Sports & Fitness

Inside edge

Inside edge

Attracting one of the country’s most experienced cricket coaches is a scoop for the Lowveld and a bonus for every youngster with big dreams.

Dad of Protea and Titans cricketer, Jacques Rudolph, and coach of national sides in Namibia, Botswana and Uganda, as well as the Titans locally, Johan Rudolph has a cricketing pedigree as long as your arm. And he’s old school: cricket is a technical game where, unless you’re a sporting genius like AB de Villiers, natural talent will only get you so far. Bad habits are easily established and discipline is of cardinal importance.
Having said that, it is also one of the most exciting sports on the planet. Johan, although a no-nonsense and straight-down-the-line kind of a guy, is about instilling an absolute love of the game in kids. Coaching cricket, he says, is a passion and to him – it never gets old. He still gets excited about inspiring players – and teaching them the intricacies that make up the sport.
A Cricket SA level 3 coach, Johan and his wife Elmarie ended up in Mbombela by sheer fortitude. Unsure of their next move after a stint of living in Kampala, Uganda they had the length and breadth of the country to find their right fit.
Adventurous by nature, they were reluctant to take up their old lives in Pretoria and looked at the Cape, travelling down to scope out possibilities at places like Paul Roos Gimnasium and Somerset College. The opportunities were there, but something didn’t feel right. “I wanted to open up a cricket academy, so we needed to go somewhere where there were kids and schools. We were looking everywhere.”
Unable to make up their minds, they decided to take time out and spend a week in the Kruger National Park and mull over their options. “As we drove into Mbombela, we simultaneously looked at each other and said: ‘Why not Mbombela?’” Well connected in cricket circles, it only took one phone call: Johan was scooped up by Hoërskool Nelspruit and has been overseeing both the primary and high school’s coaching since 2014.
At the same time, he established the Johan Rudolph Cricket Academy, initially with five kids in the nets at Pelenetchi Manor, the White River guest house they stayed at semi-permanently before recently moving into their Steiltes home. They smile at this memory. “I never imagined how it would grow in two years,” he says.
He’s upbeat about the future of the game – for the most part, anyway. “Kids’ fielding is atrocious these days,” he gossips. “Nobody can catch or throw a ball any longer.” It’s on these, and other basics, he and assistant coach Sifiso Mahima focus. And they’re strict. “We make it clear: we don’t babysit. These children have to go home and practice. Discipline is one of the most important aspects of the game.”
But it’s also about having fun and gaining confidence, by playing more often. Finding opportunities to expose boys to more game time is something Johan is focusing on. “Kids are still playing cricket,” he says. “All over, from Bela Bela, Skukuza, Limpopo… the interest is there. I constantly receive phone calls from schools in Gauteng wanting to come and tour. It will be great if we can get to a point where Lowveld children can compete year-round. Top players are created by learning how to deal with pressure – something you gain by being challenged regularly.”
Having only just unpacked their furniture after years of it being in storage, the couple grins at “not being afraid of moving their cheese”. Johan confesses his ideal job would involve splitting his time between South Africa and England, alternating hemispheres every six months. Elmarie is right behind him – they’re uncomplicated people who enjoy a simple lifestyle, yet enjoy the thought of accepting new challenges.
It seems the Lowveld is creeping into their bones, though. For now, settled into their new house, they’re as happy as can be. “Lovely people, lovely kids,” says Johan about the area. “I want to develop the cricket academy, find more playing opportunities and grow talent. Things are always developing so quickly and one has to stay in touch with what’s going on. I will always remain a student of the game.”

Get in touch
Contact Johan on 079-620-0604 or join his Facebook page, Johan Rudolph Cricket Coaching Academy

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