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How a Geelong AFLW star balances scientific research, football and anxiety

Growing up Dr Erin Hoare battled her own internal struggle with anxiety.

From the age of 15, Hoare used sport and exercise to manage her mental health and to provide a level of stability in her life that she wasn’t able to achieve in other aspects.

Hailing from Geelong, sport provided structure in her life, utilising netball as an outlet for building friendships and socialising but also as an educational pathway that taught her leadership skills and teamwork.

Experiencing her own battles with anxiety gave Hoare personal insight into an area in which she sought to help society and others — through examining mental health outcomes based on intervention programs.

“It’s kind of easy to say that you just fall into things based on whatever you’re experiencing at the time but I think for me, choosing psychology was always going to be the end result,” the Geelong Cats’ ruck told

From a young age she connected with the notion of studying psychology, reflecting that she always knew it would be an area of study she was eager to learn more about.

A strong belief, in both a personal and professional capacity, for the work she does and her experiences as a professional athlete in the netball and AFLW space led Hoare to studying ways to improve symptoms of depression and anxiety and to help stop them from occurring in the first place.

Hoare’s study as a post-doctoral fellow at Deakin University resulted in her being recognised with the Fulbright scholarship last week in Canberra.

The Fulbright program, which will see Hoare travel to Boston University to continue her research, is an exchange program led by the US government that works to share education and cultural experiences through research.

She had her eye on the program for a number of years but felt the 2020 intake provided significant opportunity to further the findings made by her research group at Deakin.

Growing up, Hoare played netball for a local club in Geelong before being recruited by the Melbourne Vixens in the national competition.

After turning professional in her early 20s, Hoare also commenced her PhD study alongside her netball commitments with both the Vixens and NSW Swifts before an opportunity to study at Oxford University put her netball career on hold.

After returning to Australia as the AFLW competition began heating up, Hoare decided to make football her focus.

“When I saw it I was so excited by the opportunity to play something that I’d watched my entire life,” she said.

“(Women’s football) was something that I wanted to be part of at any level.”

An opportunity came calling with the Melbourne Football Club on a rookie contract in 2018 before accepting an offer from expansion club Geelong ahead of the 2019 season.

Hoare, who had previously used sport as a way to manage her anxiety, acknowledged that outlet changed once she entered an elite sporting environment.

“It is different, I can’t lie and say it’s not because it is,” she said of the challenges associated with the transition from community to professional sport.

“When you go into an elite setting things change because the goals are a bit different, the environment is different and the pressures are of course very different as well.”

Performance anxiety, which is commonly experienced by athletes due to the high pressure environment of sport, affected Hoare but she focussed on finding perspective in her career.

“When I’m at football I’m not a scientist and when I’m at my day job I’m not a footballer… having that identity is really important to me,” she said.

Understanding that although the environment of sport can change as you transition from a community to elite level, the fundamental reasons behind why Hoare used sport as an outlet did not.

“The relationship building doesn’t change and that’s the reason why I play sport, she said.

“I learn so much from my teammates and I get so much pride from being able to perform and play.

“Being able to understand and value friendships and comradery that you get to experience in a team helps me to keep my anxiety in check.”

An undergraduate degree in Psychology and a PhD examining the mental health outcomes of a community-based obesity prevention intervention among Australian adolescents gives Hoare a strong understanding of how the brain works but also how she can better manage her own mental wellbeing.

“I’ve thought about this a bit because in my day job I get rewarded for overthinking,” Hoare explained.

However, sport is the complete opposite.

Lightening reaction times are critical to success.

“I like that they’re two different skills and it’s taken me a really long time to separate the two,” she said.

“It has certainly helped me having this understanding of why we think the way we do.”

But it’s the support of her family that has been pivotal to Hoare’s success in both her research and sporting pursuits.

“I’ve got such support and understanding around me… I feel emotional just talking about it,” she said.

“It’s something I’ve had my entire life and I don’t know how all of this could’ve happened.”

Having played netball for most of her life before transitioning to football, Hoare understood the challenges she was facing as she looked to break into the squad.

Setting goals and understanding and implementing resilience in her own life became pivotal to recognising the challenges she was facing as a cross-code athlete.

Despite the challenges she faced switching sports, Hoare’s resilience and determination to succeed led her to playing four games in her debut season for Melbourne and being named in Geelong’s inaugural AFLW team.

As with all AFLW players, she balances her football commitments with her full-time role as a postdoctoral researcher at the Food and Mood Centre and Global Obesity Centre at Deakin University.

Despite the challenges, Hoare was thankful for her two workplaces understanding the need for them to support her as she embarked on her two passions.

“Without a supportive environment you can’t thrive no matter how hard you work,” she said.

“It’s not easy but it’s about recognising how much you love it and why you do it.

“It’s certainly something that I love and adore and I’m fortunate to be part of it.”