Overcoming the harshest critic; yourself

VIS hockey athlete and Jillaroos defender, Emily Hamilton-Smith, is living her dream whilst being her own barrier to success.

You have talent and others see it in you.

You have ambition, a trait fostered in you by those who know it to be a prerequisite for sporting success.

Soon enough representative squads replace your local teams and the doors to elite sporting programs open for you.

A dream, your sporting dream, is coming true.

But what if all of the talent and encouragement and first-rate coaching and fun of junior success leaves you wondering if you, YOU, are worthy of the investment and expectation?

Victorian Institute of Sport athlete, Emily Hamilton-Smith, has an answer to the question.

Hamilton-Smith, 21, is a member of the Jillaroos, the Australian under 21 hockey squad. She has won an under 21 national championship with Victoria and will step out tonight for Hockey Club (HC) Melbourne for the start of the Hockey One national league season. She is on familiar terms with success.

And yet “crippling self-doubt and zero self-belief” – issues counterintuitively common for many elite athletes – have shadowed her path.

The talented defender from Mt Eliza on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsular is open about this reality and the strategies she employs not only to cope but to thrive as an aspiring Hockeyroo.

“I’ve been horrible with my self-talk,” Hamilton-Smith admits.

“Throughout my sporting journey so far, I’ve been my hardest critic. As a result, I’ve suffered from crippling self-doubt and at times, zero self-belief. I received my VIS scholarship in 2019, and what should have been such an exciting and rewarding time in my life, soon became really difficult."

“The constant comparison I made with myself and other athletes was really impacting my performance and in time my enjoyment for the game. My mind would create false narratives and the smallest setback or even feedback would send me spiraling.”

“I had never felt so low about my value as a hockey player, but also as a person. I soon became aware that something had to change and I couldn’t keep going like this. With the help of the VIS I began seeking help from a psychologist, I began vocalizing my thoughts and embracing how I felt, rather than pushing it aside.”

This process led to an understanding of preparation for Hamilton-Smith that is as much mental as physical. Speaking up to express vulnerabilities or wrestle with doubts is, to Hamilton-Smith, critical.

“Preparing is as important as competing. I’m huge at writing things down; my thoughts, feelings, goals, etc,” she says.

“Preparing myself mentally looks like speaking to our VIS psychologist Emma and checking in with coaches. Touching base and verbalizing how I am feeling allows me to gain access to tools I can use when I am away or feeling anxious and stressed.”

“I know first-hand how much speaking up and telling someone how and what you are feeling can help. Whether to a loved one, friend or professional, actually verbalizing the narratives and false truths you have created is critical for a healthy mind.

“The more we keep our negative thoughts on rotation in our head, the more they begin to take over and your brain starts to believe them. You cannot ever expect to perform well, or even be the best version of yourself,  when you are having these types of thoughts constantly.

“I strive to be a passionate and curious person and when I’m not feeling great internally it’s almost impossible to portray that externally. I train and work my best when I’m feeling mentally healthy. I am the best daughter, partner and friend if I’m not distracted by my own unhelpful thoughts.”

In her way, Hamilton-Smith speaks to the VIS philosophy of striving for success in sport and life. That the person and the performer are inextricably linked and both must be prioritized.

“You can eat well, practice meditation, lift heavy but without being in a positive mental state, you cannot expect to perform well,” she says.

“A coach, who has and continues to have such a profound impact on my life on and off the field, told me that I am my own barrier to success. This was obviously difficult to hear but it created a world of change.

“It opened up opportunities for me to go and get the help I need so I don’t let my mind stop me from achieving my childhood dream of representing my country.

“To be able to speak with a professional in a timely manner is something that every athlete within the VIS should be so grateful for.”

The Hockey One competition is Australia’s premier field hockey domestic competition, contested by seven states and territories. Find out more about Hockey One at hockeyone.com.au.

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