Secret weapon behind Gems’ success revealed
IT was a do or die moment, stakes were high and failing the test was just not an option.
The three senior netball team coaches Ropafadzo Mutsauki, Tatenda Shinya and Simbarashe Mlambo would secretly and separately embark on a series of prayer and fasting sessions just to see their dream come true.
All eyes were on the trio who had been entrusted with the duty of ensuring that the Nedbank-sponsored Gems made it to the 2023 Netball World Cup.
The quadrennial tournament is scheduled to take place in Cape Town, South Africa between July 28-August 6 with Zimbabwe, hosts South Africa, Uganda and Malawi joining 12 other nations to battle for global supremacy.
This is also the first time that the Netball World Cup will be taking place on African soil.
With the global showcase taking place right next door, head coach Mutsauki and his assistants knew that failing to make it would have been an unforgivable crime.
Fighting for a second successive World Cup appearance was no easy task and each gaffer had to do what they had to do.
“We only got to know and laugh out loud about it after the tournament; each one of us secretly fasted and prayed without the next person knowing,” said Mutsauki.
“It was a huge task and we knew what failure meant . . . I would wake up in the middle of the night to pray and to my surprise I would find one or both coaches praying and silently join them.
“After the prayer, no one would say anything to anyone but to silently either go back to bed or find another spot and secretly pray. That is how serious the situation was.”
Ironically, back in 2018 when the Gems qualified for their maiden World Cup appearance, then Lloyd Makunde, Mutsauki who was the assistant also turned to God, seeking spiritual intervention for their dream to become a reality.
At the qualifiers in Lusaka, Zambia, Mutsauki could be heard praying for the Gems during the odd hours of the morning.
In fact, the 48- year-old gaffer has never been shy to make it known that he is of the Johane Masowe Apostolic sect, hence his moniker “Madzibaba”.
To him, such high stakes tournaments are battles that need both hard work and prayer.
“I would pray every day, devoting the entire tournament to God because from a spiritual perspective, I understand prayer is the only weapon that can make dreams come true,” he said.
Despite having been to the World Cup with both the seniors and junior Gems before, and also bagging several accolades to himself with the Under-21s, the gaffer feels qualifying for another World Cup appearance remained a mammoth task.
Mutsauki is credited for identifying potential and transforming Premier Netball League side Harare City Netball Queens into a daunting team.
“I identify talent and nurture it but of all the teams I have assembled in my career, Harare City Queens stand out for me.
“Currently, we are rebuilding following an exodus. But I am proud that most of the players I have stints with are actually dominating in professional netball and in the national team.”
Mutsauki is also known to be a disciplinarian whose coaching career spans more than a decade-and-a-half.
He does not hesitate to bench even star players if they misbehave.
“Madzibaba” notes that coaching should encompass moulding a player on court, in the discipline room and even praying for the team. Ahead of crucial games, Mutsauki is known for taking some of his players to his church for prayers.
“To me there is more to a player than playing on the court so if we often overlook the character moulding and the spiritual side of a player.
“We should produce a total package of a player, discipline is key so that wherever they go, they do not bring the national flag into disrepute,” he said.
Former Gems Head Coach Lloyd Makunde, who now plies his trade in Namibia, still speaks highly of his ex-deputy.
“He is the most amazing assistant I worked with. We clicked, his passion was visible and you could trust him with responsibility. Above all, he is a prayer warrior who taught me that prayer conquers all,” said Makunde.
The team has, however, faced familiar challenges in their preparations for the upcoming Vitality Netball World Cup scheduled to run from July 28 to August 6, in Cape Town, South Africa.
The Gems are facing financial constraints and they failed to regroup last week to begin the final leg of preparations. The players are only expected to regroup this week.