For Sarah Rowe, football is just as much a mental game as it is a physical one.
As a multi-code athlete, the 25-year-old Irish native insists that keeping in touch with her mental state is just as important as maintaining her physical fitness.
“I 100 per cent train my mind, it’s just as important as the physical stuff that I do. The physical stuff helps me know that the work is done, but the mind’s job is to help me stay on top of that,” Rowe said.
As star forward for Mayo in the Ladies’ Gaelic Football Association at home in Ireland and fast-paced wing for Collingwood’s AFLW side during Australia’s summertime, Rowe also trains for the Irish soccer team between seasons to keep herself busy.
The Collingwood midfielder is one of 14 Irish players spread across nine different clubs this AFLW season.
Rowe’s key on-field strengths include speed and agility, as well as the ability to kick on both feet.
The process of adapting to a new game and new country is no easy feat, even for a natural athlete.
“The same things stand; control is important and working hard is important,” she said.
“You have skills that you learn for life, like how to train and how to prepare as an athlete with on-field skills and your stuff in the gym and running ability … but you have to be willing to ask questions, no question is a stupid question … you have to be confident in a way to say, ‘I know I’m not good at this.’”
Athleticism aside, Rowe believes the key to becoming her best is engaging her mind and focusing on the things she can control.
“Every decision you make is based off how you can become a better player … on the psychology side of things, which I’ve always been very big into from a young age, I’m always trying to better myself, better my mind, and hopefully be a better sportsperson because of it,” she said.
The brain and the way athletes think and function has always been of interest to the Collingwood midfielder.
A PE and biology teacher back home in Ireland, Rowe pursued her true passion whilst in Australia by undertaking a degree in neurolinguistic programming and is now taking clients in this field.
Rowe’s interest in the human psyche led her into the study of neurolinguistic programming, with a particular focus on behavioural patterns inherent in those who have suffered trauma in their lives.
“I always found myself curious in a team environment … someone would react to something or they might drop a footy or something and react really badly and lose their temper. I’d wonder, ‘Are they ok?’ And then I’d talk to them and understand that they have other things going on in their life and the drop of a mark was just ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’, so to speak’” she said.
Like the way a coach can view the whole football field from up in the coach’s box and guide their players based on this perspective, Rowe helps her clients to problem-solve by listening and asking the right questions.
“I get the full picture and then what I can do is guide them … it’s about me getting the best out of them” she said.
Studying psychology, has helped the fourth year AFLW footballer tailor her approach to get the best out of her on-field and off-field performances.
“It’s helped me push through mental barriers in terms of physical training and the things you can control. You can tell yourself to push harder instead of telling yourself you’re really tired, whatever your mind tells your body follows,” Rowe said.
“It has also helped me realise that I am way more in control of my mind than I realise and I can practice having a good mindset. As a sportsperson while you want to celebrate the wins, you don’t want to celebrate them too much and while you want to feel the hurt of a loss or a poor performance, you shouldn’t do that too much either. You want to try to keep as steady a mindset as possible.”
Rowe not only helps others keep their mental health in check, but she makes sure that she engages in the psychology services offered at Collingwood and in the wider AFL community to keep her mind as fit as it can be.
“In our game, we see each other at our highest points and at our lowest points, but the beauty of being in a professional environment is that you have great resources,” she said.
“We obviously have a psychologist at the club that I check in with regularly, but we also have access to the AFLPA, so I’ve been checking in with a psychologist there once a week for the last 10 weeks and it just resets me … I find it really good to stay on top of things and it keeps me on track.”
The 25-year-old ensures that she makes room for other outlets in her life to help decompress from the demands of playing three sports in two countries.
“I’m always trying to better myself, better my mind, and hopefully be a better sportsperson because of it.” – Sarah Rowe, Collingwood AFLW.
Working in the community sector at Collingwood helps stimulate her mind and she also enjoys hanging out with friends not associated with sport.
“I feel like we can get really caught up in sport and if we don’t have other avenues in our lives it gets to the stage where I overfocus on it. For me, working at the club has been great because it’s challenged my mind in a way that’s not to do with sport,” Rowe said.
Clubs become like family to many players, especially those joining the game from overseas.
One of the main reasons the Irish native chose to embark on her AFLW career with Collingwood was the culture within the club.
Touching down in Australia from Ireland, Collingwood was the first club the now seasoned AFLW star walked into.
Two days later, she was presented a jumper with her name on the back in front of the staff and players and its members at a president’s lunch.
“Collingwood really went above and beyond from the very startand I was thinking in my head well I am going to move to the other side of the world where I don’t have family and I don’t know anyone so I need a place where I feel like I can be supported and have people to lean on if I need to the feeling of home I got and the care they showed me at the very start just felt different to the other clubs,” Rowe said.
Reflecting on her time spent making an impact in the AFLW so far, Rowe feels like she’ll take away much more than just an in-depth knowledge of Aussie Rules and a suntan.
“They teach you in an elite environment how to be a good player and also how to be a good person … I think that when I look back on the time I’ve spent here I would see that it has shaped the person that I am,” she said.