Diamonds Camp Diary – Tara Hinchliffe

Tara Hinchliffe is a Queensland Firebirds Defender and recently joined the Australian Diamonds squad at the Constellation Cup in New Zealand as a tour invitee. Over the course of 3 weeks away, the Diamonds Squad had to undertake Managed Isolated Quarantine (MIQ) in order to play the four game series. Tara took a weekly diary of the experience that will certainly be one to remember!

Week 1 - The Lead Up

Well, here I am writing to you all from Managed Isolation Quarantine (MIQ, similar to hotel quarantine), in Christchurch, New Zealand… and it’s certainly been a wild ride to get here! I am fortunate to be here with the Australian Diamonds netball team, as an invitee to their Constellation Cup series against the almighty Silver Ferns. I got the call from coach Stacey Marinkovich a couple of weeks before heading off, and it wasn’t a call I was expecting at all, but one I was very excited to take. A mad flurry of rearranging work, university, Firebirds and life commitments, and I was on the plane to Sydney for our pre-departure camp. Saying goodbye to my family for the longest time in my life so far was hard, made even harder by having to leave our puppy Darcy (dogs just aren’t great at Facetime… haha). We didn’t even have a confirmed flight back at home – with borders and quarantine requirements changing by the day.

We spent a couple of days in Sydney making the most of the time we could spend together on court, building connections and getting high loads through our legs to hold us in good shape for the next few days to come, locked up in our rooms in MIQ. One chartered flight later, and we are in our solo ‘home away from home’ for the next 14 days. A bed, a bike, an armchair, and lots of activities on hand. I’ve spent the first few days reading, attempting my first ever puzzle in adult life (I know, what a shock!), a bit of Netflix, and a lot of Zoom workouts with the team! We are so lucky to be able to open our windows for fresh air, and some of the team even have balconies too (lucky ducks!). I’m excited to hopefully get out to the makeshift gym they have set up for us in a marquee outside today, if our third round of COVID tests come back negative. There’s only so many body weight Bulgarians a gal can do in her hotel room…

Week 2 - Quarantine Life

We are on the home stretch of MIQ life! I’m writing this with a few days to go, and I’m actually enjoying it way more than I thought I would be. We have been allowed out to the gym (in a marquee in the carpark), and the courts (a quarantined facility where only our bubble is allowed) every day which has made a huge difference to our routines. Although we still spend a lot of time alone in our rooms, the few hours each day we are allowed out have been a game changer! The first few times it felt illegal boarding the bus, with strict protocols to be followed, however we have now mastered these and it has felt more like a normal pre-series camp.

The first court session back was manic! We were all so stoked to be out of our rooms, have more than 2m to move, and have the ball in our hands that we were a bit overexcited and were like bulls at a gate. Each session since has been more controlled, more skilled and the combinations have been developing really well. More time to chat while on the bus, in team meetings and as we cut laps up and down in fresh air time, has also built really strong bonds across the group.

Coming in as an invitee has been a unique experience, as this is my first time in the Diamonds environment. I can honestly say everyone on the trip – the girls, the staff, support staff back home – have all made me feel incredibly welcome and made the whole experience such a great one! Australian camps are always a rollercoaster of emotions:  massive training schedules, selection pressure, missing home, different routines and not a lot of down time to yourself (except for this one in MIQ), can be overwhelming at times. Having lots of FaceTime calls back home (featuring Darcy, he is slowly improving his FaceTime skills – he hasn’t worked out how to answer a call, but will happily sit and listen to my embarrassing puppy voice), as well as trying to stick to a normal-ish routine has really helped me to settle in and enjoy the ride. Not long to go now until our first test match of the Constellation Cup… we are counting down!

Week 3 - Game On!

Wow, well this week has flown! Game week. It was so great to finally watch the girls play and what a battle it was! Every time you come up against the Silver Ferns, you know it will be a competitive match, and this week was no different. Back to back games were a physical and mental challenge, especially without crowds (thanks to more spontaneous COVID restrictions). It was so exciting to watch some of the girls debut in the green and gold, namely RDK athletes Cara Koenen and Kiera Austin holding up the shooting end. Being a member of the extended squad made it a different -experience to the team of 12 – cheering from the sideline during games, while also squeezing in extra training matches, gym, conditioning and recovery sessions. It also meant playing the role of supporting the athletes who were selected for each match, as well as those that weren’t, which was a rollercoaster of emotions as well. I had a great roomie in Verity Simmons, who is super cool, calm and collected and kept the vibe up every night!

It has been such a whirlwind of a tour, and I actually can’t believe it has been 3.5 weeks since we left Aussie shores. As I board the plane home to Sydney with the team, I still don’t know when I will get back to Brisbane! With recent COVID cases in Auckland, QLD has shut the borders, so the Queensland athletes will stay in Sydney to train together and wait to get the all clear to get back home. This tour has definitely tested our flexibility, but I have really enjoyed every moment. Our mindsets switch now to getting back to our SSN clubs and joining the Firebirds preseason as soon as we get home. Before that though, my first stop will be at Mum and Dad’s for a home cooked roast chicken.. and I can’t wait!

8 Questions with Hawk Lachlan Dent

Lachlan Dent is an Illawara-born guard who has recently signed as a Development Player with the Hawks NBL team. After consistent hard work and two opportunities to play for the Hawks as a replacement player last year, Dent is keen to make his mark on the club and push for more game time in 2021.

Being a local, how does it feel securing your first contract with the Hawks?  

Growing up in Wollongong and playing basketball meant that I was a pretty avid Hawks fan. I still remember going to games with my family, sitting in bay 13 and cheering on the likes of Kavossy Franklin and Tyson Demos. To say that it has been a dream to get a Hawks jersey with my name on it is pretty accurate. 

 

This year we have seen a new ownership group come into the Hawks. How has the transition been? 

The change in ownership has been great. I can remember back to 2009 when the Hawks last went into voluntary administration yet being more apart of this current changeover, it has felt a lot more personal. At first it was quite scary, as I had found myself having to expand from a very comfortable situation where I had good relationships over many years and into an environment where those types of relationships had to be recreated. Although it was daunting, I felt if I backed myself and worked my butt off, I would put myself in the best position to get an opportunity. 

 

Playing for a basketball legend like Brian Gorjian has been met with excitement for the Hawks this upcoming season. How has this impacted you? 

Coach Gorjian is incredible. He most definitely lives up to the legend that is behind his name. He has so much knowledge and has coached so many elite level players that it is almost impossible not to learn something from him. Having him on the sidelines, passionately celebrating when you make a big play is something that is very cool. He provides so much belief in his players and staff that creates such a buzz of excitement to be able to play basketball. 

How are you feeling about the unknown of NBL21 with COVID hanging over the season?

The unknown of the season is a bit tough. There is a lot of talk that seems to change daily around what the exact plan looks like. In saying that, we do get to play basketball with a group of boys who do get along very well. (Written in December 2020)

 

How do you feel the team is coming together with so many new faces? 

I am super excited about what we can achieve as a group. We get along super well not only on the court but off the court too. There is a really good feeling around the group. Each day we just try to improve individually as well as together and we seem to be coming along very nicely heading into the season. 

 

What do you feel is your biggest opportunity this season? 

Personally, I feel as if my biggest opportunity this year is to learn of some really high-quality guys. Starting at the top with coach, as spoken about before he is just so high quality and willing to develop our young group. The assistant coaches that he has placed around him have had loads of experience in so many different leagues and work super hard on our individual development. Along with the coaches, the players that are on the team have played all over the world and are very willing to share their knowledge. 

 

Tell us how you first got into Basketball and what your junior pathway was? 

I first got into basketball when I was really young. I was the water boy for my Dad’s school team that he coached. From there, I moved away from the sport a little bit and played more soccer and cricket. However when I was about 9 years old I filled in for a local school team, ended up loving the game and then trialed for the Illawarra Hawks junior rep side. Throughout my junior career I was lucky to play in multiple national championships where I was able to travel Australia and play some very high-level players. I also got selected in the U17 Australian World Championships team where we travelled to Spain in 2016. When junior basketball was completed, I decided that I would like to try something new and had a year with the Sydney Swans Academy. This experience led me to play a few NEAFL games and a U18s national’s game. Missing basketball a little bit, I completed the year of footy before heading back into basketball, training with the Hawks for the 2018/19 season. The following year I remained a training player before getting the call up to play 2 games, filling in for some of the many injuries that the club had that year. 

 

What advice would you give young Lachy? 

Looking back on my journey, I would love to go back and tell myself to be super grateful for the opportunities that I was given, as they do not happen to everyone. Once in senior basketball, I would say to just believe in yourself and your ability and don’t be afraid to fail, because you will only ever learn once you do. 

Raw and Real: Kaylia’s 2020 Rollercoaster Netball Journey

Kaylia Stanton is a Professional Netballer in the Suncorp Super Netball League. 2020 saw all of the teams move into hubs in Queensland to see the season go ahead. Kaylia takes us through what it was like living away from her home in Perth for three months and the unexpected ending to her year.

For me, life as a professional athlete is a dream job! This career offers more than your typical 9-5 job, and for me playing netball is not only just my employment, it’s my passion and my family. 

It might be a tired phrase, but 2020 has been such a different year. COVID-19 and the lockdowns have taken their toll and sports in general have had to adapt. However, as many others have found themselves this year, we too have had to ‘pivot’. A word I associate unanimously with 2020.

Given the unusual circumstances that surrounded the season, the game and our lives as athletes had to change in order to give our sport the oxygen it desperately needed for us to play at the top level this year.

Many have made greater sacrifices than us, however I’d like to hope that we’ve played our part in bringing a little diversion to those who like to watch their favourite netball team on television.

Hub Life

Just like Kiera Austin, I also found myself filled with more emotions than usual. The experience was both weird and wonderful – all wrapped into one – a rollercoaster ride if you will. I loved the freedom of having our own one-bedroom apartments, but also the comfort of knocking on a teammates door and hanging out for a few minutes or hours. It reminded me of my AIS days where we lived on site in Canberra for six months together.

The 2020 Suncorp Super Netball (SSN) season was structured with two games a week.  So, like a song on loop, we ate, slept, trained and repeated that mantra for nearly 3 months until we reached our final goal.

As we edged closer to the end of the season, the opportunity to play finals looked more and more likely.  Yet, the uncertainty of not knowing when we were going home, was always in the back of our minds. It was unsettling and meant we were always unsure as to when our return date would be.  Or even, whether COVID-19 would ruin all our plans to return to our love ones in the middle or end of the season.

However, we adapted, and went with the flow, as we had done all season.

The Aftermath

Just two points separated both teams in the Grand Final in the dying minutes of the game.  Just two points and it could have been Fever, not Vixens, who won the game. It was heart breaking, especially after all of the highs and lows we’d experienced across the course of the season. 

Being a part of a team that finished sixth the year before, 2020 provided us with a huge turn around, both in team form and success.  Unlike a build-up to the final game of the season in your home state, we still felt that playing in Brisbane, against a very good Melbourne team, we could do it and Win! 

We were quite understandably devastated not to win and to miss out by such a small margin was emotionally draining. 

Heartbreak Following our Return Home

We returned home to Perth after three months away in Queensland and like many other people, we had to quarantine for 2 weeks upon our arrival back into Perth.

After being away from family, friends and my dog Poppy for such a long time, it was so nice to be able to finally see them in person again. There’s only so many Zoom catch ups and phone calls one can do before the space and distance from friends and family comes into sharp focus. Being there, getting a hug and a smile made the senses alive again.

I was exhausted and emotionally drained following a busy build up to the season. The pre-season (and as others will attest) was the longest pre-season in history, alongside a rollercoaster ride whilst we were away and then the devasting loss in the grand final.

On top of all this, towards the end of the first week in quarantine, I was faced with the tough position many athletes face – delisting. To be a part of one club for seven seasons only to find you are no longer needed as player is heart breaking.

I had become so invested and ingrained in West Coast Fever, the brand, the player and the person I’d become – it was a huge part of my identity. So, to go from that to nothing was a huge shift in mindset. It takes your breath away and requires a lot of adjusting. 

I am proud of my achievements while at West Coast Fever. 

  • Making the inaugural grand final with WCF in 2018 and then two years later making the grand final in 2020
  • Playing for Australia in underage competitions, notably the World Youth Cup over in Glasgow 2016
  • Playing for Australian in Fast 5, 2017 and 2018
  • Debuting in 2016 against the Adelaide Thunderbirds
  • Adapted to play two positions

This only touches the surface to other achievements whilst being a part of West Coast Fever

More to Life than just Netball

It’s taken me nine years of part-time scientific study in Nutrition and Health Promotion, but at last I am done!

While many players had down time during our Hub, I continued with my university studies, exams and assignments, sometimes clashing with training and games.  It was a juggle, but it was all worth it!

The Aftermath

Although I did have the slim chance of continuing my netballing dream with another club, the chances of this were slipping away.

However, I was then able to secure an interview with the Vixens, a club I have always admired and looked up to.

In netball from a young age and growing up through the WA pathway, it’s always been known that Victoria is the state to beat, they are hardworking and tenacious in their approach to the game. You always know they will be in the top three teams, if not the grand final – year in, year out.

They were of course the reining premiers of Suncorp Super Netball for 2020, given they had just beaten Fever in the grand finale. I thought, if by some miracle I was selected, there was definitely some irony in moving to the team that had just beat Fever.

The 180 Degree Flip

So, it turns out I might be a cat with nine lives.

The following Friday, a week after I had the interview with Vixens, I was offered a contract with them, much to my shock and amazement.

I had gone from no contract, feeling deeply saddened and lost for a week, clinging onto the hope and possibility of a contract with another SSN club, to all of a sudden being offered a contract with arguably the best club in the country.

It was hard to believe that this was real, however, given everything 2020 has thrown at me and the rest of the world, it’s only fitting that after great sadness and disappointment, comes a rare and welcome opportunity.

It’s sometimes hard to describe how much something like a SSN contract can mean, yet in this year, given the uncertainty and instability the year had thrown at us, it has been greatly welcomed. 

What's Next

Following the announcement of my new club signing, I have been overwhelmed with the amount of support I have received.  Friends and family are my rock and my greatest supporters; however, I wasn’t prepared for such a wonderful response from netball followers and the general public. I am elated and incredibly humbled. 

If this was New Year’s Eve and I was to think back to the year that was 2020, what I’ve learned is that I have developed into an incredibly resilient person.  I am optimistic and pragmatic, but also understand things don’t always go your own way. Everything happens for a reason and I look forward to what the future will bring.

It’s the journey not the destination.

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.

Inside the Hub with Kiera Austin

Kiera Austin is a rising Australian Netball Star who has continued to make her mark on the International Netball Scene over the past years. She plays an integral part in the GIANTS Netball attacking line up and is a member of the Australian Diamonds Squad. Kiera and her team spent months away from home in 2020 due to the Suncorp Super Netball season being relocated to Queensland to avoid the emerging cases of COVID-19 in NSW & Victoria.

I walked into training early one day late in July to do some video analysis in the staff office. I could sense a quiet panic behind me from our team manager, Denny. She had flights to Brisbane on her computer screen. That’s when I got told that the NSW-QLD border was closing, and we were to leave the next day. Queue the panic packing that was not well thought through. Pro tip, a puffer jacket and four jumpers are not necessary in Queensland even in Winter. The power of hindsight!

Hub Life

We were fortunate to be living on the Sunshine Coast for majority of the hub. The people there are so down to earth and welcoming. Walking along the main strip, I became acquainted with Archie the Groodle and would often stop and chat to see what he was up to! There were plenty of dogs along the beach for additional puppy therapy. Amy Parmenter and I also met a bubbly local who was attempting a new talent as an artist. I kept the sketch he drew of us although it was not ‘complete’. 

A lot of the girls became very good at online shopping – every day there seemed to be a new parcel for one of us. Being able to do beach recovery was a welcomed change from the traditional ice bath back home. Playing with April Brandley’s little bub Clay was also one of the biggest highlights of the trip!

Despite all of this, I cried more times than I expected. I see myself as quite a resilient person, so it took me by surprise how emotionally and mentally drained I was by the end of the experience. Since being home I learnt how hard it was for my family and loved ones seeing me distraught over FaceTime and not being able to offer me more than words.

Reflecting back on each individual game is difficult, they mostly mould into one big game of netball. There were games that we were right in it and let it slip for a quarter, games we would win, and games that we should have won but did not. We sometimes used the super shot to our advantage, other times we did not. I am my own worst critic and whilst this is my third season of being a professional netballer, it was my first that I have been given the opportunity to start. This is a big thing in the netball world. I struggled having this type of exposure, because as much as netball fans can be your biggest support, sometimes they might not have the nicest things to say. I deleted a few social media platforms to distance myself from it. Even though there were lots of encouraging comments, we tend to dwell on the negative one. This is the reality of professional sport I am slowly learning.

When you have a bad game the first thing you want to do is separate yourself from the netball world. Going home to your family and loved ones, doing something non-netball related, which of course was difficult to do in the hub. A condensed season meant our workload went through the roof. For me, there was not a lot of time to do much else but sleep or complete university work. I missed having a hobby and helping train my families hyperactive, (sometimes hard to control), German Shorthaired Pointer puppy. I have always wanted to be someone more than just netball, which was hard to do up there. A few of us missed birthdays and special family events, funerals as well. To say it was tough is probably an understatement.

In saying this, I did learn that I am capable of some pretty big things. Being named MVP in our second games against both Firebirds and Thunderbirds meant a lot to me. Previously, we had drawn to Firebirds and lost to Thunderbirds. Being able to identify, learn and change parts of my game in a positive way is exactly how I want to grow as an athlete. Travelling to Adelaide was also a welcome change in scheduling. We had a tiny splash of orange in the crowd too which made all the difference! I learnt that I could transition from WA to GA easier than I had done in the past. I struggled last year to find a calmness in my shot after playing WA, and I felt I developed this skill better this year.  

We were notified about making the Australian Diamonds squad just before our last week of regular games. I was proud that I made the squad, I took it as a silver lining to this season. I felt like I was not playing my best netball, and I definitely have lots to work on. This makes me excited for what I can put out on court when we hopefully return to a ‘normal’ season next year.

My biggest takeaways from my experience

  1. There are some real tough cookies out there. I saw how teammates handled themselves in an environment none of us are used to. I am sure this is true within other teams as well.
  2. Despite how physically and mentally draining the hub was, I am immensely grateful we could still play the sport we love.
  3. Having a home crowd is a HUGE advantage – I cannot wait to play in front of our fans and members again.
  4. I love a turnover stat (which is not a good thing).

I can barely scratch the surface about the individual ups and downs of hub life and every person’s experience is going to be different. One thing that is consistent is the appreciation all players have for staff, volunteers, and everyone responsible for getting our game going this year. Sport has the incredible ability to bring people together, so we are glad to have done that and hopefully have brought a little bit of joy to people who needed it this year.

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