Don’t ever tell Adelaide Crows AFLW star Erin Phillips she can’t do something – there’s a good chance she will prove you wrong.
“When someone says to me ‘you can’t’, I almost thrive on that negativity and try to prove them wrong,” says Erin, daughter of former Port Adelaide champion Greg Phillips.
“My parents say I have always done things just to prove it can be done.”
Erin played junior footy but gave it away at 13 to focus on basketball, training with Adelaide Lightning twice a day when she was in Year 11 and 12 at Seaton High School. She made her national debut at 19, winning gold for Australia at the World Championships in Brazil, and gold again at the Commonwealth Games. That same year, she debuted in the US Women’s National Basketball Association, with Connecticut Sun.
“When the final siren went off I’ve never felt such embarrassment and failure in my life. After the Olympics I really struggled mentally and emotionally.”
She played for the Opals at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, winning silver, but was cut from the squad for London in 2012. It was one of the toughest moment of her career.
“I honestly believed I was good enough to make the team,” Erin says.
“Carrie Graff [the coach] said my shooting wasn’t as dynamic as it used to be – so I went out and worked harder. Six weeks later, during the WNBA finals, I set a record for three-point shooting percentage.”
Erin was back in the Opals squad for the 2016 Rio Olympics. They were favourites for gold, but suffered a shock loss to Serbia in the quarter-final.
“Believe it or not, losing that quarter-final was harder than not being selected for London,” Erin says. “In Rio, we were good enough to beat Serbia but didn’t play our best. When the final siren went off, I’ve never felt such embarrassment and failure in my life.
“I really struggled mentally and emotionally after the Olympics. I didn’t want to deal with the pain so I just buried it inside and moved on. I will never, ever be able to get over Rio.
“But the lessons I have learnt from the disappointments is that not everything is going to go the way you had hoped. You just have to pick yourself up and remind yourself that at the end of the day it’s just a game, and unfortunately disappointments are a part of sport.
“I use disappointments to push me for what’s next. I remind myself that the lifespan of an athlete is very small and you have to make the absolute most of your opportunities. I often ask myself, ‘What do you want people to say about you when you’re finished?’ I want them to say that Erin Phillips always gave everything she had, whether in training or a final.”
One of her fondest childhood memories is kicking the footy from dawn to dusk outside her West Lakes family home.
“If it was too dark outside I would go inside and blow up a balloon and pretend it was a football,” Erin says. “I would jump up on the back of the lounge and pretend to take a screamer until eventually I broke the back of the lounge.”
Erin, a two-time WNBA champion who now plays for the Dallas Wings, is still taking screamers and kicking long-bombs for the Adelaide Crows, which are sitting second on the AFLW ladder and could play in the Grand Final on Saturday 25 March.
“Even though I would never trade any of my experiences with basketball, there has always been a part of me that has wished to play football since I stopped when I was 13,” Erin says.
“It feels like I’m dreaming. To be able to pave the pathway for young girls who want to play footy is a privilege. There will be a huge number of girls now who will want to play but would not have pursued the sport because they never thought there would be that opportunity.
“I am beyond excited.”