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i moved over to the UK to gain experience i haven't been able to achieve in australia. i moved over wanting to play professionally, but quickly realised that wouldn't be possible as the level i've played at in australia dictates the level i can play over here because of brexit and their rules pertaining to GBE points. although unbelievably frustrating and limiting, i am still able to play semi-professionally here. but what's the difference between professional and semi-professional? and why does it matter to acknowledge the differences?

semi-professional can easily be summarised as self-professional - you're responsible for doing everything yourself. and when you're self-employed, you don't always get paid for the work you do. prior to coming to the UK, i had to sort myself a visa, pay for a visa, and pay for the national health insurance surcharge (nearly $2000). i then had to pay for my flights, sort my accommodation, and email clubs myself. i could have had an agent do this on my behalf, but not being able to sign a professional contract (because of the point system) doesn't give much incentive for an agent to work hard for me.

okay, so i'm in the UK and i've emailed clubs - now what? now i have to wait for the clubs to get back to me. and once they get back to me, i then have to sort a way to get to these clubs - either via public transport (which doesn't allow much flexibility) or by hiring a car. hiring a car over here, without insurance, is about $60 a day (at its cheapest). but you're obviously taking a risk. to add insurance, it triples the price of hiring a car. and when i needed to hire a car at least 5 times, that quickly adds up. as does the cost of petrol which costs approximately $110 to fill up a tank ($2.70 a litre).

i was very fortunate that for the first 6 weeks i was able to set up a base at my partner's cousin's place which meant free accommodation. but i did still have to hire accommodation for trials that were beyond driving distance in one day (e.g. more than 2 hours when training finishes at 10pm). so accommodation costs are also at my own expense. but the biggest problem with being semi professional, other than the lack of financial reimbursement, is the uncertainty. i came over here having nothing organised - not from lack of effort or trying, but because i couldn't organise anything from australia. every week i was unsettled because i never knew where i was going to be - i didn't know who i was going to be trialling with and whether i would realistically be able to get there in such short notice.

i've obviously come over here mid-season, which in itself presents a lot of challenges because teams are often already established and their finances issued. there's also no real urgency to bring a player in - so i wasn't a priority to a lot of teams (which i understand). now compare this to someone who's professional - none of these issues mentioned are a thing for them. their visa gets sorted for them, flights are paid for, accommodation sorted, travel organised, potentially a car loaned to them, and they have a team. there's no uncertainty. there's no out-of-pocket financial costs. and there's also a contract waiting for them to provide income.

so how does the time commitment differ from that of a semi-professional to that of a professional? as a semi professional team, we train three times a week for two hours, with two one hour gym sessions. in addition to this, there's team analysis for an hour after training as well as a scout report, and occasionally individual meetings to discuss IDPs (individual development plan). recovery isn't mandated by the team, but it usually takes up another 1.5 hours during the week. lastly there's game days, which take up at least 5 hours. so all of this adds up to at least 15 hours, without factoring in travel. professional teams have a similar itinerary, but they might have an additional training session.

on sunday we had a friendly in liverpool - a 3.5 hour bus ride. it took me 1.5 hours to get to the club, before sitting on a bus for 3.5 hours. we then had our game, had some food, back on the bus. i left at 7:30am and got home at 10pm. all food, except for the sandwiches after the game, were at my own expense. again, this is something that differs significantly for professional and semi-professional environments - in professional environments, food expenses are covered. in semi-professional, as i first stated, it's self-funded.

i think what's really difficult is that the women's game is evidently getting stronger and more competitive. the gaps between leagues are becoming smaller, yet the gaps between professional and semi-professional aren't. there is a massive financial burden on those who are semi-professional* but one of the biggest problems is the expectations. semi-professional athletes are expected to train and behave like professionals. they're expected to prioritise their sport, even though financially they aren't getting reimbursed for it. through most of my career, it's just been accepted that you give up work for your sport - because you love the game and that's what you do when you love it, right? but where do you draw the line? it's a bit of a chicken and egg situation in regards to what comes first - player's commitment and expectations, or the environment and the pay? i think for so long women have been expected to give up their lives, their jobs, their pay to play semi-professionally but it really isn't feasible. but i also know from a coaching perspective, their hands are tied. and it's nearly impossible to build a team with half commitment. so what needs to happen? there needs to be more financial investment. there needs to be a respectful wage offered to players giving up at least 15 hours of their week (excluding travel). and there needs to be more resources available for those who are professional in their mindset, behaviour, and expectations, but aren't-quite-there-yet or haven't been gifted an opportunity to play professional.

*admittedly there is still a financial burden on many professional female players too

**please note these are based off my experiences in former professional environments and what i've heard from other players in professional environments. i acknowledge there is a large discrepancy between professional teams and their offerings.

all monetary figures are in AUD - to convert to pounds, divide by 2

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Updated: Dec 28, 2023

i've now been in the UK for a month. and within this time i've experienced a multitude of new environments - whether that's meeting my partner's family, exploring new cities, or the various trials i've been to. new environments are inherently daunting. they're unfamiliar. they're uncomfortable. but there's a few things people can do within these environments that make the world of difference to someone who is feeling apprehensive.

admittedly i've been fortunate that in all the trials i've been to, everyone has been extremely nice. i haven't experienced the cattiness or bitchiness that can sometimes accompany a potential 'threat' in a new environment. having said that, some teams have been more welcoming than others, with one in particular standing out. so how can you make someone feel welcome? what are important actions to execute to ensure that an environment feels as safe as it possibly can?

  1. prior to arrival, the first thing a team can do is to communicate. make sure that you've explained clearly how to get to a location - where you need to go, where you can park, what you need to wear, and where / who you're going to meet. i arrived at my very first trial here to a boom gate which i couldn't enter, and a car park i had to walk half a mile from just to get to the club rooms. i then couldn't find the team, only to find out that they were in a meeting before heading in for a gym session - none of which was communicated to me prior. on the contrary, other clubs clearly communicated their plans for the evening, where to meet, and the people i might meet during my trial (coaches, staff etc). giving people this information prior to their arrival helps to build familiarity in an unfamiliar environment. it also helps to make the individual feel like they're a priority rather than an afterthought.

  2. upon arriving it's imperative to have someone meet the person - whether that's a captain, a coach, or some other teammate. it's then important to get them to show the person around or introduce them to others. new environments can be overwhelming. you're trying your best to learn 20 people's names in the space of 5 minutes (and you're going to forget a lot of them). having someone who identifies themselves as the point of contact can aid in making someone feel comfortable. almost like a buddy in a way.

  3. be forthcoming with assistance, especially if someone isn't local to an area. do they need somewhere to stay? somewhere to eat? what are their plans after training? do they need help finding a job? can you share some of your knowledge of the area to aid in the individual having to investigate and discover these things for themselves. better yet, can you include them in some of your plans. in novel environments, when someone is feeling apprehensive, they're unlikely to ask for help. anticipating what someone might need can go a long way in ensuring they feel both safe and comfortable.

  4. use forward focused language. when people are trialling at multiple places, they're essentially putting the team on trial too. they're assessing - is this a good fit? am i welcome here? will i be valued? things like using forward focused language can help an individual feel like they're a part of the team. e.g. things like - "you'll score a lot of goals for us this season" or "when are you signing for us?"

  5. acknowledge their strengths! no matter how experienced or confident an individual is, they're not immune to feeling the effects of self-doubt in new environments.

  6. follow up promptly. make sure you seek the player out to have the conversation. don't wait for them to come to you. ask them when they're coming back to train with you again. ask if there's anything you can do to help them in coming back. and acknowledge their strengths. players want and need to feel wanted. coaches that are indifferent, that don't have a plan for a player's return or a plan for the player to sign, make the player feel like they're not that valued. if someone is interested in you, they'll make it known.

  7. uniforms. i've mentioned this in "how to make someone feel valued" - the sooner that individual can look like everyone else, the sooner they'll feel like everyone else - the sooner they'll be an insider rather than an outsider.

as i mentioned, i've now trialled at five different clubs. admittedly the first two clubs were only for a session, but the last three have been for a week. and there's one club, one person, that stood out to me in executing the majority of the points mentioned above. this person spoke to me prior to training, asked me about my past, then during training acknowledged my strengths. he could see i was good in the air and said "you're going to cost me a lot of money this year with scoring goals." this is vastly different from a previous team who, upon scoring multiple goals in training from set pieces, claimed it was due to my height rather than skill.

the biggest thing this coach did though, was he asked where i was staying that night. he then offered his number and said "if you're bored later, we're going to this bar if you want to hang out." not only was this an opportunity to socialise, but he also offered to pick me up. to take the uncertainty out of being in an unfamiliar environment. and to create an opportunity to learn more about one another. the following day he followed up by asking if i wanted to meet in the city to go shopping for christmas attire and proceeded to show me around the club's facilities. admittedly this team trains from 3-5pm so it's a lot easier to have these sort of interactions but it's a stark contrast to opposing teams and their approach. i ran into coaches from a team i had just trialled with at a restaurant for dinner. they said hello, acknowledged me, but then didn't invite me to sit with them. so i ended up eating alone. it might not seem like a big deal, but that's the difference between someone feeling like an insider and an outsider.

other coaches and teams have been seemingly okay with me trialling for other clubs. there's two ways to interpret this: these coaches are extremely nice and understanding of my situation, wanting me to explore all options before making a decision, or they're indifferent if i sign for them. this has been one thing i've really struggled with in the UK. if anyone of quality trials with a team in Adelaide, we are doing whatever we can to sign them. even if we can't guarantee a starting position, if they have ability, add value, and don't cost a fortune, why wouldn't you sign them? why would you risk a decent player playing for an opposition team? if someone wants you, they make it known. it would be like going on a date with someone and them saying, "i'm okay if you go on other dates and i don't see you again for another month." you just wouldn't do that. again, it's the importance of forward focused language.

it's also important to invite an individual to more than one trial. i think that's what was so hard about the trial i had with an a-league team - it was a one day trial, the day after a game. as a coach here mentioned, "i'm not willing to assess anyone off one session. because they're nervous, it's an unfamiliar environment, no one is going to excel in that." acknowledging the role that an environment has on an individual is imperative for being unbiased in your selection process.

so what does all of this come down to? it comes down to making an environment feel safe. the safer individuals feel, the more confident they'll be. as i've referenced previously with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs - there are certain things individuals need before they can reach their excellence. even prior to feeling safe, people need basic physiological needs met. food. water. sleep. stability. if a team can assist in any of those, it goes a long way in making an individual satiate the next tier of needs - safety. the next tier above safety is love and belongingness. so what are some ways you can make someone feel like they belong? use belonging cues. daniel coyle talks about these in the culture code. use phrases that communicate, you are part of this group, this group is special, and i believe in you.

dissecting this one team's behaviour, they executed these cues by inviting me into their group. asking me to socialise. sitting with me for lunch. asking me when i was signing. getting excited when i was on their team because i'm a 'class' player. they communicated that their group is special by the facilities they have access to and they further communicated their belief in me with their forward focused language.

so the next time you have someone new trial for your team or workplace, are you able to think about the aforementioned points. how can you make them feel safe? what belonging cues are you sending them? can you be forthcoming with assistance, rather than waiting for them to come to you? and how quickly can you get them to put pen to paper? to make their uncertainty, certain?

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Updated: Dec 12, 2023

12 years ago, at the ripe old age of 18, i packed up my stuff and i moved to the US to play college soccer. now i'm 30 and i've decided to move to the UK to play football. so what's changed? and what have i learnt?

when i was 18, i was at a very different stage of my life. i had just finished school, i had a job i was only working at for 15 hours a week, funding for australian camps had just been cut, and the sasi system was about to be removed. moving abroad made sense. college was a way to get a free education whilst playing the sport i loved in a professional environment. i was excited about the move - i had nothing keeping me in adelaide and i was yearning for life experiences. everything was set up before i left australia - i had a team, i had teammates, i had accommodation, and most importantly, i had my parents accompany me for the first two weeks of the move. the importance of this cannot be understated - they were a constant. a support. they knew what i needed before i knew i needed it. they were the familiar in the unfamiliar. when they left, i was set. i had a US bank account, a US sim, and 9 months later, i would have a car that my Dad helped me find and buy.

fast forward 12 years and i find myself going through a similar process, but everything seems different. everything feels harder. and i'd be lying if i said i'm glad i moved.

so what's been so much harder about this move? the unknowns. i don't have a team. and until i find a team, i can't find a job. i can't look for accommodation. and i don't have my family here to drive me wherever i need to go. i'm beyond fortunate to be set up at my partner's cousin's place, but despite the connection to my partner, they’re essentially strangers in the same way i am to them (although they’re becoming more familiar the more time we spend together). they've got a life, they've got work, and their priority is not getting me set up in the same way my parents did 12 years ago (*just to clarify, by no means do i expect or think i should be a priority to them). so everything i plan, i have to plan around hiring a car or public transport. which as you might imagine, can be extremely limiting and costly.

the first day i got here i sent emails out to 40 different clubs. and i've heard back from a few at various times, but some of their replies have sent me into a spiral because they've asked questions i quickly learnt i was unequipped to answer. apparently in order to play professionally in the UK, you need to apply for an international sports visa. but the only way to get an international sports visa is to have a club apply for one on their behalf. they also need to be certified to sponsor you and if not, they need to apply to become certified. a lot of work for a club that knows nothing about you. not only this, but you also must qualify with enough GBE points. and the only way to qualify for GBE points? is to have played a-league. no one who has played WNPL in Australia, regardless of their ability, can then come to the UK and sign a professional contract. why does this matter? well it limits who you can play for. most tier 2 clubs are professional clubs meaning i can't play for them. everything seems to come back to this unrelenting fact that i haven't played a-league. i came here in attempt to make something of myself, despite the fact i haven't played a-league, and it appears i'm still being limited based on that fact. it's like i've got this big black cloud, this big black fuck off fact that i haven't played a-league, following me everywhere, limiting not just soccer experiences, but work experiences in australia too. i wanted to become a public speaker for pickstar - couldn't. hadn't played a high enough level (despite growing up in young matildas squads). i wanted to get the pfa to cover my c license. couldn't. despite being on a professional contract at inter, i wasn't considered a 'professional' (because i haven't played a-league [despite being signed in 2017 as an injury replacement]). it's like when you try to apply for your first job - bosses want you to have experience. but how do you get experience if no one gives you a chance? i often wonder the player i could have been had i been afforded an opportunity 6 years ago when i moved back to australia. or even 15 years ago when adelaide united first started up again.what did they have that i didn't? an opportunity and a coach that gave them a chance, at the right time. i'm still waiting for that opportunity. but my time is running out.

the other reality i'm finding is that all of these clubs are in the middle of their season - they have a squad, they have a team, they're not necessarily going to prioritise an international player coming in. so i'm finding the process to be rather slow. but i get it - this is a priority to me, but it's not to a club. i thought being in this country might make it easier, especially with my willingness to trial and get there however i can, but it's not as simple as that. i also thought that with my passion, my eagerness to learn, and my desire to be involved in coaching at a club, it would make me an ideal candidate for anyone to sign me. but again, my experiences have yet to bring these beliefs to fruition. in one way, not having a name gives you a fresh start, but in another, it means no one knows your character. they don't know your value. so you have to show them - which can be difficult during a finite trialling period.

so i don't have soccer yet. but it's more than just not having soccer. i don't have coaching. i don't have teammates. i don't have boxing. i don't have that support network that comes from immediately meeting new people. i also don't have a job. i don't have my family. i don't have my partner. and i don't have my cats. i know this seems like a minor fact, but my cats have been the biggest constant in my life for the past 11 years. my cats were there for me in the US when i had nothing else. they were there during my darkest days. they have literally saved my life. and not having them, even just something to look forward to when coming home, is hard. some people keep telling me to relish in the freedom, but this isn't freedom. this is isolation. i look at this week and i'm stressed because i have nothing to do during the day. there's only so long you can keep yourself self-stimulated for. and i wonder how long humans can last without having any form of purpose before they start going mad and getting depressed. i've written often about connection being the antidote to depression, but what happens when you don't have connection? hope is what motivates you to alter your situation, but how long until the hope well runs dry?

i guess at times when i question, what the fuck have i done? or have i made the right decision? i have to remind myself of everything i felt back in adelaide. i can't go back. not yet. not until i've learnt something. not until i've experienced what i've wanted to experience here. living in adelaide makes me angry. i'm resentful about my experiences. and i know that if i go back too soon, that bitterness will continue to dominate my experiences - as both a player and a coach. and i don't want that. i need to broaden my experiences which is the reason i moved to the UK. living in adelaide is insular - it's a small town. even living in australia is limiting. we're so far behind the rest of the world with the standards of coaching and resources. i have to keep reminding myself that this is an investment into my wellbeing. it's an investment into my future as both a player, coach, and eventual parent. it's hard now, but most things that are challenging end up being rewarding. the lessons i've learnt already will no doubt assist me in offering advice to other players wanting to move abroad. my advice to them based on my experiences so far? bring someone with you. whether that's a partner, a family member, or a friend, having a familiar in a world of unfamiliar makes the world of difference.

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