What You Need To Know About Rising Star Of The Hockey World, Onthatile Zulu

by | Jun 15, 2023 | Profile

At 23, Onthatile Zulu is a force to be reckoned with on the field and a role model off it. The South African field hockey powerhouse just became the first female Red Bull Athlete in the country and she shows no signs of slowing down. With her skill, motivation and grit, Zulu is a rising star in the South African field hockey team and is expected to play a key role in the team’s future success.

Thati Zulu embarked on her remarkable hockey journey at the tender age of six. Born and bred in Pretoria, South Africa, Thati’s passion for the sport was ignited when she signed up for sports curriculums at school back in 2006. Among various options like athletics and swimming, hockey captured her interest, and that very day, upon returning home, she eagerly requested her mother to purchase her a hockey stick to begin her journey on the field.

“Ever since then, I have never stopped playing,” she says. While she may not have been a standout player in her early years, her genuine enjoyment of the game and the camaraderie among her teammates fueled her dedication. Over time, she honed her skills and participated in provincial tournaments for several years, representing Northern Gauteng. However, it wasn’t until the age of sixteen that she broke through, earning a spot on the SA Schools team. Along the way, she experienced playing for various B and C teams, but her true progress emerged when she made a pivotal decision to change schools.

To Cool For School

Transitioning to Cornwall Hill College for her high school years opened up a world of opportunities for Thati’s hockey development. Starting in 2016, she made her way onto the national stage, representing South Africa in several tournaments and test series. These experiences further sharpened her skills and fortified her determination to succeed.

“I chose to study at the University of Pretoria from 2019-2022, which is probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Being a student-athlete allowed me to reach my goals and showcase my potential. I was exposed to a high-performance environment that only produced hardworking people who were willing to go the extra mile. I grew in all aspects of my game.”

Special attention was paid to her physical fitness, tactical understanding, technical prowess and mental resilience. This heightened level of accountability and competitive spirit fostered a newfound consistency in her performances.

The hard work and dedication paid off when Thati earned a spot on the Junior World Cup team, showcasing her skills on the global stage. In August 2019, she made her senior national debut during the Road to Tokyo Olympic qualifiers — an unforgettable moment that propelled her career to new heights. Since then, the sky has been the limit for this rising star. Thati Zulu has participated in prestigious events such as the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, UK and the World Cup in Terrassa, Spain. These incredible experiences have not only elevated her profile but also exposed her to a multitude of opportunities.

READ MORE: Banyana Banyana Talks World Cup, Training And How They’re Fuelling Up

Quickfire Questions

“When I’m not on the field playing hockey, you can find me spending time with my friends and family or on vacation in a foreign country. I am also a proud graduate of the University of Pretoria with a Bcom in Business management degree.”

Name: Onthatile Zulu

Age: 23

Sport: Hockey

Years Playing Sport: 17 years

Current Moto: If not you then who

Go-to Exercise: Crunches

Role Model: My mother

Mental Health  

Being an athlete is no easy feat. The journey is filled with highs and lows, moments of triumph and setbacks. I try to focus on my strengths and what I can offer to the team and concentrate as much as possible on those and not try anything unfamiliar to me, especially when things aren’t going well,” Thati explains. Athletes often face self-doubt, mental blocks, and obstacles that can test their focus and confidence. 

“I constantly remind myself that mental blocks are part of the journey and I try to keep positive as much as possible.” 

Maintaining motivation and resilience in the face of obstacles is a critical aspect of being an athlete. “Personally, I remind myself why I started playing the sport of hockey and one of the main reasons I started playing is because I enjoyed it and it challenged me in many ways,” Thati notes. 

“When I step out on that field, I’m not only playing for myself, I’m playing for all the people who have supported me throughout my hockey journey and all the people who look up to me. That’s what keeps me motivated to keep going.” 

Let’s Get Physical

In the world of hockey, physicality is key, and Thati knows it well. Hitting the gym three times a week, her strength sessions are the secret to her commanding presence on the field. To amplify her speed and agility, she engages in two conditioning sessions focusing on speed endurance, explosiveness and change of direction. Exercises include: Shift runs, Sprints and Tempo runs.

When asked about the most challenging aspect of her training routine, the word ‘testing’ popped up. “It measures where you’re at in terms of your training and sometimes you don’t get the results that you want,” she says. “It’s never easy,” she acknowledges, “but I always tell myself that it’s a work in progress.”

Train Like A Hockey Player

In a week she does the following:  

  • 3 x Strength sessions
  • 2 x Robustness sessions
  • 2 x Conditioning sessions
  • Usually play a game on the weekend or replace it with a cardio session

READ MORE: SA Netball Captain Bongiwe Msomi Talks World Cup Dreams

Game Day Prep

Let’s say it’s game day tomorrow! Here’s a basic timeline of her pre-game food: 

  1. I usually have some oats or an egg and avo bagel for breakfast. Love some rooibos tea or a cappuccino. 
  2. Usually, snack on some cashew nuts or biltong during the day. 
  3. If my game is in the afternoon, I have a light lunch such as a toasted sandwich or chicken wrap with some iced tea. 
  4. I also try to have some carbs(pasta), the day before the game for some energy for the next day.
  5. GAME DAY!  “I’ll either have a banana or a can of Red Bull usually an hour before my game,” says Thati. 

READ MORE: Race Fuel: Exactly What You Should Eat And Drink For A Better Race

Inspiring Young Women 

Zulu is not only a talented athlete, but she’s also an advocate for women’s rights. She’s spoken out about the importance of gender equality in sport and she’s used her platform to inspire young girls to follow their dreams.

“I want to show young girls that they can do anything they set their minds to,” Zulu says. “I want them to know that they can achieve their dreams, no matter what obstacles they face.”

Onthatile Zulu is a role model for young women everywhere. She’s a talented athlete, a passionate advocate and a force for change. She’s sure to continue to inspire and amaze us for years to come.

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