Mary Konstantopoulos spoke to Sydney Rooster Yasmin Meakes about her passion to be a role model for young girls and boys as an NRLW player.
I speak to Yasmin Meakes when she’s in the car driving.
As a member of the Sydney Roosters NRL Women’s Premiership team, it’s a place Meakes is spending plenty of time. Meakes is a teacher and lives in Scone in eastern New South Wales. When Meakes attends training, it usually involves a three hour round trip from Scone to Sydney and then back again. When I ask why she is willing to do this just to play rugby league, the answer is one I have heard before.
“It’s because I love it, I certainly just don’t do it for the money.
“I love the sport, I love the culture at the Roosters and the coaching staff are also a massive part of why I keep playing for the Roosters.”
It’s incredible dedication to the sport, particularly because Meakes also works full-time as a high school PDHPE teacher. So often when we talk about women who work fulltime and juggle elite sporting commitments, we describe them as dedicated, committed and almost superhuman. There is a certain glorification in just how much these women are able to fit into their lives.
It’s a fine line to dance, because while the commitment these women make needs to be recognised, the more important conversation is how we can move toward a more professional model, where women do not have to make a decision to give up playing the sports they love at an elite level because it is no longer financially viable.
This juggle cannot be the norm going forward. We cannot continue to expect elite performance from women who do not have the support to devote themselves entirely to their craft and additionally, we cannot expect athletes to continue to stretch themselves the way they have in recent years.
For Meakes, the juggle is a very real one.
“For the younger women, who are studying and potentially still living at home it might be a little bit easier, but for the older women (like me!) that have mortgages it can be hard,” Meakes explains, “if I just lived off football money, I wouldn’t be able to achieve my life goals. But if you really want to achieve something you make it happen and make sure you have supportive people around you.”
As a female athlete, Meakes has an important role to play in demonstrating to the next generation of young women that they can play sport at an elite level if they want to as when Meakes was growing up this was not the case. The opportunity for a woman to wear a Roosters jersey on the field was nothing more than fantasy. But as a high school teacher, Meakes is also a role model to her male students.
“It’s exciting to go back to school after games that I play because my students are my biggest critics,” said Meakes. “They secretly love it, in high school they do hide their emotions a little more, but they do love the fact that they can tell people that their teacher plays for the Roosters”.
But Meakes’s influence stretches further than that. A couple of weeks ago she did a talk to some preschool boys, who already had some preconceived ideas about whether women should be playing contact sports.
“I had a conversation with the boys to shape a mind-set where they understand that women can play contact sports,” said Meakes. “That was exciting to see and I showed them my Year 9 students doing dance to help open their minds to the idea that anything is possible.
“I took in some jerseys and the gimmick of putting on a jersey and a medal was exciting for them, so hopefully I changed some perceptions about what women can and can’t do.”
Getting out on the field on the weekend for the Roosters was a big moment for Meakes, who just like many other women, has waited since State of Origin last year to play footy at that top level again.
“It was hard dealing with the uncertainty of not knowing when the competition was going to start and making sure I stayed motivated and kept my training up,” said Meakes. “I am very motivated and enjoy training, so it was fairly easy to stay focused.”
The Roosters began their 2022 NRLW campaign with a loss to the reigning Premiers, the Brisbane Broncos by 20 points to four. They face the Gold Coast Titans in their next game this Sunday at WIN Stadium.