The Biggest Lesson I Have Learnt – You Can Achieve More From Doing Less

Harriet Brown on the Gold Coast beaches

Harriet Brown is a World Champion Surf Ironwoman, Nutri-Grain Ironwoman Series Champion, Australian Team Captain & Molokai to Oahu Paddleboard Champion. Based on the Gold Coast, Australia, Harriet trains for her sport with commitment and intent rarely seen in other professional athletes. 

She also balances these training commitments with her work as an Exercise Physiologist, Pilates Instructor, Athlete Mentor & Coach and Public Speaking engagements. Hear more about Harriet and read more blogs like this on her website.

2020 can be your opportunity to do less and learn more.

Four years ago, I was at the checkout of the supermarket and the lady was asking me how my day was. I looked back at her, I couldn’t answer… and I couldn’t even smile. I just paid for my groceries and went straight home feeling rude and deflated. That day I didn’t speak to anyone. That was the day I also forgot to write on my hand to show people; ‘I have a broken jaw, I can’t talk’. That awkward encounter with the check-out lady came at one of my lowest points – two weeks into having my jaw wired shut and I was feeling pretty sorry for myself.

COVID and what we are going through now, whilst bleak, can also be an opportunity. One of the biggest lessons I have learnt in my life came from doing less, not from doing more. I was forced to take a step back from my busy life and jump off that life treadmill. Whilst breaking my jaw was the toughest thing I have been through; it was a blessing in disguise. Something I believe COVID can be for all of us. We have an opportunity to do less and actually reflect on how we are spending our time.

Is what we are doing bringing us joy and helping us achieve our goals?

I broke my jaw when I fell off a bike. For six weeks I couldn’t work, train, eat or talk. I could only drink smoothies or soups through a straw. I lost five kilograms, mostly muscle of which I really didn’t need to lose. I felt weak and skinny. However, I was well practiced at making creative soups and smoothies. The hardest part of the whole ordeal was not being able to talk.

My family live in Victoria and I was in a long-distance relationship at the time. I soon realised that I relied so much on conversation to hash things out, make decisions and bring me happiness. Not being able to be social and communicate verbally was really tough. I had a lot of time to myself to think and I hit a pretty low point half-way through when I realised I was getting no joy from watching Netflix anymore.

I was 25. I was yet to win anything major in my sport of Surf Ironwoman racing and I knew I had to change. I thought about how much effort I had been putting into my sport; training up to three times a day, six days a week. I had been going through the motions, day in day out, turning up to training and getting through the sessions. I started asking myself questions. Why wasn’t I winning? Could I do things differently? Was I really doing all I could to be my best? I was alone with my thoughts for so long that for the first time in my life I actually evaluated what I was doing. 

Firstly, I realised that I truly loved racing and missed training so much. I also realised that if I was going to take the time-consuming, tiring path of pursuing my sport, I needed to do everything I could to be my best. I figured out a plan that included working smarter in the gym, pushing myself harder when I needed to, resting when my body told me too, eating better and going to bed earlier. Some of this I was able to do while my wires were on. I wasn’t super strict or perfect, but my mindset had changed. I had more purpose at each session. I had something to prove.

Harriet Brown Surf Ironwoman Paddling over wave

Whilst I still had my jaw wired shut, I had a meeting with my coach, Naomi Flood. We sat down and chatted about the upcoming World Championships. Well, she chatted to me and I wrote things back to her. It was a tedious process. She told me that I wouldn’t be ready to race. I was devastated so pleaded with her and wrote; ‘please give me a few weeks after I get my wires off and if I’m fit enough, can we talk again’.

After six weeks, I finally had my wires removed and trained the hardest I have ever trained in the lead up to that world championships. I proved to Floody that I should be in the team to go to the Netherlands – I was so excited. Eight weeks after getting my wires off, I was lucky enough to win the World Ironwoman Title. I then went on to win the World Paddleboard Championships and backed it up by winning the Nutri-Grain Ironwoman Series that season. I had achieved dreams I never thought possible, I was over the moon. I knew this would have never happened if I just kept on training like I was. My broken jaw sure was a blessing in disguise.

Harriet Brown Nutri-Grain World Ironwoman Champion

During this period, it’s okay to take some time for yourself to stop, reset, evaluate and plan. But more importantly explore your purpose. Is what you’re doing making you happy? Are you actually doing your best? Don’t live on auto pilot, figure out if what you’re doing is actually what you want to do, and if it is, are you doing the best you can? For me it helps to write things down, meditate a little, create small goals and habits, and make little changes I know will help me in the long run. Put all these into practice and refer back to them from time to time when life gets busy again. A life with less commitments doesn’t happen often, so embrace it, enjoy it, and figure out what you need to do to reach your goals.

Want to Connect With Harriet?

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Jesse Joyce – Advice to My Younger Self

Jesse Joyce is an AFL Footballer for the Gold Coast Suns. Playing 64 games in his 5 year career so far, Jesse has defied expectations that were put on him as a junior footballer. Jesse has reflected on how adopting self-belief through his teenage years has been integral in pushing his AFL Career forward.

I find the phrase “What advice would you give to your younger self?” an extremely ironic question when reflecting on my life. As much as I’d love to go back in time to shake myself out of a funk, I don’t think I would have learnt the valuable lessons that came from the crossroads I met along the way. For me, this was a heavy battle with the belief in my own ability – especially as an aspiring footballer in one of the most important periods of my career.

As a young lad, I was so driven by the dream of one day playing AFL football which was fuelled by my Victorian-bred Dad and his potentially overwhelming belief in me. My first goal was to represent the state of NSW in the U12s team, and after years of obsessing over this, my name was called upon to be the second player from the Polding district to don the sky blue – the first being Jarred McVeigh. From this, opportunities arose to cross the NSW border and join Palm Beach Currumbin High School on a football scholarship, allocating footy as one of my six subjects a week. It all seemed too good to be true!

The 'Hard Part'

From here, little did I know the lesson on resilience and commitment that I would have to overcome to reach my dream. Over the next 5 years, I worked so hard to continuously fall at what felt like the final hurdle in the quest to represent my state. My passion for a sport had never been questioned so intensely. 7am speed sessions with the school’s sprint program, weekly 2km time trials around the block and at the footy club and playing at both school and representative levels. However, this seemed to still not be enough to get me across the line. In hindsight, I can see that my delayed growth spurt was making me struggle to compete. Little did I know that once I overcame this and started to have a strong belief in myself, I could fully unlock my potential.

 

Fast forward to my draft year and I’ve put on 7 kilograms – not all muscle – and have found a way to compete like never before. I think a lack of size throughout my junior career thus far had allowed me to find different ways to use my body to compete. Now with a newfound size, I felt stronger than ever. Following the consistent setbacks to date I found myself shocked and almost in disbelief to finally be named among the U18’s Queensland squad. This reaction showed in the days following, as I struggled to come to terms with the commitment required to first, make the final 22 and then putting myself on an AFL list.

I had an overwhelming feeling that I wasn’t good enough and almost forced myself to trip at the hurdle before I had even begun. I can only describe this moment as an attempt to stay on the road of familiar disappointment, rather than venture onto the unknown journey of what seemed like unlikely success.

When I reached this fork in the road, I made a last-ditch effort and met with my school & senior footy coach, Chad Owens, and talked him through my predicament. Long story short, what shone through was an undoubted lack of belief in myself, which was probably a result of years of hard work for ‘no cigar’.

The voice in my head kept saying: “Why would this time around prove any different?”

 

The People

What Chad made sure to be crystal clear until I left the conversation, was his belief in me. He made it obvious that even if I don’t believe in myself, that I needed to do this for his belief and investment in my career and that there are so many more people on this journey than just myself.

It was about the people of the Coolangatta Blues, Palm Beach Lions, footy staff of PBC High, Gold Coast and QLD development coaches and more importantly the years sacrificed by my parents and indirectly my younger siblings travelling up and down Gold Coast because of their confidence in my ability. Upon reflection, this support brewed inside of me, to grow into what became an undeniable belief in myself.

A moment of this support was highlighted to me on the day of my first QLD squad session. To get to training in Burpengary, there was a two-hour long drive ahead of me and my teammate Max. However, we didn’t even make it 10 minutes into the drive before we broke down on the side of the road. At the drop of a hat, Dad sacrificed his car for us, while he waited 3 hours for a tow truck to arrive. This gesture by Dad showed the level of his belief in me.

The Lesson

Fast forward to the present and I am closing in on my fifth season of AFL. A season that could be described as underwhelming, given the fact that I have been held outside of the senior side for a longer stint than before debuting in my first season. Although it hints at similarities of my disappointing junior representative attempts, what has stuck out at me amidst the circumstances, has been the belief in my own abilities.

I am more confident in the player I am than ever before and I believe this is largely due to the lessons I have learnt along the journey. As if on cue, I have received texts in recent days from Chad showing his support for my situation. Who knows what lays beyond this year! However, I am confident that this road has a while to go yet.

So, if someone asked me that ironic question today, I think I’d just tell myself: “It may be bumpy (especially on the way to Burpengary), but enjoy the ride. Those hard parts are what make success all the worthwhile.”

Bec Beeson – Fake It Until You Make It

Rebecca Beeson is an AFLW Footballer who plays for the GWS Giants. Since COVID-19 hit Australia and disrupted a large portion of Bec’s life, she started writing down her stories to reflect on some people, life lessons and key moments that have stuck with her throughout the years.

If you like this blog, make sure to check our Bec’s website for more incredible stories about her life both on and off the field.

After the 2020 AFLW season, I was feeling a bit flat because I hadn’t played as well as what I had hoped. The 2019 season was a bit of a breakout year for me, and I expected myself to be even better this year.

I struggled in preseason due to low motivation, which was bizarre because I’m usually a super competitive person. I think I was suffering from a little bit of ‘burnout’ after a couple of years playing back to back AFLW and VFLW seasons. I started the AFLW season with a few average games and I felt I was losing the confidence of the coaches in my ability.

Riding the Rollercoaster of Emotions

What many players aren’t prepared for when they enter the AFLW environment, is the rollercoaster of emotions that you will experience throughout your career. Just like all facets of life, there are periods of great ups and low downs. In the AFLW environment, these are heightened even further, because the season is so short, meaning you only have a limited amount of time to prove yourself.

When I play a few good games, I feel on top of the world. I feel invincible. But things can turn easily, and one bad game can lead to a run of poor form. This can have a big impact on your mental health. The issue is, many elite sportspeople tend to base their self-worth as a human being on their performances on the field. This is something that I’ve had to firstly acknowledge as something that I have struggled with, and still struggle with to an extent to this very day. However, I’ve recognised that this is an unhealthy way to live considering its pretty bloody hard to be Best of Ground every time you play.

A huge physical and emotional investment is required to be a successful athlete, so when something hasn’t gone your way, such as poor form or injury, this can seriously impact your mental health. I believe this is one of the greatest challenges faced by modern day athletes. This is particularly true for AFLW footballers as many players are taken straight out of local football competitions where they are the superstars of their team, into an elite sporting environment where competition for spots is very intense. AFLW players have also not spent their junior football years in elite pathways preparing themselves for professional sport, like our male counterparts.

Not Becoming a 'One Hit Wonder'

Despite a slow start I managed to string together a few decent games in the backend of the season. Although I knew that I was a good player it was nice to be able to prove it to others. Post-season one of my good mates said to me over coffee, “Gee it must be nice knowing you’re not a one hit wonder.” I was a bit shocked, I never thought of myself as a one hit wonder and to be honest I was a little bit offended. I remember thinking ‘Bugger that!’

I’m glad that was my emotional response to the comment, because I shouldn’t be relieved when I play well. I expect myself to play well and I feel disappointed when I don’t.

I think what separates those that not only survive, but thrive, in this competitive environment compared to those that fall off the back of the wagon is the unwaveringly ability to believe in yourself, even when times are tough.

Self-Doubt

I was recently speaking to a former AFL player, who is now an Assistant Coach in the GIANTS Men’s Program. He said something along the lines of “once self-doubt creeps into your mind you are stuffed. If you have a bad game forget about it and pump yourself up for the next game.”

Self-belief is a far more powerful motivator than anyone’s words of praise or criticism. You have to go out there and believe that you are a great player, that in a one-on-one situation you will beat any opponent, you will win the ball, you will kick the goal. Because if you don’t, you’re in trouble.

Al McConnell once told me:

“You must believe that you are a better player than your opponent, it is essential.”  

However, this does not mean you are a better person than your opponent. I think here lies the difference between confidence and arrogance.

So, I do whatever I can do to pump myself up before a game and I know it’s ok to walk onto the field thinking that I’m the best. In fact, it’s not ok – it is essential.

To read more, find Bec’s other blog posts here.

Cara Koenen Sunshine Coast Lightning

Cara Koenen – The Toughest Grind

Cara Koenen is a professional netball player with the Sunshine Coast Lightning. Each week on her website, she writes personal and moving pieces that help give an insight into what life is like as an elite athlete, the day-to-day struggles, sources of motivation and her journey to the big stage.

Read more here.

If you have ever been unlucky enough to have had one, you’ll probably guess what it is I might want to discuss. Injuries. As I write this, athletes everywhere are cringing or wincing at the traumatic thought of hurting themselves. As athletes (and humans, I suppose), injuries are our kryptonite. They stop us doing all of the things we love to do; stop us from doing the things that keep us sane and happy. 

Recently, I was watching an episode of the Michael Jordan Netflix documentary ‘The Last Dance’ (would absolutely recommend, by the way). He recalled a conversation that he had with the owner of the Chicago Bulls at the time, Jerry Reinsdorf, about an injury that Jordan sustained while playing. Reinsdorf asked;

“If you had a terrible headache, and I gave you a bottle of pills, and nine of the pills would cure you, and one of the pills would kill you, would you take a pill?”

Jordan simply replied:

“Depends how bad the headache is.”

I think there was also a bit of colourful language involved but we are trying to keep this spot PG. Nonetheless, I completely see where he was coming from. In my opinion, injuries are without a doubt one of the biggest challenges that an athlete can face in their career. 

You may recall from one of my earlier posts that I have copped a few injuries throughout my time. I would like to think that I inherited many good genes from both of my parents; however, strong ankles and good knees are arguably not on that list – still love you Mum & Dad, don’t worry. This fact, plus the nature of our beautiful game, and the remnants of my young, un-coordinated self, have meant that at the ripe old age of 24, I have had three surgeries *facepalm*. To prevent this from dragging on and potentially putting you all to sleep, we will only talk about the most significant of those three surgeries.

My Story

If we backtrack to the beginning of the 2017 season, one of my teammates was making her return to the court after undergoing her own surgical procedure earlier that year (shout-out to you, SJ Wood). I was getting some game time and doing my absolute best to make the most of every opportunity out on that court. At Lightning camp, we were preparing for our week four clash against GIANTS Netball. I remember so clearly jumping up from under the post to catch a ball and, upon landing, rolling my ankle on one of our defender’s feet. Ouch. I wish I could say that I dusted myself off and hopped right up but alas, I think I may have screamed, and I most certainly did cry… like a baby. 

I was a good little athlete and did everything I was told. I iced, rested, strapped, recovered and then, much to my surprise, played that very weekend. We were right in the thick of the season, so I wasn’t about to let some swelling and a smidge of pain slow me down or compromise any chance I had of stepping out on that court. From my previous experience with sprains, if you do the right thing, the issue usually resolves itself within a few weeks. This was definitely not the case here.

 Flash forward to the conclusion of the season and at times, my ankle would still disappear into my calf. I was sent off to get scans because apparently this was, in fact, not normal – I know, who would’ve thought! I sat down for my appointment with my surgeon, completely expecting him to suggest a quick tidy up and 8-week recovery, when he hit me with another suggestion. He thought it would be more beneficial to conduct a reconstruction of my poor wee ankle. Although not an ideal scenario, this was all well and good in my brain until he told me that I would be out of action until further notice (a total of around 5 months).  

You are joking. Surely. 

Anyone who has had any type of surgery will know that the worst part is not the hospital visit, the bland food, waking up from the anaesthetic with the urge to puke, being jabbed like a pincushion, or those pesky crutches (although the crutches truly are a strong contender). The most difficult part is the rehab! The frustration of being sidelined and sticking to a progression plan that feels like you are improving at no more than a snail’s pace; worse than fingernails down a chalkboard. 

I don’t know if I am completely alone in feeling this way, but I have put together a list of survival tips that will change the way you perceive injuries and rehab…

Cara Koenen

1. Trust the experts.

In most circumstances, you are not the one with the medical degree so please, take your assigned seat in the back and relinquish some control. Heed any and all advice that your physio and doctor give you because, surprise-surprise, they know what they are doing.

2. Don’t abandon your goals, pause them and make new ones.

Having been in a cast/moon boot and on crutches for a period of time, I obviously wasn’t going anywhere, fast – literally. With my dreams of improving on the netball court put on hold temporarily, I decided to focus my efforts elsewhere. One of my personal goals was to nail body weight pull-ups. You best believe that, at first, your girl needed the help of some pretty strong resistance bands to get her chin up over that bar. However, slowly but surely, we achieved that goal, set a new one, and got back to work. It is important to remember that there will always be some uninjured part of your body which could use a bit of extra attention during those early rehab days.

3. Do the work.

Rehabilitation exercises are the worst; she writes as physiotherapists everywhere begin drafting their hate mail. These exercise programs often contain several exercises, of hundreds of repetitions, that have to be done every single day. Ok, I’ll admit, hundreds of reps may be a slight exaggeration but you get my drift. Not only are they annoying but they are also completely ESSENTIAL for any athlete who is serious about returning to their sport. This point also ties back in to point #1 – when they say ‘jump’, you say ‘how high?’.

3. Surround yourself with supportive, motivated people.

Having had a few of these experiences myself, I am of the opinion that no day of training will ever be as hard as having to rehabilitate after a significant injury. Now, I don’t mean physically of course because, sometimes, injuries leave us confined to the couch for a little while. Let’s talk the mental, emotional or psychological effects that may arise during times like these.

I am by no means a psychologist. However, I believe that it is completely normal (and almost expected) for us to sometimes feel discouraged, unmotivated, frustrated, disappointed or disengaged during rehab. To ease this burden, surround yourself with people who know when to offer a shoulder to cry on and when to give you a kick up the bum because occasionally, we all need a little help with getting motivated.

 

Until next time,

C