What does it take to be an Australian Elite Athlete?


I am sure we have all been inspired recently by the heroic feats of our Olympic and Paralympic athletes as they compete in Tokyo for Gold medal glory – but what of the sacrifices of them and their families.

Local volleyballer Shona Howie knows a little bit about the sacrifices, hard work and dedication it takes to excel at sport.

They say it takes a village and in Shona’s case her village included her school – Mandurah Baptist College. Shona followed her older brother into the sport once old enough and when she reached high school, she already had advanced skills and a keen understanding of the game standing out at the Australian Volleyball School Cup events. She said “School provided a great environment for me to learn the skills I needed as well as letting me know that it was ok to make mistakes as long as I learned from them. The older kids in the volleyball program encouraged me to go further with volleyball as they would always talk about the amazing opportunities, they had access to by playing volleyball in state teams, travelling to America, and playing at the Australian Volleyball Academy in Canberra “.

Shona has been selected to train at the Peel Academy of Sport. This means she completes 3 skills sessions per week, 1 game a week and 2 gym sessions.

On top of all of that she faces several challenges being a regional athlete. Shona said, “most people underestimate how difficult it is being a regional athlete. The travel to Perth is the most common thing talked about and it is quite hard. Whilst I was in school, I would try and study on the drive up with my parents, however with trainings sometimes ending at 10pm, it was hard to study on the way home. Another challenge I faced was if there were social events, I would often miss out on them due to the fact that at the time I didn’t have my license. It was hard for me to ask my parents to drive up 7 days a week to Perth just for me to have a social gathering to bond with my team.

Through Volleyball WA, athletes have access to a strength and conditioning program trial at Diamond Fitness, a gym becoming one of the most popular with athletes to utilise. Unfortunately, it is located in Osborne Park, so it was unrealistic to travel to, just for a strength and conditioning program. This makes it sound like there are so many downsides to being a regional athlete but at the end of the day, I chose to play volleyball and pursue it”.

Following her selection for the Peel Regional Academy of Sport, Shona now has access to a strength and conditioning program that is tailored to assist with recovery and injury prevention. She has two coaches, who are consistently on hand to help with correcting technique or challenging her to push herself with the exercises. The Academy have supplied a nutritionist, who has helped her tweak her eating habits to ensure her body is getting the right nutrients at the correct time. Shona credits the Academy staff for helping her to feel stronger and healthier on the court after just two months.

Shona’s Volleyball role model has to be her older brother Sheehan. “He joined the state program back in 2016 and had been playing volleyball for many years prior to that. In volleyball you need to be quite tall as many would know, however, Sheehan wasn’t exactly the tallest of kids. He didn’t let his height stop him and he put countless hours into going to the gym to train in order to be able to jump as high as the other kids. He learnt to perfect his technique so that there wasn’t anything he could be faulted on. He did everything he could in order to be just as good, if not better than the taller kids. While he is only playing socially right now, when I hear him talk about volleyball, I feel more inspired to work hard at training because I want to be just as good as him one day”.

As for advice to younger athletes, Shona says “first and foremost go out and enjoy yourself as you will play better when you are having fun. Always work hard, in trainings you may think you’ve reached your limit and you just wish you would be able to sit out for a few minutes and take a breather but it’s especially in those moments where you need to give 110%. This is because in a game, when you’ve reached the fifth set and you’re worn out, in the middle of a point, you don’t get to just sit down and take a break because every point counts and you can’t just give up mid game”.

“Another thing I would tell them is that you should never take any game or training for granted. I was always told that sport is a privilege and that there are so many people waiting who didn’t make the team who would be wishing they had your spot”.

Shona is focused on completing her University degree, making the state U23 and representing her state.

The Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries have travel help available for regional athletes now. https://www.dlgsc.wa.gov.au/funding/sport-and-recreation-funding/regional-athlete-travel-subsidy-scheme

For other information about Volleyball in WA please contact Volleyball WA on 9228 8522 or visit www.volleyballwa.com.au.