The reality of being an AFLW player is balancing many roles. For Millie Brown, it’s psychology at Deakin University and defence for the Geelong Cats.
With the beginning of the AFLW 2021 season underway, we’re once again able to watch our favourite footballers back on the field. The riveting first few games have sparked the excitement of both fans and the players, including Geelong Cat Millie Brown, who expresses her, and her team’s attitude to the 2021 season.
“Everyone’s just really, really hungry to get going,” she says. “I think, with all the COVID stuff, that for us having to be apart from each other for such a long time, and everyone’s just keen to get going.”
The Cats went down by 62-points to North Melbourne in last weekend’s opening round, putting pressure on Geelong to recover going into Round 2 where the side will take part in the league’s first ever Pride Round, but while football takes a key focus during the season, it is not the only thing on Brown’s mind.
Like many AFLW players, she juggles several commitments throughout the year. Her focus is split between her football and her education, while studying part-time at Deakin University undertaking a psychology degree.
“I had been planning to study in Melbourne, or one of the Melbourne universities. And I was going to do something like biomedical science. I got the score to get into that, but I kind of thought, ‘No, I think I want to do psychology’. Deakin has been so supportive, and it’s probably worked out better being at Deakin because they understand the commitments of an athlete, and they have that affiliation with the Cats in particular.”
It remains a tough reality that AFLW is not a fully professional competition, this combination, however, is extremely valuable to many players, including Brown—if the balance is right and support offered from both parties. She encourages the idea of athletes preparing for life after their sporting careers and broadening their skillsets, particularly football players.
“You never know what’s going to happen with your career. We play quite a contact sport, so if even a male player was to have an injury, you definitely always need something to fall back on. COVID is a great example of it, how everyone was out of action for so long. And you just need other things to keep yourself stimulated and make an income, to have something else to do.
“Footy definitely isn’t everything, and it’s such a small part of your life in the overall view of things. It’s probably only 20–30 years of your life, so what are you going to do for the rest of it?”
For Brown, getting a degree is something that provides a strong foundation for potential opportunities for whatever the rest of her life may bring.
“Studying is a huge part of my life. I really enjoy learning and I want to have longevity in a career after football. That’s something that I really value highly.”
While Brown does not have a clear view of what she wants her career after football to look like, she has a “rough idea”, and is looking at continuing her path in the psychological science area.
“I think I do want to take my study further than my undergrad and practice psychology. I’m not really sure in what sense at the moment. I need to see how long it takes me to get through my course first because I’m doing part-time study and having some time off every now and then because I do have the footy commitment as well. I’m sure I’ll sort out what type of psychologist I want to be, but I do probably want to do it from a clinical setting. Whether that’s involved in sport, I’m not too sure.”
Brown believes that playing sport and studying concurrently help her stay focused and says that her sport and education tend to help keep her to a schedule.
“I think it’s really good to have a few things that are occupying your brain, so then you’re not too heavily focused on one thing and putting too much energy into something, because you’ll probably burn yourself out.
“It is important that we have both to kind of keep structure and keep organised. The balance between the two is really something of value.”
While preparing for life after football and developing other skills through study is imperative, players in the AFLW require the right support in order to be able to juggle these commitments to avoid burnout and additional stress.
Millie Brown has found support through Deakin University, and values the flexibility they provide for her to pursue her footy dreams. But this is not the story for all players in the competition as financial, family and work pressures add to the already high-pressure environment of elite football. Since AFLW is still semi-professional, these requirements need to be addressed and tackled soon in order to help players continue playing the sport they love with the right support.