Kiri is now in her second year with the Wallaroos and has represented QLD in both formats of Rugby Union. But before playing Rugby Union, Kiri was a netballer. Kiri tells us about transitioning to a new sport and also her transformation from being a timid athlete to building aggression and wanting to be involved in every tackle. Kiri also tells us about the influence of great mentors and coaches in her sporting journey. Kiri’s mum, Shelley Lingman, was the first female coach for the Wallaroos and Kiri shares her insights on the impact Shelley has had on the women’s game in Australia.
Growing up you played Netball. Why did you change over to Rugby Union?
It was in the time when there were whispers that Rugby 7’s was going to be an Olympic Sport. I played a 7’s tournament in High School, which I was terrible at. I wasn’t over Netball but I was looking for something a bit different. Rugby has always been in the back of my mind. I had known a couple of friends that were playing and one day I just went down to the closest Rugby Club to my house and went and had a go.
I played both Netball and Rugby for a couple of years. Once rugby started to pick up a little more it was become too difficult to manage the two sports. I got to stage where I definitely had to decide, I saw a future in Rugby and went with that one.
When was the point that you had to give up netball?
It was just before I had made Wallaroos, I was lucky enough to be a part of a National Squad and I decided that I was going to put all of my chips into Rugby Union and say goodbye to Netball.
Did any of your skills translate from Netball to Rugby?
Hugely! If there is one sport that you can transition into a lot of other sports, it is netball. Netballers are renowned for their agility and ball skill. Being able to catch a ball, pass in any direction, footwork and co-ordination in general is everything I got from Netball. Even while I was playing the two sports, I was taking skills from both sports and using with the other. I wouldn’t be in the position I am today if I hadn’t played both sports.
How about running?
Running is something I struggled with when transitioning over. When you think about Netball you are working in a court that is 30 metres long and depending where you play you are even working in a space that is 10-20 metres. At any point in time you are probably only moving 5-10 metres rapidly. Transitioning to Rugby where you have a 100 metre space and having to accelerate for at least 50 metres at a time. I was used to the short sharp footwork, I didn’t have the long acceleration that was needed. I am still working on it. That was probably the biggest thing, the straight line running and the longer acceleration periods.
When you first transitioned across from Netball to Rugby Union was playing it professionally always something you wanted to do?
I think I had aspirations when I first started playing. I was shocking when I first started playing Rugby. I couldn’t tackle, I was scared, I didn’t really know what I was doing. The first few years I had my doubts that anything was going to take off with it. After a few games I started to realise I was doing a few good things. That’s when the determination kicked in. I worked really hard to get to a point where I knew what I was doing and I was performing really well.
Going in as a Flanker, you are involved in nearly every play. So going from being scared to where you are now is amazing!
I think with everyone you discover different things about yourself with sport and life. When I first came to Rugby most players will just go straight to the wing, but with my height and build, I went straight into the second row. A year after I had a go at Full-Back. It is quite funny, I went from being timid and just wanting to play the ball and now I find myself wanting to be in the middle of everything, the tackling and you build this aggression, which I don’t know where it came from, it just developed. I could’t see myself playing anything but flanker.
Being a professional athlete, you juggle multiple roles, you are studying PR & Communications, working 9-5 as well as training. How do you stay organised?
At the start it is definitely a blur. Sometimes you do just have to stop, my biggest thing is asking for help when you need it. Those first few years, I thought I could do it all, it be a few weeks into Uni, work and training that I would just crumble with the pressure of everything. Once you have been through it you do realise you need help and you learn to prioritise certain things. In saying that, I have had so much help from coaches, University, professors, Griffith Sports College, family and friends to help me along the way. It is a weird and wonderful journey and it somehow manages to pan out as it should in the end.
Your mother, Shelley Lingman, was the first female coach of the Wallaroos, did she have an impact on you when you transitioned to Rugby?
Not so much at the beginning, more so recently. I didn’t actually know how big or the impact of what she did or who she was as a coach. Going into it I didn’t realise until I started making representative sides and focusing on Wallaroos. You get there and you don’t quite understand the significance of having not just people that want the sport to do well, but female figures especially 24 years ago, that had such an impact on where the sport is today. That is something I have learnt more so now than when I first started. It is a major reason as to why I am continuing and pushing so hard.
What are some of the in roads your mum created for women playing Rugby Union?
Equality. She always talks about fighting for just simple equals rights in comparison to the men. Things like not having to pay for uniforms and trips. Getting to the point where they had tour allowances. Having someone who genuinely believed in what the players were doing, who they were as people and what they were trying to achieve makes all the difference regardless of how much money has been put into it. Having a coach that can take a squad of 30 girls and get them to believe in themselves, as players and people.
Was your mother an inspiration for you to continue in to Rugby Union or is it driven internally by you to stay in Rugby League?
I draw a lot of inspiration not only from playing for my family, but in how hard my mum worked. I also find inspiration by being a pioneer in this sport, especially in this point of time because Rugby Union is doing so many firsts. It might seem small at the moment but down the track young girls might be doing this as a career and you were the first person to do it. Us doing it successfully makes it easier for them.
Your mother presented you with your first ever Australian Jersey, what did this mean to you?
If you saw the video, I am an absolute mess. My face is red and blotchy, they didn’t tell me it was happening and it was a complete surprise. I am just sitting there off with the pixies, having the time of my life, and about to get my first Australian jersey. Then my mum just walks down the middle. I tried not to be emotional but I was crying a lot. It was very special.
Who can say their own mother presented them with their Australian jersey? It is something I will hold on to for the rest of my life.
Having a parent who is a professional coach, how does that change post game debriefs in your household?
I avoid my parents house if I haven’t played well. Both of my parents love Rugby, they both played and coached. The debriefs are very technical to the point where they remember, to the minute, of what I didn’t do or where I wasn’t where I was supposed to be. I would speak to them after games thinking I did well, but they would say “I don’t know if you know, but in the 30th minute your body weight was too far to the right and you missed that tackle”. They are my harshest critics, but also my biggest fans. I trust everything that they say. They have allowed me to do this for such a long time. So, basically I owe them the world.
In your career in both Netball and Rugby, which coaches have had the biggest impact on you?
With netball, I wasn’t the typical netballer and there were a few coaches that allowed me to just play and I appreciated that. Coming into Rugby Union, two that really stand out are Moana Virtue, she is the Wallaroos Assistant Coach now, and she is the Head Coach of the Sunnybank Women’s team. She is definitely someone that pushed me in my development. Moana is very honest and upfront about what you are as a player. There were times where she didn’t pick me for Club sides because I wasn’t good enough at the time, an experience which makes you better. Like my mum, she is someone who has played so she knows what we are going through. The way that she approaches the game is unique, she is very approachable and is in the mix with current players.
Another one is Lachlan Parkinson, he does elite performance at the Reds for Women’s 7’s. He is someone who at the time, when I was wondering if I would ever crack into the sport representatively in QLD, he took a lot of time to work with me and gave me a position within the QLD Academy of Sport and National 7’s.
I think at times he saw something in me that I didn’t even see in myself. They are two coaches that I am really thankful for along the way.
You have played with the QLD Reds in the inaugural Super W and the AON 7’s. What is the experience playing both formats?
Super W was surreal as much as it was normal. Playing that kind of format of national Rugby is something we spoke about for so long and something women wanted for a long time. For it to just be here and happening was surreal, it seemed like such a normal and great thing to be a part of. To have the format where you are consistently playing high performance Rugby each week, to have it broadcast and the media exposure was fantastic.
With the AON Series it is different because 7’s is so popular. You have the identifiable pathway in the 7’s and to have the opportunity to be picked to represent your country at the Olympics is surreal.
What were the takeaways you got from both of the competitions?
Personally, I have a lot of work to do in the off season. Everyone is always wanting to improve physically in some kind of aspect. They are very good at giving you feedback and giving you your PB’s and keeping you on track so you know what you are working towards. I think for me it is just knowing I can do it, taking the time and understanding that is important to me and mentally knowing you can do it so you can last a whole season.
Is playing both 7’s and XV’s complementary?
I think everyone is in a different boat. Not everyone can play both or want to play both formats. A lot of it is preference. I personally think anyone can play both, depending on which level you get to. For me, being a forward I am not the fastest person on the paddock so I definitely have a different 7’s style to your typical player. The type of contact you’re doing in XV’s is crucial to what you are doing in 7’s. The defending one-on-one you take back into XV’s. I like playing both of them.
I wouldn’t be the 7’s players that I was if I didn’t play XV’s and vice versa. I want to keep doing both as long as I can, there will probably come a day where I have to choose, but at the moment you can play both.
With Wallaroos, they are building their high performance pathways and adding more test matches and the World Cup coming up. Eventually they will want their players to be full time and will have to choose between the sports. The Aussie 7’s team are some of the most phenomenal athletes you will ever meet in your life. Where as the Wallaroos have their own specific things such as me being a flanker I need to be a bit heavier than the rest of the field. Transitioning into sevens you do need to be a bit faster, so it gets to a point where physically you need to pick something.
Injuries happen in every sport. Last year, when you tore your hamstring off your pelvis, you describe yourself as a ‘nightmare of a human’. How did you try and stay positive during the rehab process?
I was definitely a nightmare with that injury. In happened 4 weeks before the World Cup. I was supposed to go over to Japan for a 3 month contract and I lost that. For me it was never a question of what was I going to do or how, I was going to get back. I got caught up in having to work so hard to get back as quick as I could and having this miracle rehab. I didn’t realise that I just needed to go through the process, that did get to me mentally. I was lucky enough to be with the QLD Academy of Sport for 7’s at the time. They took on my rehab full time, my coach was fantastic, basically any time I wanted to train I could. We had plans and time frames in place and everything was going perfectly, so when I hit speed bumps I didn’t know what to do which affected me mentally. Now I realise that injury is sport, it happens to everyone. I am not the first person to get injured and I definitely not going to be the last person, it is the risk you take and part of the sacrifice you make.
It builds your character as an athlete. The biggest thing I found to stay positive was the people I surrounded myself with. My family, coaching staff and physios were the people I found the most solace in.
You have already mentored a number of young athletes. Here at PlayBook we thing Mentorship is huge and it can the catalyst for athletes to play to their potential. What do you think a good mentoring relationship looks like?
I think it is one of the most important things in sport. To have a mentor or someone who’s been there before or just to talk to. They are someone who recognises things in yourself that you don’t recognise is monumental in where you get to as an athlete. There wouldn’t be any athlete who has made a national representative team that doesn’t have that one person who helped them get there. A mentor relationship can mean the difference between being successful. A healthy mentor relationship is open and it gets you to where you want to be.
Train with Kiri: http://bit.ly/2DuDa0q Feature Image via Kiri Lingman’s Instagram