From netball to football to study to motherhood ... back to football?

FROM Netball to football, a PhD, taking a year away from the game to study at Cambridge and Boston University and now, pregnancy.

Erin Hoare isn't your average ruck.

Hoare played the 2019 AFLW season with Geelong after moving from Melbourne, but told the Cats she would not be able to sign a contract for 2020 after earning two fellowships to continue her study overseas.

Currently at Cambridge University in the UK, Hoare's research involves, in her words, "applying different statistical techniques to data sets to see what exactly is happening in people's lives, and trying to come up with strategies that could be really helpful" for mental health.

She has already completed a PhD at Deakin University in Geelong, and her new study continues her previous research.

Like all good tap rucks, Hoare has a strong sense of timing, pregnant with her first child with husband Chris and is due in the new year.

But a comeback to football is a thought that won't quite leave the back of her head.

"It's really, really wonderful for Chris and me. There are obviously multiple reasons why this year was right, timing-wise," Hoare told womens.afl.

"The major one, of course was knowing I'd be stepping away from football next season and knowing it could take up my sole focus. In the back of my mind, I'm thinking about steps towards returning to football at some level.

"I'm very aware that things can be quite unknown and want to be realistic that the first goal is to have a healthy and happy baby, but I can't lie, it's in the back of my mind.

"I had a foot injury at the end of the VFLW season last year, I had foot surgery then essentially missed the main pre-season of 2019 AFLW. So, in some ways, I don't feel like I was able to perform this year the way I could.

"I'll prioritise having a healthy baby, and the things I can control in terms of rehab and getting my body into a state it needs to be at in order to compete and to play football. Then I'll see what happens, but it's certainly something I will consider."

SHOOTING GOALS TO KICKING MAJORS

Hoare's sporting story began on the netball courts that abut GMHBA Stadium, within the Kardinia Park complex, as a goaler for St Mary's Sporting Club.

"I played pretty much with the same club from the age of 10 to 22 or 23 and only entered the elite competition later on," Hoare said.

"I mostly loved the social aspects and the structure sport gave me, being involved in a community club and what that was able to do for my confidence and friendships and understanding how teams work together."

She didn't go through the traditional representative pathway most netballers take in juniors, instead jumping all the way up to the Melbourne Vixens in her early 20s.

"I spent a few years in the system, and I was adjusting to that elite environment, which was quite different form the community sport I played. I ended up moving out of the system because of my studies that were going on at the same time," Hoare said.

"When AFLW started, I'd just come back from overseas. I watched the games, and in a similar story to a lot of other players who picked it up late, I was just so inspired and just so refreshed by this change in sport, these opportunities and skills required to play football. 

"Having watched my brothers play growing up, I knew a lot about the game but never saw it as a space for women. To finally see it was just the most extraordinary feeling and just something I wanted to be a part of. Geelong had a (VFLW) women's football program commencing, I had the opportunity to go and train, and then it just went from there."

Hoare graduated from the VFLW Cats to play for Melbourne in 2018, returning back to Geelong in 2019 when the club entered an AFLW side for the first time.

"Geelong is quite a tight-knit community and my netball court was literally right next to GMHBA Stadium, so it was quite surreal, coming back to Geelong," she said.

"I was able to play with girls I started with only a few years prior, and the Cats have such a wonderful culture with the women's program embedded in the club.

"Women's football does that to people because you're part of a team, you belong and there's no questions asked. It doesn't matter where you've come from, who you are or how loud or quiet you are, you've got a role to play and you're not excluded for any reason."

OVERSEAS OPPORTUNITIES 

Hoare's study will next year take her to Boston University in the US, taking up a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship.

"The purpose of it is to establish strong connections and collaborations between the US and other countries, supporting bilateral collaborations and learn from one another in an academic and cultural sense," Hoare said.

"It's an academic exchange program, but it's far more community focused, trying to work together to do social good. It's pretty special to be a part of."

Hoare's study is focusing on data that has been recorded around the world and trying to develop strategies for young people to aid their mental health, in conjunction with medical and/or psychological support.

"Obviously, we can't assume it's purely something to do with physical activity or that could be a solution for everyone, because mental health is far, far more complex than that," she said.

"Self-care – including physical exercise – is so important, but it's so individual as well. In the elite environment, as an athlete, you can have challenges that are directly related to sport that can pose mental health challenges.

"Part of my work is to map out that complexity and ultimately try to help people the best way we can. The most important thing to know is research is on-going, there is treatment and support options available and these are things that are becoming more understood at community level, which is great."