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the matthew effect

last week, i received an email from a w-league club inviting me to a trial. i had sent out my highlight reel from pre-season and the first half of my wnpl season to the majority of w-league clubs (in which i had contacts) back in june. for the clubs that replied, the response was a resounding 'no'. but here was a club that offered me a chance - a trial. a glimmer of hope. fantastic right? people all around me, "it's fantastic you're finally getting recognised. even if nothing comes from this, it's a step in the right direction." but is it?

perhaps i'm cynical, or perhaps i'm merely realistic. i initially had a conflict on the date of the trial and asked if there were any other opportunities to trial. but there wasn't. so i knew that whatever chance i had relied entirely on this one trial. so, i cancelled my presentation, booked flights, accommodation, and a car - all at my own expense - and flew over to sydney.

twenty-two girls were trialling. and from what i know, only for a few spots. was a centreback one of those positions? i'll never know. what i do know, is all of these girls were in their early 20s and i was an outlier at 30. the majority of the girls, including myself, had played games less than 24 hours prior to this trial and would then be playing 3x15mins full-sized games (after an extensive warm up). for the youth, no problem. for me, more of a problem.

there's a few things i really hate about 'trials' - the main thing though, is the trepidation that leads into it. there's no interview, there's no personal introduction with anyone, you're literally being judged entirely on what you can and can't do. and for anyone who's read any of my work, a trial probably isn't going to feel like the safest environment to excel. you're probably going to be more focused on not making mistakes than you are on trying anything to make you stand out. and in essence, that's how my trial went. i didn't stand out. i played it 'safe'. as a centreback in a comfortable environment, i take risks. i push up. i play the 'high risk, high reward' ball often. but in this trial, i didn't have familiarity with teammates, so i tried my best to just keep the ball. and i did. but a coach isn't going to select you for playing it 'safe'. a lot of what makes me the player i am are the moments that aren't always replicable, especially in a trial. it's the desperation to block a shot, it's the goal from a corner, it's the slide to intercept a pass - but none of those opportunities presented themselves monday night. so in the eyes of the coaching staff, i undoubtedly looked very average.

hope is a funny thing. people say it's a positive, but i've always thought it to be destructive. the buddhists say suffering comes from expectation and i would extend that to say suffering comes from hope too. this trial offered hope. but it's also opened the door for disappointment, again. when coaches say 'no' without having a look at you, you don't lose anything. it's a lot easier to accept and justify as them just not liking your highlight reel. but when you trial and don't succeed, it's harder to reason. it's harder to not internalise. they did see you, and the answer was still a no. so perhaps, just perhaps, you actually aren't good enough to play at that next level.

and that is where i find myself, again. stuck in this cycle of self-doubt and disappointment. the question that keeps circling in my mind is, "has this ship sailed?" am i now too old? in 2019, after i did my acl for the third time, i accepted that w-league would never happen for me. i was 26 years old, had torn my acl 3 times, who in their right mind would take a chance on a player like that? fast forward 4 years - i'm still playing, and playing some of my best soccer yet. i've scored 13 goals in 29 games this year, as a centreback, and every year i hold onto the hope that maybe, just maybe, i might get noticed. "if you do well enough in your local league, people will notice. they'll tap you on the shoulder." will they though? or have i just not done 'well enough'?

the thing is, i have been on the losing side of the matthew effect for the last fifteen years of my life. the matthew effect states that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. so in relation to sport, once your name is known, it will continue to be known. if your name isn't known, it will continue to stay unknown. in my juniors, i benefited from the former - i was selected in state teams before i even trialled. i was also chosen in the all-star team at nationals, not because i had a stand-out tournament, but because at the time i was attending junior matildas camps and it wouldn't be a good look if i didn't get selected. but ever since i went to america, my name went missing. for 6 years i didn't play in the wnpl. for 6 years my name wasn't in circulation. so when i returned, i had to recreate that name. and i've been trying to recreate that name ever since.

look at the players that sign for w-league clubs, where do they come from? other w-league clubs. even if they've had absolutely horrible seasons, they will still get signed the following year. even if they’ve been injured for the last 12 months, they’ll still get signed. because as a coach, you're not taking a risk signing someone who has previously been signed - someone else took that risk for you. you're merely keeping the status quo, keeping their name circulating. but to sign someone who has never been signed? that's a big risk. and an even bigger risk when they're older because they probably don't have many years left in their development. humans are typically risk averse - so i get it. but how many players are out there who have been overlooked because of this effect? because of our biases towards certain players? i use the example of clare hunt - how many years has she been overlooked? her transition into international football was nearly seamless - but where would she be had she been picked up earlier?

i find myself stuck. what i want from soccer, i won't find here in the wnpl. all my life i've been involved in professional environments - i grew up in the SASI program where we trained 5-6 days a week, then i went to college on a scholarship which was full time again. the wnpl here is 3 days a week. and i often find myself frustrated because my teammates don't seem to care. but i realise that's because this isn't a professional environment, and it probably won't become one. many of the frustrations i’ve experienced over the years can be attributed to being in this incompatible environment. i want more, but the reality i'm finding myself in over and over again, is perhaps i'm not good enough for that next level. there's wnpl, and then there's w-league. and i'm stuck, somewhere between the two. wanting more, but not getting more. so without a name, without the experience, and probably without the skills, i really am at a loss for how i am ever going to break into that next level.

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