Nova Peris sat down with NIT to talk about her first coaching experience, making history at the U18s hockey nationals, and a special event coming up at the end of month.
You’ve just been to the Northern Territory to coach the under 18s hockey, can you tell us a bit about that?
I was the assistant coach to the Northern Territory under 18s team that participated in the National Under 18s Hockey Championships. We travelled to Launceston in Tasmania for 12 days last month, which was amazing and it was so good for me to be back in the sport of hockey. There were two pools, and there were 10 teams overall.
We finished second in our pool … then we crossed over to play against Queensland who were the leaders in Pool A. Unfortunately, we lost against a very, very strong, Queensland, but we weren’t without our chances, and then we ended up playing Western Australia, who was second in Pool A. We drew one-all with them but then it went into the penalty shootout where we won three-one. It was a historical day for Northern Territory hockey because never in hockey history have any women’s team finished higher than fifth at a national championship. We finished third out of the 10 teams that went down to the national championship, so it was absolutely phenomenal to be part of history in the making and also to be the assistant coach.
And your daughter, Destiny, was on the NT team as well?
Yeah, so that was one of the main reasons why I also put my hand up to be coach. What had happened was when they announced the NT team Destiny rang me and said, ‘Mum we can’t go away because we don’t have a manager or an assistant coach’. I said, ‘You ring them back up and you tell them that I’ll put my hand up for the assistant coach position’. And so that was it. I spent almost two and a half months coaching the girls up here in the Northern Territory and we got to the national championships two days before nationals had started. We had nine Northern Territory girls and Destiny, my daughter, and we had eight Queensland imports. And one of the Queensland imports that we had was also a young Aboriginal girl — extremely talented. We had two Aboriginal girls play under my coaching and it was awesome.
Because all of our girls were so spread out through Australia, we only got to train once together as a team, which was a practice match against South Australia, in the lead up to the nationals. For us to be able to merge together so well and gel as a team … credit to the girls. I always felt that if I’m given an opportunity where I’ve got kids who are willing to listen, they’re willing to learn, and if they’ve got talent, I’ll be able to pass on the things that I’ve learnt over the years. It was just absolutely such a beautiful feeling as a coach to see the girls perform so well. From the instructions that I’d given them, they were able to pull it off and you know the rest is history now. It was amazing. You know, I think that’s half the battle, there’s so much talent out there but you have to be willing to learn and listen. That’s part of life’s journey, that’s how you grow as a person, that’s how you can grow as an athlete or a team person, you’ve got to be willing to accept all the advice.
How was it being able to coach and pass on your knowledge?
I won an Olympic gold medal, a World Cup gold medal and two champions trophies gold medals, but I’ve never been able to share my lived experiences and share my journey ever before because I went straight from hockey into athletics. For me to be part of history and to be part of that winning team where we won a rose gold — that’s the new definition of a bronze medal now — rose gold. My rose gold medal is sitting on my mantlepiece here at home and I love it. It means a lot to me because I was able to guide these young girls to a place that they will never ever forget.
Why is it important for young people, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people, to be engaged in sport and especially team sports?
Sports can teach us so much in life. To be a sportsperson, number one, you’ve got to be dedicated, you’ve got to be committed and you’ve got to be willing to make sacrifices if you want to reach the top of your game in whatever it may be. And secondly, I feel that in team sport you can make friends for life because you go through a process together. You go through your highs, you go through your lows, you’ve got to be able to bounce back and encourage each other. Playing sports is so healthy and you can take a lot of those things from sports and apply it to everyday life. That’s what I was able to do with my hockey, all the life lessons I learned, I built that into my successful athletics career and then into my political area and now into my post political area, and starting up my own foundation. The principles of being committed and setting yourself goals and being dedicated and having a ‘never say die’ attitude, these are important things. That’s the thing with sports, it enables you to set good principles in life. To be able to play the national championships, it’s a privilege to be able to represent your state and you not only represent the state, you represent your family, your friends and your community.
What are your plans for the coming weeks, you have your foundation launch coming up?
Off the back of winning a bronze medal or rose gold at the national championships, that was another first for the Northern Territory, it was another first for me as well, being an assistant coach of that team. On the 27th of May I’m really looking forward to a special event that’s going to happen at Federation Square in Melbourne and that’s going to be the unveiling of my 2.2 metre bronze statue. It was done by Gillie and Marc, their project is called ‘Statues for Equality’ and it’s about getting more female statues out there. It’s about uplifting more women in society, which is important.
And also it’s a statue of a Black woman … you know there’s a saying ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’. I hope that my statue unveiling can not only inspire all Australians but most significantly inspire Aboriginal people that the world is their oyster and my journey can be a beacon of light to say, if I’m talented enough and I’m willing to make all the sacrifices, be committed, have the dedication, I can perhaps one day be an Olympian, or reach the highest in whatever it is that I choose to set my sights on.