In a small community where roster announcements dominate conversation, we focus too much on the outcome of selections. What we don’t talk about enough is how much you can gain from the experience.
There were only three girls cut from the Mundis when the final team announcement was made. I was one of those girls. I’ve been very open with people about the fact that I was devastated to miss out. When you invest in something and make it your priority, setbacks are always going to be confronting initially. Why am I sharing my take on the WUGC 2016 campaign? It’s pretty simple – the selection process itself has made significantly more impact on me than the outcome of selections themselves.
There are four important things I think you can take out of every good campaign, even before the teams are announced.
1. Improve your game
Of everything I took out of the process, I've seen my most dramatic gains come in the form of improvements to my game.
I think this was partially a legacy of the selection process John Horan ran with the Firetails squad. The high training load and heavy content and technical focus made one of the most measurable contributions I've seen to physical performance in women's ultimate across a broad reach of players. I learned a lot more about weight training, conditioning, footwork and principles of the game through those 5 camps than I ever would have by continuing to train as normal.
The process of exposing yourself to new ways of training, new tools and new content is one of the most valuable parts of going through a selection process. Selections give you a unique opportunity to play against the best - be that at a university, national or international level. They are a place where all athletes push the limits of their game.
2. Make connections
You're about to show up to a selection camp with players from across the country...you could be Mike Neild and you're still going to meet someone new through the process. Selections bring together a unique mix of experiences, skill sets and personalities, and that gives us the opportunity to make new connections we wouldn't have otherwise.
Being fortunate enough to be part of the 10-month process that was the Firetails/Mundis selections gave me the chance to meet a lot of new people and to reconnect with old friends. That means more resources for developing club teams, chances to play with new teams at obscure interstate tournaments and more couches to crash on.
The moments that stand out most when I reflect on the campaign are the ones where we lose it over quote-worthy bant, or have philosophical leadership discussions over lunch, or go out for dinner and order 3 times as many dishes as people because we're starving and delirious (that last one might have only applied to me). Those memories may not mean much to anyone else, but for me they're the moments that made the process something more than just selections, and those connections will last well beyond the campaign.
3. Follow your passions
"You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."
Gretzky’s words have always resonated with me because I believe it's important to push yourself outside your comfort zone and set goals that inspire you.
We are lucky to play a sport that is still in its relative infancy. It gives us the opportunity to play at higher levels, to influence the future of the sport and to represent our country. To do that we need to make the decision to put ourselves out there, accept the risk of failure and dedicate ourselves to achieving our goals. Selections give us the opportunities to make those decisions about whether or not we are going to push beyond our comfort zone and follow our passions.
Playing for Australia is a goal that inspires me. It’s what drove my dedication to training throughout the selection process, and it’s also what pushed me to continue training even after the teams were announced. Setting goals that truly motivate you will give you the courage to face the possibility of falling short in the process of achieving what you really want.
4. Learn to be resilient
The selection process pushes us to our limits. Selections force us to take ourselves out of the collaborative role we play in team sports and distinguish ourselves as individuals in competition with those around us. They push us to find better coping mechanisms, to perform under pressure and to develop mental strength. These things build resilience.
My experiences? 10 months was a long time to face the pressures of the selection process by anyone's standards. One of my defining moments came in sustaining an injury that took me out for 2 months and the final 2 Firetails camps. There's not much to say about knowing you won't make a team and being too injured to try and change the selectors' minds. It was stressful and it was upsetting. The reason I can look back and feel good about that now is that I used that time to commit myself to what I still had control over. I used the camps to learn the content, practice my sideline communication and to be there for my teammates. I learned how to modify my gym sets to keep up my base level fitness while I wasn't able to play. Those things not only allowed me to improve my game without playing a single point, but they gave me confidence in my ability to choose a constructive response.
We are very fortunate to have Anna Rogacki leading mental strength programs across our sport and sharing her tools and content. The skills she is teaching us are the ones I drew on to find new ways of coping with the stress of the process. Resilience comes from making decisions and taking actions that will set you up to bounce back quickly in the face of adversity. The ability to do so depends on how well you have learned the tools that allow you to mentally distance yourself from your situation, and to evaluate the choices that will get you the outcome you want. These take practice, and the selection process gives us one of the best opportunities to practice and build resilience.
When I look back now, the things I took out of the selection process defined me far more than the outcome of selections did. For those of us who are fortunate enough to work with new talent and youth development, we have an opportunity to start talking about selections as something more than a polarising outcome. Giving young athletes a more constructive way to view the process will give them the chance to take the most out of the experience.