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Alicia Lucas on brutal honesty, communication and pre-game confidence

Alicia Lucas (nee Quirk) has played in 28 rugby tournaments including 1 Commonwealth Games, 1 Olympics and 1 World Cup. Alicia is an Olympic Gold Medalist and current Australian Women’s 7s representative. Fellow Australian 7s teammate, Demi Hayes, chats to Alicia about insights from her rugby 7s journey and where her competitive drive came from. 

When did you start playing rugby 7s and how did you get into it? 

I was playing touch football when I got recruited to rugby 7s via a letter in the mail. At the time, they were doing a big recruitment drive for the Olympics as it had just been announced we’d been added to the Rio schedule in 2016. Rugby Australia realised they had no fulltime players, so they sent out some letters to a bunch of touchies and I was lucky enough to be one of them. I came off the back of the World Cup in touch and I went to my first ever 7s camp. I was terrified and excited, but I haven’t looked back. After those first few camps, I was picked into the first squad for the Australian Women’s 7s in 2011 and that’s where I kicked off my career. My first ever game was for Australia in a domestic tournament, I wasn’t very good, but I loved it and have kept at it since. 

Who was the first coach that influenced you in your rugby career? 

Chris Lane was the coach at the time, he was one of the first head women’s coaches. At the same time Tim Walsh (our Olympic coach) also came across from the men’s side to assist with the women. We met him at a tournament in Amsterdam and he was really great in my development as he was the first person who was brutally honest with me about what I had to work on. He was good at giving a positive sandwich by also telling me things I was really good at. He’s probably been the most influential coach throughout my career and, obviously, his record speaks for itself with how well he did guiding us through being fulltime athletes into the Olympics and beyond that. All my major tournaments I’ve had him as my coach. 

As you mentioned before you played in the Rio Olympics, you played every minute of every game in those Olympics in 2016. Can you explain the feeling after the final siren went off in the final game against the Kiwis and you realised you’d just won a gold medal? 

I was very excited, emotionally overwhelmed about the realisation that we had just achieved what we’d thought and dreamt about for so many years. I told everyone I knew that I was going to Rio to win the gold so I was a little relieved in the end that we had achieved that. Everything was in overdrive and I feel so privileged to have done it with such an amazing group of girls and family/friends packing out the stadium. Definitely something I’ll never forget. 

You’re known by the girls as the ‘work house’ or someone with big engine on the field. Did you always have that quality or is it something that comes with experience and working hard? 

I think my family all has that gene of being goers. We’re not the biggest or the strongest so we either had to run the quickest or the longest.

I’m definitely not quick so, for me, I had to run the longest. I had to work on something that put me ahead of others and the attitude and resilience that I’ve developed towards training is something that has come through experience and learning along the way.

I think some of those qualities were innately in me from my parents and those long trainings which I had to do solo. Growing up rurally meant I often trained against myself so I think I thrive on competition – when I can race against someone else, not just my imaginary partner. 

Do you feel nervous when playing for Australia? How do you manage excitement and expectation? 

I don’t find I get too nervous. When you play with the best players in the world, it’s easy to feel comfortable and reassured that your team is going to do well. Looking at the opposition, I can tell they feel more nervous than I do so that’s a good way to calm some of the stress. It’s reassuring to know we have such an aura around our team about how prepared and competent we are.

Most of the time I’m just excited to get the opportunity. We don’t get to play very regularly or consistently so I feel like it’s a waste to get nervous because the moment might be gone before it starts. I like to focus on how excited I am to have the opportunity to play and then I just let the game unfold. 

You’ve had your fair share of injury throughout your career. How do you mentally cope with missing training or a tournament due to injury? 

I’ve got some old lady knees and it wasn’t until 2018 that I had my first serious injury. Prior to that, I had played every tournament that I was physically able to. It was a bit of a shock to the system to comprehend not being out there with my team and not being able to contribute. I just knew that if I didn’t put everything into healing, there was no point to me being there. I feel like I’m very fortunate that I have a physiotherapy background so I can conceptualise what’s going wrong with my body and what I need to do to make it better. Having the right team around you definitely makes it a lot easier. 

With your upbringing in Wagga Wagga in country NSW, has this had an effect on you through your hard work and dedication? 

Coming from the bush, you have to work a lot harder for every opportunity. You need to have supportive parents who are willing to drive you to the city for tournaments. You have to take time out of school, they have to take time out of work. If you really want to achieve something, you have to work really hard because it’s not as accessible as it is in the big cities. That definitely helps build resilience and tolerance and desire to work hard consistently. Then on the flipside, small towns put so much into you. In my early days of touch, I had such great sponsors and businesses really wanted to support me. So, as a return, you want to work hard and reward them. I wanted to show them that I was a good investment. As a result, I worked harder and fought harder. 

What do you have planned beyond your career as a professional rugby player?  

There are a few things I’d like to tick off. I’d love to own my own physiotherapy practice or gym and develop that side of high-level rehabilitation for elite athletes or junior, aspiring athletes. I have been fortunate enough to be involved in a commentary mentorship and I’ve been doing some sideline and expert commentary lately in the 15s side of the game. It would be a dream to commentate on the 7s world circuit one day. If the avenue opened, I’d also love to take on some form of coaching and get into the analytical part of my brain. I’d love to pass on what I’ve learnt as a 7s player as an assistant coach or expert coach. I’d love to help athletes implement the intelligence of analyzing a game into their play and developing the mindset of setting up for a game. I’m very interested in the psyche of preparation in rugby. 

What advice would you give a young player dealing with disappointment? 

I think the biggest one I’ve learnt is the saying: you either win or you learn. I think it’s an ever-evolving process and if you want something bad enough then you don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t, because eventually it’ll work out and you’ll get to where you want to be. I know for us, we were coming 7thand 8thin the early days of the 7s in 2014.

It wasn’t until we built some experience and learnt from our losses that things started to fall into place. We learnt that we can’t just accept that result and if we want to turn our disappointment into success, we had to learn how to work hard and use the things we can control to make it better. 

What do you think is the most important thing about being a teammate? 

Number 1 is listening – I’m huge on communication not just because I love the sound of my own voice! I know how helpful it is for myself and my teammates. If you can’t find anything to talk about to help your teammates, listening is the biggest thing for me. To be the best teammate you need to do those simple things well and be there for your mate in whatever circumstance it is – whether to encourage or cover a tackle or support or tell them where to be. 

You’ve often been the first one to put your hand up when someone needs help and you’ve talked about wanting to move into coaching after playing. Was this something you always wanted to do? 

I think because rugby has given me so much, for something that I never even considered being part of my life when I was younger. I feel like coaching is the best way for me to give back and provide some insight to aspiring players. Naturally, I am drawn to helping people because of my background in Physiotherapy so my innate nature is helping anyone in obvious need. I think that side of me goes well with rugby and I think the easiest way to help is through coaching. It lets me share knowledge to help others achieve their goals. 

Alicia Quirk (nee Lucas) is now live on PlayBook in Brisbane available for one-on-one coaching, small group as well as online mentoring so book a session if you’re keen to build on your touch football or rugby union skills.

If you’d like to watch this conversation in action you can view the recording on PlayBook IGTV.

If you enjoyed this interview you may also like this chat with Australian Wallaroo, Kiri Lingman.

Feature Image supplied by Demi Hayes.

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