Competing in sport at an elite level is like doing a masters degree in life. Hard work, sacrifices, triumphs and setbacks are all part of the curriculum, so it’s no wonder that top athletes tend to be wise beyond their years. In the interest of helping you score your own big goals, we asked two of the world’s best sportswomen to share the crucial lessons they’ve learnt on their way to the top. Plus, the politician fighting for sporting success off the field reveals how she’s looking to change the game for girls and women just like you.
"Just give it a go" – Senator Bridget McKenzie
Fact: Before entering federal politics, Senator Bridget McKenzie lectured in sport and physical activity at Monash University, and researched the barriers to women’s participation in sport. So who better to lead the nation towards a more equal playing field? “I’m looking forward to a sporting landscape where there are no barriers for women to participate in whatever sport or activity they want to do,” McKenzie says. Creating a diverse and inclusive sport sector is a key aspect of the Sport 2030 national plan – the government’s bold manifesto for restoring Australia’s sporting glory and improving our activity levels. “I’m a true believer in ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’, so [it’s about] making sure we have really strong female role models out there showcasing what it’s like to be an elite athlete, but even more importantly, showing just how much enjoyment you can have by getting active,” she says. While this trailblazer is also keen to see more women in coaching and leadership roles in sport, she says participating in sport at any level is a win.
“Sport can teach us a lot about leadership, teamwork, working together, accepting differences and overcoming challenges,” she says. Game on.
"Enjoy the process" – Elyse Perry
At just 28, Ellyse Perry is already a sporting legend. The youngest Aussie to join national cricket and soccer teams, Perry went on to become the first athlete to represent us at World Cups in both sports. Now focusing on cricket, the all-rounder is still making history. Her incredible double century at the Women’s Ashes Test in 2017 was the highest women’s Test score in Australia, and the third highest of all time (and scored her our 2018 Women in Sport Moment of the Year award). The key to her success? A growth mindset. “I love the challenge of trying to get better,” Perry says. “There’s always an opportunity to improve and be better than the last game, and that’s where I get the most satisfaction.”
Focusing on the journey rather than the destination also gives her perspective after losses but, she adds, it has to come from within.
“In sport, you have to be proactive if you want to get better,” she explains. “Sure, you get lots of help, but at the end of the day it’s on you to get up and do things, and I don’t think that’s any different in everyday life, whether that’s being proactive to make sure that you’re doing the right thing by your family and friends, or whether it’s doing things that make a difference in other aspects of your life.” With a busy summer of WBBL ahead, the CommBank ODI Series against NZ in February and March and a move to Melbourne in the works, Perry will be calling on that attitude to guide her through 2019. “As a goal, I really want to make the most of it and enjoy the change,” she says. We have a feeling she’ll smash it.
"Do what scares you" – Jess Fox
When Jess Fox was 16, she learnt a valuable lesson while being pummelled by a terrifying white water course in Slovenia. “It was my first time there and this drop was massive – it has the reputation of being one of the hardest and most aggressive courses we race on,” the Toyota ambassador recalls. “After about 10 runs of getting destroyed, I said, ‘No, that’s it, I’m done’.” Her parents insisted she give it another shot, and while teenage Jess was outraged, deep down she knew they were right. “I knew I would feel better once I had learnt how to overcome it, otherwise that fear was always going to be there,” she explains. Now 24, that lesson still guides the Olympic medallist – and she says it applies to just about any challenge.
“Whenever I don’t want to do something, I know I need to do it. If there’s a big public speaking appearance that I’m nervous about, or it’s something that’s really going to challenge me and I’m hesitant to do it, it’s a ‘yes’. It’s going to make me grow as an athlete and as a person.” You can’t argue with the results of that approach: Fox ended the 2018 season on a high, taking out the Canoe Slalom World Cup and World Championships titles, making her the most successful individual paddler in history. “I don’t know if I can top that, but I’m going to try,” she says of her goals for 2019. “It’s an important year because it’s a pre-Olympic year, so I want to stay healthy and fit and keep pushing the limit in my sport.”