Managing pressure and expectations on and off-the-field

words by AFL Player, Wednesday 29 January 2020

Words by Kara Antonio (Fremantle)

Kara Antonio – Tackle Your Feelings

I’ve been playing football since I was a little tacker. For as long as I can remember I have always had a football in my hand.

It was a childhood dream of mine to play at the highest level and to be able to live that out through the AFLW competition is something I’ll be forever grateful for.

But, being a marquee player for Fremantle during the inaugural AFLW season wasn’t without its difficulties.

As fortunate as I am to be in this position, it also presented numerous challenges around expectation and the pressure to perform.

Being the only team in Western Australia at the time meant we received more media coverage than what I had anticipated. With media coverage comes internal and external scrutiny.

As a person and a player I’m hard on myself as it is.

I have high expectations of not only my own performances but also my teammates and the players I coach.

Combining this internal pressure with the added lens of the media and being the captain of Fremantle, I experienced challenges I hadn’t previously when I was playing in the AFLW.

Each game I felt like I had given my all to everything both physically and mentally but I would still be questioning my own leadership or performances.

After a while you begin to think, ‘What am I doing wrong?’ or ‘What else can I do better?’

When you’re the captain and the player that is expected to pave the way, drive standards and lead by example it can begin to take a toll.

There will always be moments as a leader when that doesn’t come naturally and throughout my three years of being captain and going into my fourth season, I have certainly experienced that.

Throughout my career I have learnt to put on a mask when facing my teammates and the media.

There were moments when it was tough and I struggled to perform, particularly in those times when we weren’t winning games.

I would get in the car after a loss and break down crying but when I was facing my teammates I made sure I was ‘strong’ and ‘fearless’.

As challenging as those experiences were, those are the experiences that help you build resilience.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have had those occurrences because they are what helped shape me to become the person and leader I am today.

Only recently have I begun to understand the importance of being vulnerable.

When I’m having a bad day or a sub-par game, I remind myself that I’m here because of my teammates and those around me.

Having high expectations of yourself is normal but it’s critical to not lose sight of the bigger picture.

Naturally, though, there are going to be times when it becomes too much.

I would have times where I found myself moving down the mental health continuum and into a period of coping or struggling but I’ve been working on ways to shift myself out of that zone.

It’s the old cliché of ‘taking it one week at a time’ but that’s become critical to my mental health and wellbeing.

It’s important to keep focused because the moment you feel yourself starting to lose sight of what you want to achieve and why you want to achieve it, things can begin to derail both internally and externally.

I find taking time out to focus on myself helps me to regroup. That might be an activity like going to the beach for a swim, catching up with friends or spending time with my dog, Willow, and wife, Ebony.

Whatever it might be, those activities help to bring me a moment of clarity.

What I have learnt during the first three seasons of AFLW have shaped me to become a better person and enabled me to be able to share my experiences.

That ability to share starts from the leaders and is a domino effect through the rest of the group.

Pressure and expectation is natural and a big part of professional sport but it’s important to create an environment that nurtures growth.

As soon as I run out onto the oval with my teammates beside me I want them to know that I’ve got their back no matter what.

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