AFLW player reflects on the emotional rollercoaster of the sport, acknowledging struggles with self-worth tied to performance but emphasising the importance of self-belief and resilience for success in a competitive environment
Published on the 03 August 2020
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, and 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 how well they are performing at a time. Firstly, I’ve had to acknowledge that this is something that I have struggled with, and still struggle with to an extent to this day. However, I’ve recognised that this is an unhealthy way to live considering its pretty bloody hard to be Best on 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 have a serious knock-on effect on your wellbeing. 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 back end 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 v self-belief
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.