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Demi Hayes on staying motivated, and driven

Demi Hayes is an Australian rugby sevens player and Commonwealth Games silver medalist. Demi has played rugby union since the age of 16 and has enjoyed many successes on the field. In this conversation Demi shares the mentors, coaches, and mindsets that have helped her stay motivated, and driven, to her Olympic Gold medal goals.

Tell us how your love of sport started?

I grew up in a country town in Queensland which was very rural. I think the only things to do were sport or school so I jumped into cross country, athletics, basketball, soccer, hockey and every other sport you can imagine. Touch football was my first love and that helped me transition into rugby. I was fortunate enough to be friends with people like Charlotte Caslick and Emilee Cherry and when I saw them go to Rio, I felt lucky to earn a contract and it was my push to get to the Australian team.

Who was the coach who influenced you in your junior days?

I had a few coaches from the Darling Downs who got me to a certain level, but I would say my Queensland Reds coaches really made the biggest impact on me. Particularly Sione Fukofuka and Lachlan Parkinson, I think they really saw something in me to be able to get to that next level. I travelled to Brisbane 3-4 times per week just to train with them (about an hour and a half from Toowoomba). Every single time I was at training they would help me, and they wouldn’t even need to think about it. They would put so much effort into me and where my career was going. Obviously getting a QLD reds jersey was a huge thing – my dad had always said “if you can play for the state that’d be really cool”. When I did that, I was quite content, but they (Sione and Lachlan) really pushed me to continue through the pathways which was really cool.

At PlayBook we talk about mentors being anyone – whether it be coaches, parents or other players. Was there anyone else that was really a driving mentor for you in those early days?

When I officially started training with the girls, I was travelling to Sydney for about a week every month, so I was in and out and I wasn’t yet a contracted player.

One day Alicia Quirk came up to me and said, “you’re doing really great at training and I can’t wait to see you in a jersey’. For her to say that me, I was amazed.

I got the call up during the Easter holidays, just before they were going to Langford. Tim Walsh called to say, ‘We’d love to have you in our squad and make your debut in Langford”. Obviously, debuts can vary greatly so I didn’t get that many minutes, but I was happy just to be there. Then I remember coming back to training a couple of weeks later and she (Alicia) was so stoked that I had worked hard and been rewarded for it. That just made a huge difference in the way I performed and, even now, that little bit of chat made a big difference.

That’s amazing to have such support within such a tight group of athletes because Alicia was really well established in her career and to have that support saying ‘you are good enough’ is amazing and it obviously gave you confidence.

Exactly! I think that also makes me look at the way I hold myself now, particularly when it comes to young girls coming up through the ranks. Even NSW domestic girls coming in and training for a few days. I think it’s super important for me to guide them. Because Quirky did that to me, I feel like I owe it to those younger girls to give them a bit of a boost. She was a big inspiration.

You touched briefly there on hard work and that’s something that we talk about at PlayBook. The idea of hard work vs talent. Do you think you can succeed with just one (talent or hard work) or is one more important than the other? Or, do you need both?

I think some athletes are lucky with the amount of talent they have but some don’t have the hard work attached which means they don’t get as far as they should.

To be honest, I don’t think you can get to your maximum capacity of talent without hard work.

There’s always going to be people who are more naturally talented than others. A lot of people are good tacklers but they’re never going to be a great tackler without the dedication to be that good. I don’t think you can get by with just one.

What’s been your career highlight to date?

I wouldn’t say there’s one. My debut was massive. The Commonwealth Games at the Gold Coast was one the most amazing experiences. Running out into the stadium and having that many people cheering for us was massive. Plus, winning a silver medal. Another one would probably be winning the World Series in 2018. When we won against France to lock out that series in Paris – that was amazing as well because I had played a lot of that season.

How do you deal with expectations?

When you have a bad game, you can always get better and do things better – whether it’s a big mistake or a little mistake. If it’s a knowledge mistake that sucks and you just have to go back and get better – that’s going to take a little while. If it’s something like a drop ball or a missed tackle, you can control that next time. When it happens to me, I find that I always have my teammates around me saying that it’s fine and it didn’t define the game. There’s never anything worse than when a teammate makes a mistake, and they just have their head down through the warm down and the warmup the next day which then leads into the next game. I think when that happens it’s really nice when someone can comfort you and say, “next time you’ll be better”.

Dealing with injury is something you’ve had a lot to do with over the past 12 months with your ankle. What would you say to any young athletes who get down about injuries?

I guess everyone’s different, but I knew inside that just doing the same thing every day – cross training and gym because I couldn’t do anything else – I knew that wasn’t ever going to solve anything. Before I went to bed and when I woke up that’s all I could think about which was awful for me. I think getting away, even if you’re young and with your family. Just to stop talking about rugby and injury, communicate about other things besides sport. Another thing that helped me was my partner, who’d already done two ACLs. Knowing that he’d been able to get through it and him sharing little things that he did. I didn’t feel as though I could come home and say ‘that day sucked’ when he’d gone through a very similar thing. That really helped me because it made me remember there are lots of other athletes who have been in very similar situations. It does come back to an individual and what you prefer but for me it was getting away and realising that there are lots of people just like you. I knew I’d be back playing rugby, but we just didn’t know when or what that would look like. Getting away definitely made me appreciate rugby and my body.

Have you ever engaged a specialist or personal coach?

When I was a lot younger, I did one-on-one athletics coaching which I found was good for me. I love questions so when it was one-on-one I was able to ask everything I wanted. When I came to rugby, after my Reds sessions I’d sometimes stay behind to do some smaller group training with one of my coaches.

I love one-on-one training because, like I said, I love questions and I value their opinion and expertise. If you get a rugby coach who’s played it before and done it before they know exactly how to answer your questions.

What advice would you have for younger players dealing with disappointment?

When I was playing touch, before I got into rugby, I was a person who was always training hard and doing everything I could to get selected, but it just didn’t happen. Then one day I had a coach pull me out of that team and put me in another team and that’s how I pursued a different career in touch. I believe persistence and hard work will always get you there. When it comes to disappointment, you have to flip that into a positive and figure out how you can then be better for next time or can be put in a better position.

If it’s not being selected in a team, that’s one of the most heartbreaking things. When that happens, I communicate with my coach and ask: ‘what do I need to do to be picked next time’.

I wouldn’t say I compare myself to other players but if people are better than me, I want to be better. Disappointment is inevitable but in rugby there’s lots of things you can figure out just by asking questions.

Being a good teammate, what do you think that looks like?

You need to be honest, resilient and hard working. Rugby is tough so you need to be able to deal with that every day – the physicality of the game, gym, training. You need to be a hard worker and then nobody will ever call you out. You need to put in 100% every day and that makes a great teammate.

Demi is available for coaching on PlayBook now:

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