'Beaten by the idea': AFLW star Alyce Parker lifts lid on mental demons

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Pictured here, Alyce Parker of the GWS Giants hold her trophy after being named in the AFLW's All- Australian team in 2021.
Alyce Parker of the GWS Giants hold her trophy after being named in the AFLW's All- Australian team in 2021. Pic: Getty

Challenges can come in all shapes and sizes and a myriad of forms on the footy field, with the mental game just as crucial as the physical battle for many players.

AFLW young gun Alyce Parker knows the feeling of being "mentally hijacked" all too well, and admits that a brutal experience early in her career, taught her a valuable lesson about overcoming those inner demons.

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Speaking to Yahoo Sport Australia for the Mind Games Series, Parker admits that "when you don't overcome a mental challenge, it really hones in."

The Greater Western Sydney star, 21, earlier this year took out the Giants' top individual honour after being named the club's best and fairest player.

The young onballer is also a two-time All-Australian and has established herself as one of the brightest stars in the women's game.

That's not to say it's been all smooth sailing for the 21-year-old, who says one particularly dark day on the footy field, gave her a brutal insight into what it takes to succeed in the AFLW.

"I had a very profound experience in my second year. The game had a bit of weight behind it in terms of the team's performance," she recalls.

"I found this inability to get near the ball or perform my role or to help my teammates. There was something that was really stopping me."

Parker was actually referring to the opposition 'tagger' - the player whose specific role was to hound the GWS star at every given opportunity, sticking to the Giants ace like glue to diminish her effectiveness in the match.

"The opponent I was up against had an amazing physical presence which mentally, really challenged me," she says.

"I was constantly hampered by this idea that 'I'm out today, I can't play my footy'.

"I was pretty much beaten by the idea, not the actual actions that were going on.

"When someone has been asked to go out on that field and not leave you alone and not let you play your footy, it took me a while to understand."

Mentally drained, Parker says she was desperate to get off the field when an off-the-ball cheap shot from an opposition player, compounded her anguish.

GWS star Alyce Parker is tackled during an AFLW match against the Brisbane Lions. Pic: Getty
GWS star Alyce Parker is tackled during an AFLW match against the Brisbane Lions. Pic: Getty

"I eventually got to the bench but by the time I'd crossed the line, the tears were flowing. I was mentally shot," she conceded.

"I remember the general manager dragged me away from the bench and tried to talk to me but it was so hard to comprehend the words he was saying to me."

Parker did eventually get back onto the field but says the issue merely snowballed after she was once again reunited with the opposition's tagger.

Alyce Parker turns a negative into a positive

"You feel this sense of failure, you failed to perform today and in a way that person has really achieved their role because I really feel like I'd failed that day," she laments.

The GWS star says what she didn't understand at the time is that being so mercilessly hounded during the game was actually a positive reflection on her own ability.

Pictured here, Carlton's Abbie McKay tackling GWS Giants star Alyce Parker in the AFLW.
Carlton's Abbie McKay tackles GWS Giants star Alyce Parker during the round eight AFLW match in February, 2022. Pic: Getty

"It's a compliment to say that you're a good player. You're a good enough player to have someone dedicated to your game, to not let you play well," Parker admits.

The 21-year-old says if she had one message for other young athletes, it would be to accept the difficulties that come with the sport and embrace the notion of competing in something that brings you joy.

"Being a good player I knew there was going to be a journey of pressure, a journey of expectation - both from myself and people around me - so I really have to reinforce the message that 'footy is fun'.

"You have this amazing opportunity to play sport for a living, don't lose sight of that."

"I guess it's really easy to be lost in the moment and lost in the negatives, but I'd really break it down to the simple things and that's enjoyment and building confidence to overcome challenges, which are involved in every aspect of life.

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