From SANFLW To AFLW, Allen continues to shine on the field
GROWING up to play for Eastlake in Canberra, winning premierships and making the most of her opportunities, Najwa Allen is hoping to continue to help the Adelaide make the finals once again in 2022 and be a key player in the side.
Allen opened up firstly on what got her into playing football, reflecting on her journey and the challenges faced along the way.
“I played soccer my whole life and then I had a friend named Allie and I was playing soccer with her until she quit, and she just had enough. “She then started playing soccer with her until she started playing footy and she would come to me every week and say, ‘this is the best game in the world,’ you’ve got to come and play, you’re going to be good at it, you need to make the switch, and then, eventually I finally listened to her, thankfully and started playing both of them at the same time. “I think I just enjoyed footy more, I gave up soccer and kept with footy.
“I played at Eastlake Demons as a local club in Canberra and started playing there. That was one of the best experiences I’ve really liked. “The club had a very good culture, very welcoming, taught me how to play and made me better at the game. “The coaches gave me a lot of time and we even won the premiership in my last year before I came across to SANFL. “Eastlake Demons was the perfect place to start footy and that club was great for me, and I had a few friends there already. It feels pretty good saying it like that, reflecting on journey. “I think at the time, I still remember being in disbelief at how well I sort of went over here.
“I still remember a lot of people, me and Hannah Dunn, who plays for the Gold Coast Suns, both coming from Canberra, where they moved to Norwood Footy club where they got drafted, we moved over together to play. “When we moved, we didn’t think we’d get a game. We both got a game and did quite well, where Hannah Dunn, finished second. “That year, looking back, I’m proud but at the time, it was just all surreal and unbelievable, snowball of things happening, playing well, getting picked every week and meaning investment getting drafted. “It all just happened at once and it was equal parts amazing and unbelievable. “It was lovely that sort of happened at the same time, I got drafted by the Crows and she got drafted by the Suns, now she’s flourished up there.
“For me, I’ve always been pretty lucky in terms of injury and I’m going to make sure that keeps being the case. For me, it’s probably my mental space in terms of, how to keep on top like how I speak to myself in that elite environment.
“You always want to be better, but you’ve got to be careful that you’re not heading down that road of being overly critical of yourself, overly negative and not being too much of a perfectionism to bring yourself down. “I’m starting to think the biggest difference between non-elite and elite athletes is building up the body, but I think anyone has that ability in that mental and headspace.”
Experience in SANFLW Competition, getting drafted, thoughts on 2022 season and being in a team environment
With the Adelaide Crows having a strong start to the 2022 AFLW season, Allen shared her experiences in the SANFLW competition, what it means to get drafted and thoughts on the 2022 season and the growth of the competition.
“I really liked it,” she said. “The SANFL was a fair bit quicker and a little more skilful that I was used to, so it was a step up and I had to play it a bit better. All the girls were really welcoming, and I had a really good time there, I didn’t spend long there once I got into AFL. “The SANFL is definitely I think, considered the best league in Australia for women’s footy now, don’t know about men, I can’t speak for that, but for women, we have so much talent, it was defiantly a good place for me to head to even if I wasn’t going to ultimately get drafted, you have to keep working.
“It was a good place to develop myself as a footy player and work a little bit harder and get that extra support which you don’t have in a local competition. Its pre-current with the AFLW. “It’s slight out of sync, but it also offers that chop and change if you don’t get selected for AFLW, you can go back and play SANFL and still get a game of footy and practice the things that you need to practice getting back into the team.
“It was an unbelievable moment, like you have conversations with clubs prior to the draft but nothing’s really set in stone until your name is called out on the day. “I still remember the moment, but just the nerves that day it was disbelief was very surreal to one, be selected to play AFLW, two, to be selected by the team that was the best in the competition at that point in time. It was very surreal. It was a definitely an element of relief as well.
“We’re actually loving the season it thinks. “We put in a really, really strong preseason. “We’ve worked really hard and we’re starting to reap those rewards and that’s an important part of it. It’s always hard. “You can work as hard as you want in pre-season, you always feel like you’re working hard, but you don’t know where to get the games and start playing and actually test yourself with all of that work has been right and been worth it until you’re actually at the level to have a crack at the competition and challenge. We’ve been really happy so far with our start.
“It’s great. “I think it’s important, particularly for the development of the game. If we want people to watch the game, it’s got to be a close competition and it’s got to be a good contest each week. “Whilst it is fun executing your plan, it’s not necessarily fun beating them 30 to nothing. “We relish these hard games and that’s why we’re looking forward to playing teams like Melbourne (when Adelaide played Melbourne in Round 4). “And because it’s going to be a hot day.”
“It’s almost better to watch when it’s tight and it’s close and you’re on the edge of your seat with your hearts rates are up watching. It’s better for the competition in general so it’s great to see a lot of teams making positive steps like Geelong and Richmond who have come a long way from last season. It’s really really good.
“To give a short answer I’d probably say the culture and camaraderie in an elite environment is always challenging you and driving you to be better and your team mates are your family.”
Juggling outside of football, pre/game rituals and spare time
Allen opened up what life is like off the field, pre-game rituals and what she enjoys doing in her spare time.
“I finished uni, thankfully. I’m an exercise physiologist and then I do a little bit of personal training too. I’m working most of the time that I’m not training or playing, a little bit of time off here and there which you have to keep a balance.
“I’ve got two jobs and I enjoy them a lot. “I’ve got a lot of flexibility through my bosses and through my work, which is good and it’s what you really need if you want to play footy and work at the same time. “Sometimes, it gets frustrating. It’s defiantly hard doing the footy and the work thing, it’s like 50-60 per cent of my time and it keep you really busy. You’d rather just show up to footy, completely fresh and not having work the whole day. “That’s what we have to do at the moment and we’re all ok with that, that’s just part and parcel.
“My favourite thing to do post-match is eating. “You eat whatever you want. “Our nutritionist gives us girls burgers or pizza or something else like that which is usually pretty good. I try not to build too many superstitions. “I keep my day low-key energy so I’m not wasting unnecessary emery whether that’s going for a walk, read, doing mindfulness or watch some TV that doesn’t require too much thinking. “We start gearing up towards the game from a couple of hours out, but I try to be clear of not too many superstitions just in case one day I can’t do them and I don’t want my brain thinking that I’m going to have a bad game because of that.
“I like to spend time with my partner Georgie, love to go to the beach as much as I can, particularly when it’s nice and hot. I also like to hang out with friends, playing games and playing tennis, hard to do that in-season because you don’t want to where yourself too much, just mostly things outside and a little bit active will do for me and spending time and talking with friends.”
Toughest opponents, keeping motivated, meaning of footy and how the competition has helped as a player
Allen shared the toughest opponents she’s played against, what the sport of football means to her, how the AFLW has shaped as a play and role models that have helped along her journey.
“Can I say my own team? Training with Ebony Marinoff is a tough ask and the toughest player to come up against so I’m very thankful she’s on my team,” Allen said. “On the other teams, I had to play on Gemma Houghton. “She did some damage that day, Kate Hore, she was very good. I had to play on her, and she loved kicking for goals and she keeps you on your toes a little bit more. They’re all good, I try not to underestimate any opponents. “You can’t just rely on your teammates, we’ve got a pretty good backline, but you can’t rely on your teammates to do it all.
“One thing one of our coaches, who’s no longer at the club anymore, Narelle Smith, she’s now coaching in the SANFLW, she used to say to me ‘Believe you belong’, which I think is an important time and important to everyone as well. “A lot of the time we spend doubting ourselves and doubting whether we’re in the right place, why we are here and kind of putting ourselves down. We always talk about that you’re there for a reason. “You’re there because you are good at footy, you have a great set of skills, so she always put it believe you belong and say that to yourself.
“It’s pretty big for me, I try to keep it in perspective because I know it’s not going to be there forever, so I don’t put my whole life on it. “Growing up, always I was looking forward to the weekend, looking forward to moving through another way to get the weekend and play soccer, then sort of replace soccer. “Now I look forward to the time of the year where I get to play footy, it’s kind of like the biggest highlight of my week, which I’m sure it is for a lot of people. I think Whatever in your life give you the most joy, the most excitement, the most stimulation, gives you the most energy and I guess it’s playing games for me.
“I think it’s defiantly learned a bit more about myself and what I’m capable of. “What it’s really give me, is understanding what the body is, what it’s capable of, what you can do with the right training and how much you can push yourself and what you can get out of yourself. “It’s something a lot of people don’t realise it that girls playing in the AFLW is that difference to other girls playing sports at lower levels. “It’s more to do with the mindset and learning that you can push yourself and things like that. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be able to learn which is something I don’t know that I would if I didn’t get to do this at the more elite level.
“I just have people that I have admired, the way that they go about it. Like I said before, I was watching the tennis, and I love Roger Federer. “I love the way that he goes about his game, he’s calm and composed and always in control which is I think something I think we can all aspire to be. “I just pick certain traits in different sports which is something that I really enjoyed and aspire to being them is probably sort of fail at and I’m definitely not uncommon.”
Lastly, Allen shared her wisdom to any upcoming footballers wanting to improve their game.
“Be willing to work hard. It doesn’t matter,” she said. “I probably spent a long period of my life thinking that I wasn’t good enough to ever be at a high level of sports in any sport or any capacity. “One, you need to believe in yourself which is something we touched on before, just believe in yourself that you are capable of these things. “Two, just have a willingness to keep working hard. “That’s what people will really notice, and it is really about what people notice about you. “They pick things up such as ‘What do you think of this person?’
“Their skills are probably not there,’ but she’ll work hard given the opportunity and say ‘We’re willing to train her up.’ “Also, always be trying to better yourself and don’t worry if you’re not. “Don’t feel like the way you need to be because there’s plenty of time to get there. If you’re not a fittest person or you’re not somebody that you know, someone who is doing all that conditioning and things like that, that will come, and clubs will teach you that. “It’s really just around a willingness to work hard, self-belief and I think the AFLW a lot of work on your skills.”