Mikayla Bowen - 'The History Maker'

Thursday, January 31, 2019 - 4:54 PM

Player #: 3

Position: Midfielder

Nickname: Bowen

 

I just came down to the Swans thinking this could be fun and look where I am now …

 

“If you ask most girls my age about the journey, I guess it would be similar. When I was younger this pathway (for female players) wasn’t around. I started off in high school thanks to my inspiration, my sports teacher Mr Joe Kendell. We went through every single sport. I played basketball, I played soccer, athletics, running, but I just couldn’t quite capture the feeling I was after - the adrenaline, the passion and the drive I needed to pursue those sports.  At that moment, football wasn’t really an option for me. I’ve always loved it. My brother has played ever since he was a little tacker. I remember going down Sunday mornings with my dad to watch him, but I’d be on the sidelines secretly jealous I couldn’t play myself. I guess you could play until you were about seven, but obviously you can’t mix with boys when you’re that age so you kind of get told to nick off for a little bit, that’s how it was before.

My journey probably started when I came down to Swan Districts with my two friends from school. We came out for the tryout day in 2015 and as soon as we walked in here everyone felt like family to me. I tried to pursue basketball and soccer for years and didn’t feel the feeling I felt on the first day I came here.  As soon as I finished that try-out session, I drove home and couldn’t stop talking to my mum about it. I loved it! I was sitting in my room and I was buzzing - it was feeling I hadn’t felt for a long time.

From there, I’ve been really lucky. The opportunities that have presented, I’m incredibly lucky to have the development pathways. Swan Districts do these V Swans’ trips and I went to Darwin and I went to Broome. Those trips were lifechanging. The girls I’ve met throughout this process are some of the closest people I’ve ever met in my life. My school friends - you get along with them - but you don’t have that family bond that you do here.

Furthering on from that, I then went onto try out for the State 18s. I missed out on the State 16s because I was nervous, but it was still my first year and I thought ‘may as well leave it for another year or so’ but pushed through to a lot of State 18 trials. Trial after trial, I kept pushing up and then managed to get selected in the final team. So that was my first year of State 18s, which was unheard of for me and also because I was so new to the sport - I had played with my brother and stuff, but it was nothing like I’d experienced before. In the most gentle and caring way, it was so elite. With that elite environment, I shared that passion, which completely drove me to keep pushing, so I did and went through my first State 18s year and moved onto my second. I was lucky enough to become the Vice Captain of the team, which was pretty awesome. It was cool, yeah.

Whilst, I was moving through my second year with State, I was lucky enough to join the league team of Swan Districts. Being only 17 as well. It’s quite young and quite intimidating but that intimidation just gets completely overridden by the feeling you get by being in that kind of team. It’s not like you walk into a team full of grown females and they look at you differently because you’re younger. They appreciate your talent, they appreciate who you are, they respect you and I think that’s what’s so great about this club for me– it’s just a family. I couldn’t care if we came last. I wouldn’t move WAFL clubs just because of that. I’d stick with them and be loyal to them because you know they’re always going to be loyal to you.

So further along in my journey, I was fortunate to be selected for the AFLW Academy in 2018. It’s a two year program and again, that was a huge step up from anything I’d ever experienced. State was a huge step from what I’d experienced before but then you go to the Academy – you’re training with the top of each state so it’s elite and its’ professional. I’m still in it today. We’re about to head off for Canberra shortly to the Australian Institute of Sport which I could never imagine that I’d end up there.

You know, however many years ago, I just came down to the Swans thinking this could be fun and look where I am now. 

When you first get introduced to the program, you’re run through the fact that it is a two year program but nothing’s confirmed. So, it’s not saying ‘we’re going to take you in for two years and that’s it, you’re not going to have to work harder to get into the second year’. It’s more ‘we’re going to take you in for the first year, see how you’re performing, see how you’re dedicated and driven for this and if it’s at the standard we’re expecting or even blows that standard away, the second year is coming at you’.  I was lucky enough to be selected again. I received an email from Deges (West Australian Football Commission Female Programs Talent Manager, Clint Degebrodt) in November, telling me I’d made it.  

Last year, from WA, it was only McKenzie Dowrick - who is now over in Brisbane with the Lions  - and me. I was so happy and over the moon to see that list had grown to ten from WA in 2019. Girls that I had come down with on the first day and had a kick. It was exciting for me but more so that my friends, my peers, my family, are moving up with me, which makes it that much more exciting.

As much as I think I’m physically capable, I think my mentality is what drives me. I do the same routine pre-game to make sure my mental strength is there throughout the game for me because come to the fourth quarter and we’re down by five or six goals, there’s no point in walking out with your head down. My strength is my ability to carry out a strong headspace throughout the whole game. I’ll go out there and mentally challenge myself to do better in that quarter and that’s what I take and intertwine with my physical game.

For me, the most crucial part of maintaining that mental strength is being at one with yourself. Knowing yourself and knowing your capabilities. Kicking is something I want to work on. If I have the ball in my hands, I select a target I want to hit up that’s not at a distance where I’ll go ‘I’m not going to be able to hit that’.  I’m going to hit up a distance I’m confident in, unless there’s an opportunity - of course I’m going to boot it then. Understanding yourself and your abilities, and in that sense, understanding your teammates as well, that’s important in-game.

In terms of pre-game, music is the death of me. I’ll get up in the morning … same routine … have breakfast, have a shower straight after breakfast and as soon as I’m in that car, I’ll plug that aux cord in and my beats will be going off. I’m a big Drake fan, a really big Drake fan. I don’t know why but he really pumps me up. He’s a big part of my routine. In the same sense of being mentally with yourself, it’s that confidence that your preparation and training is at peak. If you have confidence in your routine, your training is going to pay off in the game. 

For me, balance is one of the most crucial things, not just in footy but in life. Every week I sit down and make sure I personally prioritise what is most urgent, most important to me whether that be school (although I’m done with that now), work or footy. It has taken a lot to learn balance. I did unfortunately overtrain my knee last season and I learnt from that. It was an off-balance for me where I went ‘I want to go full ahead with footy, I want to go to the gym every day, I want to train every day, and I was getting too tired physically and mentally and I wasn’t doing my exercises properly. I couldn’t do them properly. I learnt I need time and balancing personal and footy life together.

I’m very determined. I’m very competitive but my highest priority is to be humble with that. There’s a certain level of confidence that you take into the game but if I’m going to walk in there like ‘these people are small, I can run faster then them’ – fair enough I could run faster – but it’s irrelevant, if you come into the game respecting every single one of your opponents and teammates on the field you’ll be set.

I wouldn’t say I’ve always been like this. It’s been a lot of learning for me but it’s a credit especially to my mum, my dad, my brother, my grandmother Terri Charlesworth (OBE, former first ballerina West Australian & founding artistic director Youth Ballet), she’s insane and has passed that onto all of her children. We all have this drive that I don’t think can be stopped. I don’t know if people can see that from the outside but to be honest, I couldn’t care if people can see it or not because I know about it. Another thing I got from my grandmother - I get a lot of compliments about my biceps. If you could only see my grandmother’s biceps!

The amount of training, dedication, nutrition, the input that it takes to get them, how much you have to put in to become a professional player isn’t recognised by the media or the audiences. It’s not an issue to me personally. I’ll be going to the gym at five am, no one knows about it. I’m not putting it out on Instagram or Facebook but that’s another thing that intertwines with my confidence. I know the amount of work I’ve done.

Becoming the first ever West Coast Eagles player, it’s a dream come true.  The thing that scares me the most … no, not scares … the thing that I’m most aware of is that there’s going to be negativity. There’s going to be people saying we’re not good enough. That we don’t work hard enough, that we can’t run as fast as the men. I couldn’t care less.

Not to put aside the work myself and my best mates have put in, but the pathways that have been developed by Kara Donnelan, by Chelsea Randall, that we’re lucky enough to play here at Swan Districts have definitely made it … not easier but … reachable, that’s a good way to put it. It’s not easy but it’s there. Another thing that has developed is that girls my age and younger have the role models to look up to. Whereas Kara and Ebony Antonio, when they were my age, they probably didn’t have these pathways. They wouldn’t have had the Juddy’s [AKA Donnelan] to look up to because it wasn’t around. It makes you appreciate things more because they are amazing people and not only can you learn from them football-wise, but life-wise. Being the women that they are today and the footballers that they are, it’s really something to aspire to. They break gender barriers and stereotypes about sexuality. What other sport does this? Look at basketball. Fair enough, one or two of them might be gay, but you don’t hear anything about it. The Western Bulldogs’ jerseys had rainbows on them, they had PRIDE on them. That’s the thing about footy. It smashes barriers one game at a time. That’s really exciting for me.

I say this on behalf of all the youth of our club, on behalf of the seniors of our club, on behalf of the fans of our club: Juddy didn’t play last season but every game we ran out, she was still there on the field. It wasn’t because she was running water – she did sometimes – it was the way she mentally inspired, mentally captivated us to perform out there and do our best. The way one human can impact a team so hard without even being on the field is just nuts.

When I was in youth girls, I once sat on the bench after training, just to get a view of the seniors. They were training on one side of the oval and I saw just this one girl on the other.  Just this woman running by herself, headphones on, bright red shoes, running up and down, up and down. No one was looking, no one cared, but she cared. I will never forget that day because I envision myself doing that now. That’s the thing with role models, that’s the thing with Juddy, she has this drive. It’s unbelievable and someone I aspire to be like because no one can stop her.

Even though it’s still a year away [AFLW], I’m extremely excited to be a role model for the younger ones, the little girls getting involved in Auskick. Probably the most exciting thing for me is giving back to those girls and really being involved in the [female] football community and developing the game.

Age doesn’t matter. That’s what I’ve been taught at the Swans.

Your size could matter but at the end of the day, it’s your commitment, your drive & the people around you. Just wait until 2020!