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By Doug Buckley

Brisbane Lions AFLW star Emily Bates has heard her fair share of pump-up speeches over the course of her sparkling football career. But there’s a particular piece of advice that’s struck a chord with the midfield ace:

“It all comes down to how hard you’re willing to work, because if you don’t rise to the occasion, you fall to the level of your training.”

It’s this sort of wisdom that Bates will be passing on to her Lions teammates, as well as some 200 University of Queensland student-athletes in her off-field role as the Elite Athlete Program Officer at the UQ Sport Academy.

Bates knows first-hand the demands of juggling a professional sporting career with work and study commitments.

In 2017 – the AFLW’s inaugural year – Bates completed a Bachelor of Exercise and Sport Sciences degree at UQ, won the Brisbane Lions’ Best and Fairest Award, and was named in the All Australian team.

But the 23-year-old admits she struggled with the expectations placed on her following a standout first AFLW season.

“It [2018 season] taught me a lot about not putting so much pressure on myself and to have fun with the game,” Bates said.

“The way I manage stress is to try to be in the moment and not overthink things.”

Emily Bates AFLW - Brisbane Lions (2)
Emily Bates splits her time between working with student-athletes at UQ & playing AFLW for Brisbane (Image: Brisbane Lions)

Despite a challenging 2018 season, Bates showed her class by again earning All Australian honours.

And over the course of the Lions’ 2019 AFLW campaign, Bates is determined to drive her teammates to reach new heights.

“What I bring to the team and leadership group is I’m constantly pushing training standards,” Bates said.

“For the young girls coming into our system, I think this will be the biggest step-up for them.

“What I will look to show them is you constantly need to improve and never be complacent in what you’re doing.”

Bates, in particular, is relishing the opportunity to mentor close friend and UQ alumni, Natalie Grider, who will contest her first AFLW season after being selected by Brisbane in the 2018 NAB AFLW Draft.

Bates and 18-year-old Grider – a Bachelor of Exercise and Sport Sciences (Honours) student and 2018 UQ Sports Achievement Scholarship recipient – share a number of similarities, having taken a similar path to reach the AFLW.

Natalie Grider AFLW (David Layden Photography)
Bachelor of Exercise and Sport Sciences (Honours) student Natalie Grider was selected at pick #22 in the 2018 AFLW Draft (image: David Layden Photography)

“We went to the same school, were both captain of the Under 18 Queensland team, she’s studying the same degree I did and she’s even a left footer!” Bates said.

“Both at the Lions and UQ, I’ll be here to support Nat manage her sport and study, and make sure football doesn’t take over.”

Bates has always had a passion for working with elite athletes, with her weekday role at the UQ Sport Academy allowing her to delve deeper into athlete welfare and personal development.

“I find being able to sit down with athletes, talk about their journey and how I can help them really rewarding.

“I provide a lot of information to UQ’s elite athletes about the many academic, financial and sporting support services available to them, and alert students to any professional development opportunities that they may benefit from.”

“I really enjoyed going down to the Gold Coast last year to watch a number of student-athletes I work with compete for UQ at the UniSport Nationals Div 1 event – it was great to see them do what they do best.

UQ’s Elite Athlete Program – delivered by the UQ Sport Academy – supports elite-level athletes to achieve academic excellence while also pursuing a sporting career.

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