A heartfelt and honest journey written by Kate Anthonisz former Sydney Olympic player.
On Sunday 4th September 2022 I ended my semi-professional football playing career. I’ve just closed a major chapter of my life. A significant one that has, for so long, defined my life, my timetable, and a lot of my personality.
For context, I signed with Sydney Olympic in our NSW Premier League 1st Division (NPL1) for 2022. This division is just below our professional league in Australia (called the Combined A-League), a feeder league for our Australian national team known as the Matildas.
The calibre of players I’ve been playing with is WILD…
Courtnee Vine: A superstar who started for the Matildas on Tuesday night, when we played the reigning Olympic champions Canada.
Mackenzie Hawkesby: A current Sydney FC player who finally got her debut for the Matildas.
Claudia Cholakian: She is overseas now representing Armenia.
And this is only my squad - The other teams also have excellent players.
I previously played two “half-seasons” (due to COVID) in NSW’s NPL2 competition, and I was riding the high of being a stand-out goalkeeper in this league. So, when I was asked to sign for Sydney Olympic in the NPL1 league, I was delighted. I was riding the high of being a “big fish in a little pond” and full of confidence.
From the ‘back in my day to the current standard, I’d spent a long time away from this level of football - and the quality had changed... dramatically.
The tempo was faster than I could have imagined; the players were better, and the competition was fierce. This season became one of the most challenging seasons I’ve ever played.
We trained as a combined senior squad 3 x a week, and every session was a battlefield - I would come home with literal ball prints painted across my body, black eyes, bruised ribs, swollen knees, and a damaged ego.
It became very apparent that my touch on the ball wasn’t as good as it used to be, my speed and agility were nonexistent, and my confidence abandoned me. I had the turning circle of a semi-trailer compared to the girls in my team.
I cried (often and frequently) in my car after training because I felt like I wasn’t good enough to compete with these outstanding women. Imposter syndrome had me in its claws.
I began to hate training and lacing up my boots, and I genuinely feared that when players would strike a ball at me, I would embarrass myself or do the wrong thing. I was overthinking everything single thing I did.
I began trying to justify all the reasons I sucked: “You’re older than all the other players” “You've not had as much training recently” “Maybe you should just quit- You don’t need this right now!”
You could imagine how I felt when the first-grade coach called to tell me that Jada Whyman was away for National duty - and I was going to start First Grade on the weekend.
My heart jumped into my throat. This was never meant to be a possibility. I was content playing Reserve Grade and had none of the pressure the first-grade players faced. It was towards the back end of the season, and we were in the race for finals.
In other words, this game mattered - a lot!
Driving to the field, I felt like I had weighted the world on my shoulders. I didn’t want to disappoint my squad or my coach, but worst of all, I didn’t want to disappoint myself. I had nightmares of letting in easy goals, fumbling the ball and generally letting everyone down. I had barely slept the night before because I was full of anxiety.
We played Northern Tigers, and well, thankfully, none of the above happened - I played OK. If you’re interested, watch the 2-minute highlights clip from my game here.
I went on to start in 4 games for our First Grade squad, and I am proud to say I did step up and compete.
I didn’t let the squad down. More importantly, I proved to myself that I could still play at that level, and I can now walk away knowing I left it all on the field.
I feel like I am in mourning - knowing that I’ll never compete at this level again, knowing my body won't be athletic enough to play this position anymore.
I’ll miss the team banter, the shed chats, and the bond you feel when you share sweat, blood, and tears during a game.
Suddenly, my weeknights are free... I’m not spending time mentally preparing for the battlefield of training sessions and games. I packed away my jersey, my boots, and with it, a little piece of my heart.
I have given up so much for this sport - I’ve missed birthdays, significant events, and almost every Mother’s day (we play on Sundays). I’ve had to take time off work from tearing my hip flexor in half, damaging my spine, head concussions, and my left knee’s tendency to pop off in another direction continually.
But honestly… I wouldn't trade it for anything.
Because I’ve also gained so much, I found my best friends, and I’ve played a small part in shaping women's football into what it is today - (In year 7, I wasn't allowed to play because football was deemed an ‘un-lady' like sport and it didn't exist at my school.) The best thing is that I’ve helped inspire some younger keepers who are just starting their journey.
What started as the hardest season of my life turned me to be my proudest. I can now leave the game on my terms and with the feeling that I gave it my everything.
And that’s pretty awesome. It hurts on the way up & down
What’s next? Well, I’m looking at commentating in the NPL1 and combined A-league seasons for 2023. I’ll also be loudly (very loudly) cheering on my fellow teammates at the FIFA Women's World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023!!!
I’m excited to see the game from a different perspective and try something new. So whilst one chapter has ended, I’m excited to see what the next one has in store for me.