Donne Potgieter (30) is one of South Africa’s most successful female shotists and she attributes her success to the positive role that her parents and in particular her father played in her sporting life. Donne medalled at the Commonwealth Games (CWG) in 1998, while still at school….shot in both CWG finals in 2002, won individual British, Australian and many South African titles, held the SA 3 P_ record for eight years and air rifle record for six years. She was fifteen when she achieved full Protea Colours. She was taught not to idolise medals or dwell in the past….her medals are in Checkers bags in the garage some 400 plus. She now swims, runs, cycles and gyms and loves every minute of it.
She shares her thoughts from her heart with us – a powerful message from which we can all learn how to improve our parenting skills.
My biggest lessons from my shooting career:
· Your son/daughter is GOING to grow up and the sport they do/are doing right now DOES NOT DEFINE WHO THEY ARE! They are beautiful amazing kids – whether they excel at a sport or not.
· Your ULTIMATE job as a parent is to protect, love and guide your children into becoming contributing members of society
· They WILL grow up, they WILL have challenges and all of this will EXCLUDE the sport they are involved in today.
The early days:
I remember being in the car with my dad and I was 11 years old – dreaming out loud about being a professional pent athlete one day. He dutifully listened to my dream, my aspiration – knowing full well that I couldn’t run to save my life! But he listened, entertained and didn’t offer much advice on how I should go about doing it.
On my first attempt in the school shooting trials I missed the target more than once and didn’t make the team. I came home feeling that I was not good enough. During this time neither of my parents showed ANY disappointment – it was something that happened and it was no big deal. My mom bought me a pot plant and I forced my dad to set up the old air rifle in the garden so that I could practice.
This was the start of his full time job for the next few years – helping me set up the target, set up my position and telling me a great golfer once said the more you practice the better you get… I was the one that was responsible for making the team – not my dad, my rifle, it was all me J. My dad STOOD BACK completely. His job was fetching me after shooting practice, buying cold drinks and food, asking me what helped me shoot better and listened to my stories about how I felt during the shoot and more dreaming… The important thing here is – my Dad let ME MAKE UP MY OWN MIND. This is something I WANTED TO DO – not what my dad wanted me to do.
I made the school team, practiced harder than anyone else, went to provincials, won and was awarded provincial colours.
I eventually realised that I had some potential and asked my dad for his help. I was the perfect little student (although he might disagree J). He started to offer me advice – not so much about technique, but more about mental stamina.
· Let me tell ALL parents out there – an A CLASS GUN AND FIVE MILLION TRIPS TO THE SHOOTING RANGE WILL NOT MEAN ANYTHING IF YOUR SON/DAUGHTER DOESN’T HAVE MENTAL STAMINA – and that goes for any sport/challenge/job
I’d practice REALLY hard whenever I could and I started competing more -at local events. Eventually I made a team that was going to England to partake in their annual Bisley – there I realised that I was nothing and my little ‘high’ of winning ONE provincial was slammed to the ground and tramped on. THERE IS A BIG BUT TO THIS SENTENCE:
· When I called home both my parents asked how I was – not how the shooting was or where I came. They both cared about my safety and how I was integrating with a group of people I didn’t really know – and being a million miles away from home.
· I learnt how to manage money at a ridiculously young age
· MOST OF ALL I HAD THE MOST FUN AND EXPERIENCED LONDON! WHAT TEENAGER DOES NOT WANT TO DO THAT!
I came home saying “I want to do that again – boy oh boy do I need to get better” and so my life changed and I started becoming a professional little shooter girl… Who really probably didn’t have that “RAW” talent people talk about – but I had ALL THE SUPPORT A GIRL COULD ASK FOR FROM A MOM AND DAD AND THREE WONDERFUL SISTERS (and at that stage grandparents who were my biggest fans)
Throughout this time I was a normal teenage girl looking to succeed at something, but I also gave my beautiful mom the greatest amount of grief, had my first boyfriend, was dumped and fell in love again, struggled with hormones, friends and school work, experimented with alcohol. BUT my shooting did not define me – I was a regular teenager with all the regular hang ups.
Later school years:
· I really practiced hard
· My dad did encourage me to practice hard – because I was a teenager and needed the adult guidance and a push
· My dad spent hours – I MEAN HOURS! Setting me up, watching my eyes, breathing – teaching me how to read the wind, how to clean my rifle, how to value what I had (Because I had a ‘ROCKING’ rifle)
· We also had this little game before every match to get me concentrating and “in the zone” before a competition. To this day I still do this before any challenging moment.
· Throughout my shooting career I had endless opportunities to shoot internationally. We did however always choose carefully. It was important to see that international shoots were not the norm. It was a time to work toward something. I appreciate that my father could do that for me. Because it’s definitely not every family that could afford sending a girl to all these events. I did not go to every single event (because I was not good enough) – but I went to ENOUGH – and that taught me to try harder and harder every time.
· At this stage I had reached a level in my shooting career that it was more important to compete with myself than anyone else.
· My dad also had to keep on reminding me that although I had been winning all the girls events there are many many other better shooters – and those are the ones I must benchmark myself against. This brings me to an important point:
· In South Africa there aren’t many 100% full time shooters. So when you reach a level you might win every event – but you definitely aren’t on par with the rest of the world.
· So that kept me going. I benchmarked myself against the Renate Maurers of the world – HARD CORE excellent shooter.
· I carried on steadily – winning some – losing some. ALWAYS feeling loved by both my parents.
· I also struggled academically at school, you see shooting did have its downfalls – you tend to ignore school!! So just after the commonwealth games 1998 I had to write my Matric finals. My mom had to take the lead – she kept on telling me that whatever happened in my finals they loved me and I could always try again.
· I made it – I made Matric! I think both the parental units were pleasantly surprised.
· From then I had some ups and down in my shooting career. My dad still supported me – 100% but I started driving to my own events and I started thinking “Goodness, I might have to start thinking about the rest of my life”
· So I started my BCom – still attempted to shoot at every moment I could.
· I did however realise that I was HUNGRY for information about business, life and winning at something else than shooting!!! I did a great job academically – Cum Lauded my undergrad and naturally my shooting started to take a downturn.
· Throughout this time my mother couldn’t have been more supportive. She saw the need for me to feel okay ‘career’ wise. I was praised like I had won five gold medals at the Olympic Games!!
· My dad then started helping all up and coming shooters (As well as giving me advice… on life and shooting combined)
· It’s a hard decision to make: this to shoot or not to shoot thing. I decided to do my honours in strategic management. But this was a full time job and I really had to start thinking what it is that I want from this life. In that moment: it was my academic career.
· So I missed a huge chunk of my life – I really longed for it – being at the shooting range, being with my dad…
· It was a sad time and getting used to the different ‘life’ was an adjustment. BUT this is one of the valuable gifts of having loving supporting parents – “A well- adjusted adult”
· But I gained potential in another area of my life.
· My dad let me – he LET me… Without a question, a fight… he let ME pursue my dream… which changed from my 11 year old dream.
The biggest gift my dad gave me throughout my shooting career was this:
· He spent hours with me – training, supporting, encouraging.
· When it came to competition day he would disappear – gone! He was nowhere to be found! I had to completely fend for myself. This really taught me valuable lessons:
· He gifted me with the ability to FEEL LIKE THIS WAS MY ACHIEVEMENT and NOT a result of what HE DID. My success/failure was completely 100% ME!
· That one thing has helped me throughout my entire life!
· Then when it was time to celebrate successes OR cry about the failures my dad was back and he supported me through it.
· When I failed: my dad would say “Okay this has happened now what do you want to do” – My response was mostly ‘PRACTICE HARDER OF COURSE!!!!!”
· When I succeeded: my dad would laugh and say “Well done my girl”… a little while later when all the euphoria had died down we would always discuss how strange it was that no matter how good you were – there is always always someone better than you. But on THAT specific day – you were better.
A message for parents:
Parents – your children need grounding, love and mental stamina to live in this world. They DON’T NEED MONEY, THE BEST EQUIPMENT AND EXCUSES! Right now you need to do everything you can to keep your child on the straight and narrow. They don’t need ‘things’ they need guidance.
Today I’m proud to say that I’m a well- adjusted lady. I love big challenges – but that’s my nature. I don’t hate losing – but I’ll try VERY hard NOT to J
I’ve made bad decisions, I’ve recovered. I love my parents – and I have no regrets. I WISH that my mom and dad could open a school for “Kids with sporting gifts and how to raise them”
I am not defined by my shooting, but it SURE did help me shape my future and the way I take on a challenge…
Stay blessed – because we all are blessed. Be kinder than usual because everyone is fighting some kind of battle. Don’t forget to be awesome… Because you are.