Western Province captain Chris van Zyl: The accountant with a head for rugby

Western Province captain Chris van Zyl has managed to qualify as a Chartered Accountant while playing professional rugby. What has it meant to his game, and his outlook on life on and off the field of play?

Western Province captain Chris van Zyl

By Mandy Collins*

Western Province Captain Chris van Zyl didn’t get into professional rugby the traditional way, and it’s seen him playing with a chartered accountancy qualification under his belt.

“When I was in matric, I was in the third team,” he says. “There was no director of rugby pushing me to play for their union. “I had decided I wanted to be a chartered accountant, so I went off to Stellenbosch University to get a degree. I wasn’t planning to make rugby my career. I also only developed fully at 22, so that had an impact too”

Chris did his B.Acc Honours and started playing Varsity Cup rugby, and that’s where he got a taste of the professional environment. “It really struck a chord with me. My brother had done pretty much the same thing, so I had seen that it was possible to do the studying and the playing at the same time.”

Chris completed his studies but had to do articles in Johannesburg, which wasn’t ideal as he’d decided by then he wanted to play professionally. So he decided to do both, and would eventually play for first the Lions and then move to Cape Town to play with the Stormers.

How did you manage to balance the rigours of pro rugby with your academic commitments?

It would be a lie to say it was easy. But I think it helped that I knew it was only for a finite period, so there was an end in sight. Luckily Deloitte was very supportive and accommodating, as were coaches Johan Ackermann and John Dobson.

There were days I remember going to gym at 4.30am so I could get to work early and be in time to train with the guys, but there was give and take from both sides. It was difficult, because there are only so many hours in the day, and rest is very important when you’re an athlete. 

What lessons has rugby taught you?

I think it confirmed for me how important self-discipline is, both on and off the rugby field.

What has been the biggest game-changer in your personal life?

Qualifying as a CA. It’s opened up so many opportunities for me. And hand in hand with that, it’s allowed me to open my own bookkeeping and accounting services business.

What do you love about change?

The best part is the unknown, because it brings new challenges and opportunities. And then you can see in hindsight how you reacted to the change.

What do you hate about change?

Well, it’s not comfortable, and in many cases, once you’ve gone through the change, things are not the same as they were, and won’t be the same.

If you could change one thing about professional rugby, what would it be?

I wish more professional players would have more foresight into life after rugby. It’s too late to think about it after rugby. You should already be taking active steps to plan for it while you’re playing. It’s fully possible to do something towards your future while you’re playing.

How do you approach things you want to change about yourself?

I think it’s important to realign yourself to your original goals or ideas. I look at myself and ask if I’m on track with those. Then it’s easier to implement the appropriate measures.

What’s the scariest thing you’ve done?

Well, I just bought a house. When you see the bond repayments going off your account every month, that’s pretty scary.

Who is your personal role model?

First, my parents. I think I got my self-discipline and work ethic from them. But then, later, my two older brothers. They provided a kind of blueprint for what’s possible.

What book has had a great impact on you?

Africa’s Greatest Entrepreneurs by Moky Makura. It’s full of case studies and personal anecdotes, and the journeys people have taken.

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

To be making a true success of whatever venture I have chosen.

  • This article first appeared on the Change Exchange, an online platform by BrightRock, provider of the first-ever life insurance that changes as your life changes. The opinions expressed in this piece are the writer’s own and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BrightRock.
For a deeper understanding of the world of money and greater financial control, upgrade to BizNews Premium.