Surprisingly, mine’s always been Sporty. I say ‘surprisingly’ because, despite my love of HIIT sessions and yoga, I’m kind ofincapable of doing anything athletic without face-planting the grass. You see, I am not sporty -but I ve always wanted to be.
While I can t kick a ball or swing a bat to save my life, the girl in front of me fixing her cricket cap into place can do both and she’s pretty good at it, too. So good, in fact, that she’s the only Aussie to have represented the country in the World Cup for cricket and soccer. Yep, at just 25 years old, Ellyse Perry has racked up a mighty long list of sporting achievements (being named Player ofthe Series in the Womens Ashes Test – twice – and scoring one of the most memorable left-foot goals in soccer World Cup history in 2011, for a start), so it makes sense that I ve enlisted her help with my mission to become ‘one of those people who play sports’.
We’ve decided to start with some cricket basics, which means I ’m about three seconds away from smashing a window. As I lift up my hands to catch (protect myself from) the incoming ball, I have to ask, has she always been so good at sport?
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“It was always a huge part of my family life,” Ellyse recalls. “I learnt howto throw, kick and catch in the backyard and I was really lucky my dad taught me to play [cricket and soccer]. I ve played both since I was six years old and Ive never stopped.”
As she wanders over to correct my throwing stance (body side-on, arms outstretched at shoulder height), it’s easy to see that this all comes naturally to her. “I’ve always really loved playing sport. I got some great opportunities within cricket and soccer and, in a way, fell into them, but I just made the most of every opportunity that I got,” she says. Modesty, ifyou haven’t already guessed, is one of Ellyse’s defining features – that and her ability to keep a straight face as I grimace and lob the ball back at her, asking if she had a tough time growing up playing the ‘guy’ sports.
“I was definitely a bit of a tomboy, but I think we’ve got such a rich sporting culture in Australia that people find it’s really cool that girls play soccer and cricket,” she explains. “I suppose, typically, we re not really associated with those sports, but these days it’s becoming a lot more mainstream and girls can play whatever they want to play.”
Encouraging Aussie girls to follow their sporting dreams is something Ellyse is passionate about, even if they’re not keen on making a career of it. “People forget that fundamentally, sport is about having fun and enjoying it. A lot of people affiliate sport with being good and having to compete and stand out, but that’s not really the idea,” she says.
If you did want to make a career of it, though, you’d better get used to the idea of a six-day training schedule. “During our season [the Australian summer], we play [cricket and soccer] on the weekends. I’ll train during the week, Monday to Friday, then on Saturday we play a game and on Sunday it’s recovery,” she tells me, while suggesting I hold the ball with my fingertips rather than in the palm of my hands. I do as she says and toss it back. “Better,” she beams.
I might have the throwing down pat (almost), but I still can t shake that little voice in my head warning me not to drop the ball. Our fear of looking silly is what Ellyse thinks holds girls back the most when it comes to giving sport a try. “We re quite different to men in that regard.
We re quite self-conscious and never want to make a goose of ourselves.” As someone who can fall up stairs, I totally relate to this – but, Ellyse says, it’s all in my head. “Guys are really eager to jump in and prove themselves, while girls are equally stand-offish because they don’t want to be in that hyper-competitive environment. It’s not always about the competition or how good you are, though. It s about having a go and using your body in a way that you don’t do all that often.”
Even if I do manage to overcome my nerves, I’m still convinced that I’m waytoo old to correct my abysmal coordination skills. Surely I ve missed the boat by now? “From a professional point ofview, you’d want to start younger, but it really doesn’t matter when you start,” Ellyse assures me. “People are always keen to teach you the skills you need, and I think that’s part of the fun of it: the challenge of seeing what you’re good at and how well you go.”
And ifyou don’t like it? You can always try something else. Plus, nobody’s good at everything – even the dual international world champ. “Some things come more naturally to some people than others. I’m reasonably coordinated when it comes to sport, but I’m a really terrible dancer!” Ellyse admits. “But most of us can walk and run. It s something we were all built to do, so ifyou can do that, you can pretty much do anything.”
After a couple of dodgy throws (which Ellyse still manages to catch), I readjust my grip on the ball, give it another toss and my ego instantly inflates. “You’ve got it!” she shouts. I give myself a mental fist pump and ask Ellyse what she reckons is the most important thing for us athletically challenged folk to remember.
“Just pick a sport and environment that you feel comfortable in. It’s always easier to share those experiences with other people,” she tips. “There’s a real commonality in sport where you’re all working towards one thing. You have your high moments and you have your low moments, but at the end of the day, it’s supposed to be about having fun. Find a group of people with the same ability and always do it with a smile on your face.”