
Those accolades, and Banyana’s good run in Ghana, will inspire the senior women’s national team in France. Preparations for the tournament start on Thursday with a training match behind closed doors against Sweden in Cape Town. Two days later they will take on Netherlands in the inaugural Winnie Madikizela-Mandela Challenge at the Cape Town Stadium. They will then face Sweden in an official international friendly on 22 January, just over a month before Banyana take part in the Cyprus Cup, which runs from 25 February to 7 March. In May, Swart will return to her former home in California for Banyana’s international friendly with the United States.
These matches will prepare Banyana for France where they are grouped with Germany, China and Spain. Swart, should she keep her number one jersey, will face a sterner test than the one she faced in Trinidad and Tobago. This time around, though, she is well prepared for what’s coming.
“My time in America made me realise football is a mental game,” Swart says. “Mentally, I’ve grown so much. It’s a different style of play. The work ethic in America is different. You have to grind out a result. Coming back to South Africa and being in the national team helped me big time. When I went to America I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Five years later I realise it’s the best thing I could have done because I came back a different player. I say it with pride, I have grown and I am better than I have ever been. But you’ve got to push every day at training. I am in good shape.”
Now, the once-shaky goalkeeper has been replaced by a confident figure who commands respect in her box. Her spell in the United States toughened her up after breaking a number of records at Menlo College in California. She had a goals-against average of 0.87 in her maiden season in 2015 – the best average in the college’s history. She went on to improve her goals-against record in 2017 (0.82) and finished with the most saves in the college’s history.
“Mediocrity ticks me off,” Swart says. “I am so hard on myself. I beat myself all the time. Goalkeepers are crazy, but we’re perfectionists. If I feel I’ve had a bad game, it’s going to take me hours to get over it. I’ll sulk, but when I am settled and everything sinks in, I work on what I need to improve. I never settle for less.”
She had to settle for the bench for the better part of her time in the senior national women’s team before winning her first cap against Sweden last year. Swart ran with the opportunity. She was the first-choice goalkeeper in the Cosafa Women’s Championship in her hometown and the Awcon.
“Persistence and not giving up got me to be where I am,” Swart says. “It’s easy to sit back and be like, Okay, it’s not my time. But you’ve got to work hard every day and not give up. I just kept grinding and waited for my chance to come. I grabbed it with both hands once I got it. Qualifying for the World Cup is an incredible feeling. Banyana Banyana is on the global platform now. People know us now. South Africans love history makers. To do it twice [with Bantwana and Banyana] is an amazing feeling. No one can ever take this from me.”