What's your game plan?
Most 12-year-olds don’t expect their local rugby tournament to change their lives forever but that’s exactly what happened to Siya Kolisi, an immensely talented and fast youngster from a Port Elizabeth township. Scouts from a fee-paying city school saw Kolisi in action and offered him a scholarship. 14 years on, that boy took over the captain’s armband for South Africa in a rainy stadium in Cardiff, Wales, writing his name in the sporting history books.
Kolisi recognizes the chances he was given and now helps other budding sports stars from his community build their lives through sport.
This is Siya Kolisi’s game plan.
How did it feel becoming the first black captain of the Springbok’s during that historic game against Wales in Cardiff?
Yes, it’s a big thing, but I wasn’t captain from first minute. Our captain, who is actually my best friend, got injured, so it wasn’t good to see him go down. But he was very happy for me, gave me a hug even though he was hurting and supported me to be the captain. It was amazing and it is a good thing. Not only for me, but for a lot of people.
What do you think it meant for South Africa to have you guiding the team?
I just think it’s a victory for all the people who struggled, who have been through a lot in South Africa, and obviously for black people too. But I don’t like to see it as a certain color because there are white people, too, who have the same background as me, who had to go through a lot in life. It shows all of them that you can become whatever you want to become, no matter what your background is.
How did you get where you are today?
I was fortunate enough to have a teacher from the township that looked after me. I couldn’t afford to drive somewhere or pay for food, so he used to help me out.
I got a scholarship to go to a (private boarding) school. It was a totally different world for me. I had a bed for the first time, I owned my own pair of socks for the first time. Even today, the small things that mean little to other people, mean a lot to me.I used to dream differently. I believed that I could become anything in life because I had good teachers, good facilities around me. I wanted to be a doctor all of a sudden whereas in the township you just want to be what the next guy is doing.
I started believing and feeling more confident in myself because I had people telling me, “You can be whatever you want.” That’s the kind of life I wish for other people in the township by bringing good teachers and equipment into the township, to give the kids the motivation to wake up and study…I would love to make sure that the kids get the same opportunities as others.
How are you helping change your community through sport?
I recall when I was younger and went to the township schools, we had ten teams and we all played in the same jerseys. After one team had played, you would take the sweaty jerseys off and give them to the next team to wear. I was only 12 then, but I said, one day when I make it, I will buy each team jerseys and I did that last year! I bought each team a pair of socks, pants, and jerseys with the school name and badge on it. It was amazing, one of my proudest moments. I haven’t forgotten where I come from. I’ll never forget that.
What advice do you give kids that see you as a role model?
It doesn’t matter where you’re from and how poor your family is. Remember, when you’re a child, you’re never poor. Your family might be, but you haven’t started living your life yet. You must go to school and keep on working, whether you’re a sportsman or an academic.
Do everything you can, and when you do eventually make it, do not forget where you came from. Do not forget the people that helped you make it. Keep them in your life and keep looking after them and help someone else, even if it’s just one person, to become better.
Your goals to support your community are clear but what’s in your sights for the future?
To be honest, I don’t make goals like that. I just want to play well, I want to inspire people. To be captain is a bonus and I would love to be captain one day, but it’s not my goal. I just want to do my part in the team, support the current captain, and that’s what I’ll do – give my best at all times.