Zelda Freitag hopes to inspire women with coaching journey that began at 40

The South African has been coaching for the past three years in Emalahleni and is keen to build a network in the country and beyond.

Milestones can have a momentous impact on people’s lives, and as Zelda Freitag approached her 40th birthday she decided it was time to devote more energy to one of her major passions, rugby.

Freitag had fallen in love with the game as a child in South Africa, watching provincial matches alongside her father and grandfather, but opportunities to play were not forthcoming.

Her enthusiasm for rugby never diminished, however, and having watched her sons play the game she began to investigate ways that she could get involved too.

“When you turn 40, it’s almost like you feel you need to start doing the things in your life that you're supposed to do,” Freitag told World Rugby. 

“That's when I decided this is really what I want to give a go.”

Overcoming nerves

Reasoning that she was too old to either play or referee, Freitag decided that coaching would be her best avenue back into rugby.

She began educating herself about the laws of the game, attending training sessions, speaking to people involved and spent as much time on YouTube as her job in the coal industry and family commitments in Emalahleni would allow.

That is how she came to be at Witbank Rugby Club on a Tuesday evening in 2018, having planned a strength and conditioning session for more than 50 senior men’s players.

Freitag admits that she froze when she first addressed the players, and watched in horror as she blew her whistle out of her mouth without it making a sound as she attempted to signal that training had started.

“My shaking lips and dry mouth contributed 100 per cent to the most embarrassing moment of my life,” she said.

However, with the support of her colleagues on the coaching staff and the club’s senior players, Freitag overcame that initial anxiety and is now head coach of Witbank’s third team.

“Look, there are still days where I do become extremely nervous as my career in rugby and my journey progresses and I'm faced with new challenges,” she said. 

“But the only thing that helped me to overcome my nervousness is really just showing up every single time. All the practices, home matches, you know.

“When I get a phone call from a player, I show up. I'm there for them, I make sure I am so involved and that really helps. 

“But, from a personal point of view, I do give myself a pep talk and I tell myself I've put in the yards, I'm committed to the players and the club. My intentions are pure, I can make mistakes. 

“At the end of the day, I have a right to be there like anyone else, you know, like all the other coaches. I do, and I give the same effort and energy to be there. 

“So, that also helps from my own mindset, to just to go to myself and say: ‘I belong there, I have to be there and I'm adding value’.”

Inspiring others

Freitag will take the next step on her coaching journey in November when she begins her Level 2 qualification, and has ambitions to become a full-time coach in the provincial game.

She is keen to share her own story in the hope that more women will be encouraged to get involved with rugby off the pitch as well as on it. “If I can do it, other women can do it too,” she said.

“I'm desperate to be involved in developing women in rugby, and with that I mean administrative, refereeing, coaching, playing. 

“To me, what's important for women is to support with a network so that you can have someone to really talk to about your challenges. And, also that will create the situation where women can see that there is support, there are opportunities.”

Freitag added: “The more we start communicating and promoting the opportunities that there are in rugby [the better], because these days I do feel there's a lot of women like me who absolutely love the game, who also count the hours down to a match. 

“So, I just feel if there's a way that women can follow to get into rugby, that will change the picture.”

READ MORE: Western Province have inspirational women’s rugby leader in Nadeema Khan >>

Last updated: Sep 15, 2021, 8:44:41 AM
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