Taylor Smith – New Beginnings

Taylor Smith is an up and coming player in the AFLW competition. Taylor started her career at the Gold Coast Suns in 2020 where she made her debut for the side in Round 6. Unlike most debuts, Taylor played her first game in front of an empty stadium due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In this piece, Taylor takes us through her journey to get to her first game, facing the unknown at the end of the season and finally the trade that took Taylor to her new home for 2021, the Brisbane Lions.

I think we would all agree that 2020 has been nothing short of one of the craziest years many of us would have ever endured. The COVID-19 pandemic saw the things we love doing come to a griding holt, whether that was the pausing or loss of jobs or finishing our sporting seasons early, having them delayed or for some, cancelled all together.

These unprecedented times have left us asking what’s next? Unfortunately, we can never predict these kinds of things – they are out of our control. As humans, we are faced with these situations all the time, so it is how we deal with these that helps us succeed in whatever it is we are pursuing.

For myself, the end of 2019 didn’t exactly go to plan, but with 2020 fast approaching, I was ready for a fresh start and hoped for what was going to be an amazing year.

My Debut

After battling some health issues towards the end of 2019, I had never been more ready for the new year to roll around. These had definitely impacted the start of my first AFLW pre-season, as I wasn’t as physically or mentally fit as I needed to be. From here, I decided that over the Christmas and New Year break I was going to work harder than ever to start the new year on a good note and move past the last few months. After pushing my body to new limits, games were shortly underway, and I was ready to make an impact for whatever opportunity came in my direction.

Fast-forward to March, and it is beginning to near the end of the season. Hope of making my AFLW debut was fading at the same time the pandemic was rising. It was 9pm on Tuesday the 10th of March, and usually by now I’d have heard whether or not I was playing this week. As my suspicion was rising, mum starts filming me as my phone rings and I notice that it’s not the usual call from our assistant coach, but it is from the AFLW Head Coach. 

Not really thinking too much of it, I stopped eating my dinner and answered the phone. The call I had been waiting for had finally come. This week in round 6, I was going to make my debut for the Gold Coast Suns. Right in this moment, I began to truly understand how important persistence and resilience really are. By being able to deal with the uncontrollable circumstances that set me back earlier in the season, I was finally able to reach my goal of making my AFLW debut.

If I remember correctly, at this point our world was still fairly normal and we were expecting a typical AFLW crowd to show up to the game, my parents to fly over and an overall awesome atmosphere. However, just two days later this all changed. The growing pandemic forced crowds out of the stadiums, which made my AFLW debut one of the most eerie and unusual going around.

I was fortunate enough to still have my parents attend the game, but other than them and couple of other parents, they were the only spectators. It is safe to say that this was a surreal experience and I am so thankful for having been given this opportunity by the Suns.

The Unknown

A few days after round 6, with the rapidly increasing concern around the pandemic, the AFLW season moved straight into finals, where only one round was completed before the remainder of the season was cancelled. With such an abrupt end and a global pandemic continuing to grow, no one really knew what was next. I couldn’t help but already think ahead to the next AFLW season, asking myself “will I get to play again?”. Having only played footy for a short amount of time and only ever knowing the Suns, I was comfortable there and was hoping I’d get the opportunity to play for them again.

Over the ‘lockdown’ period, I continued to run, work on my fitness and perfect my craft wherever I could. I think in times of uncertainty, it’s important to find the positives where you can and embrace the unknown. I used this time to reset and really focus on my mental health, finding new hobbies and putting more time into my university studies, which really allowed me to step away from football and appreciate all the other opportunities I have.

Things soon began to settle in Queensland and community sport was about to commence, which also meant the AFLW Sign & Trade Period was fast approaching. When the time was right, the Suns had informed me that I wasn’t going to be offered another contract for 2021, which was really hard news to hear.

Pretty disappointed, I knew that this QAFLW season was important and that I needed to play good footy to give myself the best opportunity to play AFLW again. A strong few rounds back and I had a bit of interest from the Brisbane Lions, which to my surprise turned out to be another amazing opportunity coming my way. Whilst at the time the Lions weren’t able to offer me anything official, they were committed to having me on their list however that may look.

Fortunately, on the final day of the sign and trade period, I woke to a phone call informing me that I had officially been traded to the Brisbane Lions. Stoked is an understatement when describing how I felt on this day. Determination and perseverance had served me well, and I can’t thank all the people that made this happen enough.

Starting at a New Club

It’s still only very early days, but it’s certainly safe to say I am loving it at the Lions so far. Much like most of this year, it was totally unexpected and there’s a lot of change happening, but like the Suns, there are lots of great people who help you adjust and enjoy it.

Having only ever been involved with the Suns and there being that classic Queensland rivalry between the two clubs, it felt like it would be a big move heading up north for my next AFLW season. However, I don’t think the reality of the move really sunk in until this year’s AFLW draft.

I know that may seem like a long time between the sign and trade period and the draft, but it was all so exciting for so long (and it still is); new club, new teammates, new colours, many trips up to Brisbane to meet and talk to all the new staff, admin work etc. Draft day then rolls around and mixed emotions kicked in when seeing a number of my friends and Bond University teammates head off to the Suns.

Alongside the excitement and happiness to be developing and playing up at the Lions, there are still moments where I have to remember to let go and move on. These transition periods kind of resemble a break-up and aren’t as easy as I first thought.

I have a lot of awesome friends at the Suns and made so many great connections, so I think that is where most of the emotion comes from. However, no matter the circumstances, in situations like these you will often stay friends with those who valued you as person before anything else. I still get phone calls from Spud (Kate Surman), asking if I want to go surfing with her and a few of the girls – so really nothing too much has changed there!

All of the staff and girls at the Lions have been so welcoming and helpful, which immediately makes me feel like this is the place where I am meant to be. When I think about my future as an athlete and the fantastic opportunities the club is presenting, I know that it is where I want to be, and I get goosebumps sitting here thinking about it!

So here we are now, AFLW induction and pre-season is commencing and the hard work is about to begin. It has been a journey of a year to get here, but I’m a huge believer in things happening for a reason. Through everything I have endured this year, I am so proud that I’ve been able to approach it with a positive attitude and see the experience as one giant blessing.