Erica Fowler is a current AFLW player for Collingwood. Erica was first drafted to Collingwood in 2018 and had previously been part of the QAS Rugby 7s program and a training partner with the Brisbane Lions AFLW. Erica is a qualified paramedic and is passionate about maintaining sport/life balance, we chat about how Erica found that focus, and determination, through experience and the influence of sporting mentors in both Rugby 7s and Australian Football.
You started your AFL career later in life. I believe you first started in rugby; how did you get into rugby?
I was such a tomboy growing up so all my guy friends at school were playing it. I just thought it looked fun. Mum put me into fun-net which is the Aus-kick equivalent for netball. I went to the first session and remember coming home and telling her that I really didn’t like it. I told her I wanted to play rugby and she was really supportive. I think I was about 6 years old and I just fell in love with the sport. I played it right up until I got drafted and I think it could be my favourite sport of all time.
You stopped playing at around 11 years, why was that?
I’ve got a really bad memory of it, but I just remember being in the playground at school one day and our director of rugby came up to me with a newspaper article. He brought up some stuff about girls having changing bodies and shouldn’t play sport while they’re going through puberty. He basically told me that was the last year I would be playing rugby. At that young age, I didn’t really question it or comprehend what was being said – I just accepted that I couldn’t play anymore.
Mum was really quick in directing me to a new sport and that was soccer but as soon as I found out the high school had a senior girls rugby team, I was straight into that and couldn’t wait to go back to it.
At home, I was definitely one of the few girls who played rugby and I definitely felt alone. Coming to Melbourne, though, I’ve found that a lot of girls had similar experiences and there’s so many similar stories.
As a rugby player, you were identified as a talent by the Brisbane Lions and asked to come across to train with the team. How did you feel about being coached in a different sport?
I got asked to go and fill in for a local team by a girl I knew from rugby. I had no idea what I was doing but I just have a big kick. They then had a talent ID day and I just thought I may as well give it a crack. They obviously saw some potential in me because I was then offered a spot. I’d heard about the AFLW coming into their inaugural season and I was excited by the opportunity to learn. I was already in the squad for 7s and we were in our off-season so I just gave it a go and I fell in love with the game. Experiencing the high-performance environment and being able to see what they were trying to create for the women’s game was really inspiring. That was my drive because it was something that I really wanted to be part of.
You missed out on that inaugural season draft. As someone who is so determined, how did that go?
For the inaugural season, I never expected much. It was just an honour to be invited to train and be part of that emerging program. Going into the second season, I was still playing rugby so I was pretty torn between the 2 sports. I was already part of the Queensland Academy of Sport for 7s so I was pretty set on continuing with that. We had the uni 7s series starting that year as well which I was keen to be part of.
At that point, I was probably only half putting in the effort for AFL. It was disappointing to not be drafted but I also realised that I can’t expect a spot if I don’t put the effort in. It was a good realisation for me to decide that I needed to pick – did I want to keep going with rugby or did I want to give AFL a proper crack?
I decided I had to give it 100% so I met with Craig Starcevich, the Lions’ coach, and I got to be part of the training squad again. That was when I decided I needed to choose 1 sport. It was hard leaving the performance level of rugby and going back to a community level in AFL. It was a really tough decision to make at the time, but I definitely think it’s paid off.
I heard on a podcast that during your first AFLW game you had so much nervous energy that you felt like playing 2 games. How do you deal with those nerves now?
I just revert back to music and I’ve definitely changed the type of music that I listen to and try to take the pressure off. I remember I was so nervous for that game and I put too much pressure on myself. Playing against Geelong, it was their inaugural game as well so there was a lot of hype around it. I try to go into a game now knowing what I have to do and try not to overthink it. All you need to think about is what you need to do in that game and play your role. I think I’ve levelled out a bit now so I’m able to focus in. I’ve taught myself not to overthink things so now I feel a lot calmer.
You’ve had a few setbacks in selection. How have you dealt with them and then been able to turn those experiences into positives?
I think it’s based around just wanting to be better. Not even just better for myself but also better for my teammates, my club, my coach. The drive for me was when I didn’t get invited back to the 7s one year. I was at the start of my grad year for paramedics and I couldn’t play a lot because of how shift work operates. That was a big realisation of how much I was willing to push myself to make it happen and keep playing. I realised how much I missed team sports and being around those people. That was back in 2015 and it really ignited my passion and determination. I was invited back the following year.
Having the year off helped me redefine my goals and decide what’s important. It unleashed a level of determination and resilience that I never even knew I had.
How do you see the future of the women’s AFL pathways progressing?
The pathway for the girls is so much better even now. They come through the junior ranks and go into the NAB academy then NAB league and into the AFL. We already have girls now in the AFLW that have come through the pathway and, as years go by, you will see the effect of having that academy. In a few years, you’ll definitely see girls coming out of the academy and playing just as well as the 18yo boys. To see that in the next 5-10 years will just raise the standard of the competition even more.
We love talking about role models. Who are some of the best sporting role models who have influenced you?
I think my 2 biggest role models would be Emilee Cherry (Australian rugby 7s) and Sharni Layton (now Sharni Norder) (Collingwood AFLW). They’re quite different role models in themselves. I got to play with Emilee in the UQ 7s series and just the way she would conduct herself on and off the field. She’d give invaluable advice to us all and she inspired me. She’s obviously very talented but just the type of person she is, it was really humbling to play with her. From the moment I met Sharni, there was just something about her. She’s this big personality but she always puts 110% into everything – whether that’s her recovery, gym, on the field, off the field. Her presence is just so infectious. She’s got the experience of playing elite sport for the past 16 years and it’s just her level of athleticism with the way she holds herself, it’s really inspiring.
How important do you think it is to have balance?
Finding what makes you happy and having those outlets is so important – not only for your physical health but also your mental health. It’s something that I’m very strong on. You can have your work or uni or school, but you also need to have something that relaxes you. To be able to find that balance, makes it easier if one aspect of your life isn’t going exactly to plan. Obviously, AFL is my outlet, but if a training session doesn’t go my way or if it’s stressing me out, I have music or surfing which can counterbalance it. For me, my mental health is so important.
If you’re interested in reading more about Mindfulness and Sport you may like this article with insights from Jason Patchell, Surfing Australia’s Sports Psychologist
Erica is now live on PlayBook and you can book a session: https://playbook.coach/coaches/1061