Kickin' With Klatt: The One from Melbourne

July 2017 – Now that it’s been a year since I dropped everything and moved to Australia, I suppose it’s time for an update. Hopefully I can share what I’ve been learning here with the footy community in the US, so maybe more women who want to follow a footy dream can make it over here one day. Maybe if I share my experience, someone else will decide this is the path they want to take.


            Literally the day I landed in Melbourne, I hit the ground running. I went to my first training with the Melbourne University Women’s Football Club that night. From there, the whole first month of footy was a blur. I played a game with the Division 3 team, then moved up to play in the reserves for the top VFL squad, for the rest of the season.


            The standard of women’s footy here is astonishing. It’s quick, it’s tough, there are big hits and a lot of bravery. The biggest adjustment I had to make was to the speed of play – decision making must happen lightning fast. In what might be just milliseconds, you have to determine the best place to deliver the ball, and execute the skill cleanly, all under pressure. It is by far faster than any footy I’ve played before. For the first few weeks, my skill level dropped while I tried to make these quick decisions. I had absolutely shocking kicks during that time, hardly ever hitting a target. It was a bit embarrassing really. Luckily, the sheer number of hours I was training helped my skills improve rapidly, and I’ve improved in my ability to perform skills effectively under pressure.


            I was invited to train in the Victorian Women’s Football League Academy for the preseason. I went into it very naïve about what preseason really meant; I was in for a rude awakening. After the first day of fitness testing, our fitness and training program was set out for us. Once a week, we trained at the Essendon Bombers’ multi-million dollar facilities. The training lasts over 2 ½ hours. We’d move from skills to game scenarios, then onto running and weights. Outside of that training, we were given a personalized weights program to complete based on our fitness testing and weights progress. We were also expected to continue training with our club, and had to complete 3 running sessions each week. The first few weeks, I found myself waking up sore every morning. It took time for my body to adjust. I have a new role with the USA Freedom this year, creating our running program, and I am modelling it after the runs I am completing through Academy and club training. Let me tell you, these sort of repetitive-sprint runs never get easier, even after 4 months of training and a mid-run spew (just kidding, haven’t spewed yet, but sometimes I’m a bit worried…).


            Club training has been a weekly push as well. Spurred by the AFLW’s success, dozens of women new to footy are coming to training. So much so, that Melbourne Uni added a FOURTH women’s team this year! The coach, Andrew Jago, has been incredibly supportive and helpful in my transition. He gives me specific feedback so I can train with a purpose.


            More recently, I had the honor of pulling on the North Melbourne Kangaroos jumper, as they fielded their first ever women’s team. North Melbourne has a provisional license in the AFLW, which means that when the AFLW is expanded in 2018, North Melbourne will have priority in the team selection process. This exhibition match was the next step towards seeing that end goal reached. We played after the JLT Community Series men’s game, Kangaroos vs. Hawks, at Arden Street, the historic home of North Melbourne. It was quite an event; we had use of the facility, had a guard of honor from the men, and the head men’s coach Brad Scott gave us a quick pre-game speech. We delivered a resounding win that day, so it left everyone in high spirits. I played in the half back line, and in the midfield. I had quite a few touches, and assisted three of our goals. However, I also found myself playing a bit hesitant at times. Feedback after the game reminded me to back myself in contests; that I should have the confidence to go after the footy because I can win it.


            That feedback made me realize that while I played with confidence in the US, I had lost a bit of that coming here. When I train with women who have been playing footy here for years, it’s easy to think that I have less skill and experience, so I should let them take care of things while being there to support. However, that kind of hesitation has no place in footy. So, what will I do to improve it? Keep practicing. The more I train, the more my confidence will grow (I hope). Outside of scheduled trainings, a friend and I meet weekly to work on skills. We have this routine now where we have to make 50 kicks on our right foot and 50 kicks on our left foot without dropping the footy or missing the target. Until that happens, we can’t go home. Sometimes, we even push it to 100!


            Now that the season is underway, my focus is on my training. My main goal this year was to earn a spot on the VFL squad. I’m happy to say that I have achieved that goal; while I do float between reserves and VFL, I have played half of the VFL games so far. However, this is by no means set in stone. Each week I must perform well to be selected. It’s even tougher this year; 17 Mugars returned from AFL teams with elite training under their belt. Many people have asked me if I’m looking forward to the AFLW draft this year. Honestly, I still have a long way to go before I can consider that. The women playing AFLW have put in the hard yards for years; I only just got here. First things first, I want to be a consistent member of the VFL squad. I still need a lot more experience and game time before I’m ready. Nothing here will come easily for me, which, truthfully, was sometimes the case for me in the US. Down the road, yes, my goal is still to be drafted in the AFLW. But the work has already started and must continue, and I must constantly strive to reach a higher level. Not to mention, the International Cup is quickly approaching, when I will be back with my USA teammates. I’m already way too excited about that, but as a team we have some goals to reach, and that starts with my individual effort here.


            So, I must keep pushing along. What felt like an endless preseason finally came to an end, and now I’m constantly pushing for a spot in the VFL. During never-ending 200m sprints, I like to visualize myself taking a specky in a pack. That’s my other goal this season – if I manage that one, you best believe you’ll be hearing about it. Until then – Katie.

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