Kyah Simon: Levelling the playing field
Do you know the name Tim Cahill? What about Harry Kewell? And Kyah Simon? Perhaps not the latter. But you should – because this striker is doing just as amazing things for the sport of football “soccer” in Australia as her male counterparts.
Representing the country for 10 years, Kyah has notched up such credentials as kicking the winning goal to take the Matildas to the quarterfinals in 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup (securing Australia’s first ever knockout victory), as well as scoring the winning penalty to win the 2010 Asian Cup.
And just like the top boys of the sport, Kyah has also been snapped up by international teams – signing on with the Boston Breakers in the US in 2012; a move that saw her become one of the leading goal scorers in the nation. While taking a break from her US commitments this year, Kyah’s hands have been full with her home team Sydney FC recently making it to the semi-finals of the W-League.
On the back of yesterday’s revelations by the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) that it will be boosting the standards, pay and professionalism of women’s football in Australia – as part of its ‘Grassroots to Greatness Roadmap’ – we sat down with Kyah to chat about her experiences.
Inspiring a whole generation of younger soccer players through her Kyah Simon Football Clinics and a country of women looking to prove their worth in predominantly male-dominated territory – Kyah is raising the profile of women succeeding in sport. The playing field is being levelled.
How much training do you have to do every day?
It’s a combination between team training sessions and individual sessions. We have three field training sessions a week and then I do two football specific strength-based gym sessions a week on top of that and then a couple of extra fitness sessions.
So you’re training every day?
Pretty much. I probably have one day off a week and that’s a recovery day after the game.
Football is a bit of a male-dominated sport. Is that tough for someone that’s at the top of the game as a female?
It is pleasing to see the progression that has been made over the past eight or so years since I’ve been in the national team, but obviously we’re still continually fighting for getting better conditions and better treatment. Hopefully, either before I retire or after I retire, it’s at a good level for the next-generation to come through and reap the benefits.
Is football your full-time career?
It changes. When I play for Boston Breakers in America professionally – in the National Women’s Soccer League – it is a full-time profession, which is great because I go to training for two hours a day, come home and I’ve got the rest of the day to just do whatever I want. In Australia, it’s not a full-time profession in the W-League, so I’ve actually got a job with BT Financial Group. I’ve been on extended leave due to the Olympic year last year and me being overseas. I’ve been a part of BT Financial Group since I first got the job in 2014 when I was going through a knee reconstruction. I had that whole year off, so I was out of the game for 12 to 15 months. It was a great opportunity for me to really dive into the corporate world and then be able to sustain a general 9-to-5 job. I’m looking at going back to this year in April for two to three times a week.
Is it hard to do all your training and maintain a full-time job?
Going from a 9-to-5 job and then having to go to training and train at peak performance is difficult, especially for the girls that have retail jobs and they’re on their feet every second of the day. That’s where you go back to the conditions and being a professional footballer – how much easier would it be, and how much better would we be as a nation, if we were full-time professional athletes; if we went and trained for the day and got remunerated for our efforts and didn’t have to go stand on our feet for eight hours or hold down another job. You’re only in football for so long, so you really need to exhaust that opportunity as much as you can and be training as hard as you can every moment that you get – and not being at 70 per cent because you’re exhausted from the whole day’s work.
Would you ever return to America to be a full-time footballer?
The whole purpose for this year was having a break. I was contracted to go back, but I felt like I mentally and physically needed a freshen up year. Since as long as I can remember, I’ve always run myself into the ground and just continued to go – from the American season to W-League and back and forth… pretty much since I was 16 years of age. It’s pretty crazy to think that it’s been non-stop like that for 10 years and the only break I got was when I was doing my knee rehab – and even then I was still training eight times a week.
As an athlete, you feel your body tries to tell you in a roundabout way that you need a break – that you need recovery. I had that thought at the back end of last year when I had to tell Boston that I wasn’t going back. I really felt strongly about my decision to stay local this year and really work on my individual game. It’s so hard to do individual training and really work on your own game when you’re in back-to-back seasons. That’s what I really want to focus on football-wise – being the best footballer I can be. The fact that I’m not going overseas doesn’t mean I won’t be training, it just means I’m really focussed on what I need to do to continue to be at my best and get even better in certain areas individually as well as opportunities away from football. Really freshen up in terms of my mental space and physically get my body right.
How many years do you feel like you’ve got left in the game?
I would like to get in at a minimum another World Cup/Olympics – which is another four years. That will take me to 30 – which means 15 years of representing Australia! A lot can happen in four years, but the biggest thing will be how my body holds up. But that’s my aim at a minimum, and whatever opportunities arise, then we will come to that when it happens.
Do you feel your indigenous background means there’s more responsibility for you to be successful and to be a role model?
I definitely feel that, but for me it doesn’t seem like a responsibility because I’m so passionate about it. I was in a similar position when I was eight years old of Cathy Freeman inspiring me, and I feel like it can be a bit of a domino effect – hopefully I can be a part of that to influence the next-coming generations. She really created that fire in my belly to want to be an elite athlete and to represent Australia. As a sportsperson, there’s no better feeling than representing your country and I’m hoping that I can share those same aspirations to younger Aboriginal kids or the Indigenous community. Every time I wear the Australian jersey, I’m not just representing the Australian people, but my background and my community as well. That is definitely something close to me that I take with a lot of pride.
How do you motivate yourself on days when you really don’t want to train?
Success at the end of the day drives me and the thought that no one else is going to do it for you – YOU have to do it. We’re in a very competitive profession and if you don’t perform, then your spot is going to get taken. It’s not always going to be there.
I think the thought that someone else in the world is always going to be training harder than you is something that drives me as well. I want to be the best and I want to win a gold medal and win a World Cup with the Matildas – we’re in a team sport, so everyone has to hold up their end of the bargain. At the end of the day, as an athlete in a team sport, you don’t want to be the weakest link. That’s something that’s always in the back of my mind.
What has been your hardest moment as a professional athlete?
When I had my ACL was probably the biggest one, but it definitely made me mentally stronger and tougher. It was a year I really found myself – I got to see what my life is away from football. It’s really hard to be away from the team as you kind of get forgotten about when you’re not there – and then you have to work your your arse off to get back into your spot.
Where are you hoping to see Australian women’s football in 10 years time?
I’m hoping to see it being a full-time profession where girls can have a salary to live off. Not have to work a 9-to-5 job. I really want to see big companies, organisations and brands really find value in female footballers. There’s so much value in the sport as it is now, it’s growing tremendously, and what better market than strong female footballers that perform on the world scale. I look forward in 10 years to seeing it being a fully established profession for female footballers if it continues to grow at the pace it is at the moment.
Interview and images by Husskie editor Yelena Fairfax.