Welcome back to Leader Talk! In episode 16, we were thrilled to chat with Emilee Cherry, the inspirational Australia Rugby Sevens team member.
Emilee is the recipient of many prestigious accolades. She won the Women’s Sevens World Player of the Year award in 2013 and 2014. She was also selected as the 2014 World Sevens Player of the Year, after scoring the most tries and being the standout player during the 2013-14 World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series.
In our chat, Emilee explains why investment is a two-way street – when people invest in your success, give back to them by working hard to reach your full potential.
Want to learn more? You can read or listen to our chat with Emilee Cherry on YouTube, Spotify, Listen Notes, or Player FM. It’s also available anywhere you listen to your favourite podcasts via Buzzsprout.
Authored By Emilee Cherry, former Australian Rugby Union player.
The central lesson I learnt throughout my time representing Australia as a rugby union player is that investment is a two-way street. What you gain from an investment depends on how much effort you’re willing to give.
I’m grateful to have had this mentality instilled in me from an early age. Be it my friends, family, trainers, or mentors, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have people invest in me so that I could live my dream. Experiencing their unrelenting support made me want to give back and return the investment they placed in me. I did this by always working hard, striving to reach new personal bests, being a team player, and always looking for ways I can help those around me. My duty is to do everything I can to give back.
Anything worth doing isn’t always easy
I always loved playing sport. But I didn’t know I could pursue it professionally. Whenever people asked what I wanted to be, I’d always give a generic answer. Moving to boarding school in year nine proved to be a defining moment in my life. I jumped headfirst into getting involved with netball, athletics, swimming and all the touch football representative teams I could. But my understanding of what I could pursue as a career completely changed during my first year of university. This was the year I received a letter in the mail – a letter that changed the course of my life. I had been asked to attend a camp at the AIS with the Australian team to pursue an Olympic spot. To say I was excited about this would be an understatement – I was thrilled to attend a camp at the AIS. It was an incredible privilege and a moment that will always stay with me.
I have my mum to thank for helping me earn this incredible opportunity. While I was growing up, she drove me from Roma to Brisbane so I could train every weekend. There and back, that’s a twelve-hour drive all up! My mum also encouraged me to seize my Rugby Sevens opportunity when it came, saying, “You’d be crazy not to take it!”.
When you become a professional athlete, people tend to only see the “finished player”. They don’t see the sweat, hard work, and dedication that goes into being ready for the stadium. Like most things in life, people aren’t born professional athletes. The ability to play sport at an elite level is something that requires a lot of practice. I’ve definitely done a ridiculous number of burpees in my time, and I used to have to practice the beep test every single day.
Playing sport professionally doesn’t just teach you to further your athletic capabilities, it also improves your ability to think under pressure. When you’re out playing, you don’t have time to agonise over a decision. You need to be hyper-aware of your surroundings and trust your gut. Sometimes, you might miss the mark. But mistakes are how we learn. Every day, I want to do my best and then improve on that the next day. This desire to always improve isn’t about beating others – it’s about beating your own personal bests to reach your full potential.
Even when I was sore and tired after two consecutive days of playing three games in a day, I still woke up feeling grateful. I’m grateful for everything I’ve learnt, my good health, and that I’m surrounded by a supportive family. My mum always said that anything worth doing isn’t always going to be easy, but it’s always going to be rewarding. Her advice has helped me enjoy the journey, no matter how challenging it can get because I know that hard work pays off.
Our heroes aren’t always far removed from us
Strong support from friends and family is a core component of wellbeing. As we are all social creatures, close relationships and connections with other people is a necessity. Playing sport has allowed me to experience enriching social support as well as the opportunity to enhance my fitness.
I’m often asked if there’s a female rugby player I look to for inspiration. To be honest, my teammates are my heroes. As well as being incredible athletes, they became my best friends. My teammates always have my back and empower me to give my best effort. They’re some of the most determined people I know. I love that we feed off each other’s energy and support each other.
When I first started playing rugby union, I only ever saw men achieving incredible success with their teams on television. I wasn’t aware of any elite female players. I am really happy to see that times have shifted since then. There are so many more opportunities for women to represent the country through sport than there used to be, and I’m so grateful I played a role in that change.
For me, being part of the Rugby Sevens Olympic team was about more than just being an athlete who pumps out results. It was about creating memories and building lifelong friends with people who support you and make you laugh.
Harnessing gratitude in maintaining strength
Unfortunately, there’s always going to be people and situations that attempt to bring us down. If someone doubts my ability, I jump at the chance to prove them wrong. I never want to be held back by someone else’s insecurities or fear-driven narratives. If I work hard and dream big, I know I can accomplish anything. I think this is a valuable temperament to harness – no matter what you do for a living.
You should also always remember to be grateful for those who support you on your professional journey. I remember our first tour as the Rugby Sevens Olympic team, we were staying in a derelict hotel filled with smokers, unhygienic conditions, and bed bugs too! At the time, we also didn’t have any custom uniforms, even though we were representing our country. We were given the men’s old uniforms and we sure did look daggy in our ensembles. But we also knew we couldn’t let this bother us. We were simply grateful to be there because we’d already come such a long way.
The Olympic gold medal winning team consisted of 12 women, but 10 out of our 12 hadn’t even started playing rugby until four years before. We all had different backgrounds and not much experience or knowledge of the sport. But it didn’t take long for us to break down those initial barriers. The rugby sevens scouts wanted to find amazing athletes who could grow into the sport. We needed to be masters of the simple things, such as passing, tackling, and running with speed and stamina. Our team worked because we knew what our strengths were. While it’s essential to work on your weaknesses, you should never forget about your strengths because they’re your point of difference, they’re what will set you apart.
Holistic support – winning gold isn’t everything
According to a Harvard study, people spend 46.9% of their waking hours thinking about the past or future, rather than the present. I understand the importance of learning from the past and focusing on your future ambitions. But I also think we should never let ourselves be consumed by the past or the future. If we do, we lose sight of the present. This is where our energy needs to be concentrated so we can reap the best of what every moment has to offer. Dwelling too heavily on the past or future can also increase stress and lead to unhappiness, hindering our quality of life. If we fall into a trap of always reaching, we’ll forget to take stock of all we’ve achieved to be where we are today.
So, what did we, as teammates, do to keep ourselves grounded? The ROAR acronym was the centrepiece of our success, on and off the field. Here is the breakdown of ROAR:
The “R” is for “rough bitches”. Please excuse the language. This phrase was all about encouraging us to stay strong and not let anything stop us from being the best version of ourselves.
The “O” is for “Olympic dream”. This was the goal that united us because it gave us something to aspire to and work towards.
The “A” is for “accountability”. Being a great team isn’t about the efforts or successes of one person. It’s about how you work together to achieve the best possible outcomes.
The final “R” is for “respect.” Having respect for ourselves, the officials, our coaches, our families, and everyone in the community is of the utmost importance. It underpins our ability to have rewarding interactions and succeed with dignity.
One of the ways we acknowledged the little wins was by giving awards. We’d give an “off-field” award for a player who did something positive in the community, as well as the ROAR award, and a “trainer of the week” award.
The cyclical nature of investment
2013 was the year the Australian Rugby Sevens team became my full-time job. I, like all my teammates, am grateful to everyone who has made this dream a reality. We spent every day trying to pay back the investment others have placed into us. Success depends on how much we invest in giving back to these people. Unless we do our bit to help the team develop, we won’t harness the rewards we seek. That’s why I always say investment is reciprocal.
One of the ways I’ve been actively giving back is through mentoring. I’ve been working with a few development teams, wanting to support the next generation of amazing athletes. I’m incredibly grateful to have been supported in my journey, and I want to play an active role in helping others reap the benefits that come with someone investing in them.
So, wrapping up, I want you to consider these two questions: How do you give back to those who have invested in you, and how can you invest in someone else’s success today?