When you look at Liz Ellis you can’t help but think she was destined from the start to be a champion at some type of sport, that she was born to captain the Australian Netball Team. But listen to her speak and you will find a very determined and driven woman. Here she tells her story from her early days and breaks down the process that made her so successful, both in netball and her transition into business.
Jo Corrigan: How did you get started playing netball?
Liz Ellis: I got into netball by accident because Mum had a friend who wouldn’t take no for an answer. The first time I stepped onto the court I loved it. All I wanted to do was go and play netball. The fact that it was something I was passionate about from the get go meant I was always going to work as hard as I could to be good at it. I was driven to success rather than natural talent.
JC: How do you go from junior netball to playing for Australia?
LE: I guess the best way to think about it is like a ladder. I went through all the rep process (under 12s, 13s, 14s, 15s) then played in the Catholic School Girls team for New South Wales. Then I got talent identified. The great thing about netball is that it’s a very structured pathway so I was able to make my way into [the] New South Wales [team]. I went to the AIS and within a few years found myself in the Australian team.
JC: Once you knew you really wanted to play for Australia, what steps did you take?
LE: If you want to be the best you’ve got to have a look around at what the best people in your field are doing, what sort of data did they achieve, what’s their baseline. I went to the physiologist and he basically gave me the physical data. Different fields have different sets of data as to what the successful person is doing. This is the sort of stuff you want to emulate. Not that you can set out to emulate intuition. For me it was about finding that physical data and at least match that, and trust my innate talent and ability to read the game would get me home.
JC: You seem like a very focused person.
LE: I’ve always been very goal driven. I guess the best way to describe me is that I am not great at much but I am very driven. I was always going to be good at what I put my mind to, regardless of what it was.
It’s the behaviours that underpin your goals. You can set your goals and set out your training program but what you need to do is think very carefully about what those behaviours are actually going to look like before you set out on your dreams. You have to make the right decisions. I had my goal and I had my plan and I was committed to my series of behaviours which was making the right choices at the right time.
If you are going to set behaviours and you are going to be like someone or as good as someone, you can’t just say you want to be like them without understanding what it is you want to be like.
JC: You also have a law degree. How did this work in with netball?
LE: I started my law degree when I was at the AIS. I finished it about four years into my international career and practiced for four years. In about 2000 it came down to the crunch where in the end I couldn’t have a successful practice and also play for Australia. It was a tough decision but what I let drive me was my passion, and I loved playing netball more than practicing law. Netball didn’t pay – in my final year I was one of the highest paid netballers in the country and I earned $8,000. I spent a few months trying to figure out a way that I could earn some money and play netball [then] I started my coaching clinic and was able to grow that. It was a bit of a lifeline. Now I employ a couple of people to run it.
JC: Tell us about your transition into the corporate world.
LE: It happened over a period of time. When I was playing I got asked to do speaking engagements. I was good for TV and radio because I talk a lot. I did a lot of that stuff for free until I was comfortable asking for a fee. Over time I got better and word sort of floated. That’s when the keynote stuff started to come in. I did a lot of planning over the last nine to ten months of my career and I talked to my agent a lot about what I was interested in and what I was prepared to do. I loved the keynote and we worked a bit on my speech and presentation and here I am doing them. The media stuff sort of followed because I was doing a lot of that while I was playing anyway.
JC: You have a young child now. How has this changed things workwise?
LE: We have made some huge changes. We moved out of Sydney to the country. Having my daughter has made me prioritise my work a lot more. I learned how to say no. She comes first but I want to be a good role model for her. It’s a bit of a balancing act. I want to show her that Mummy can go out and be the breadwinner for the family. If I had my own way I’d spend every waking minute with her, but that’s not showing her the right way to be.
DEALING WITH THE TOUGH TIMES
JC: How do you keep focused when things aren’t going so great?
LE: I’m a pretty positive person, it doesn’t take me long to bounce back. I look closely at the lessons to be learned, [like] at what point should I have made the correct decisions. The best thing you can do is think the sun will get up tomorrow and I will be able to get out of bed and take the next step. You don’t have to think about what the next week or month, or next year will look like.
I’m just discovering meditation and I am really finding that quite useful.
JC: What advice would you give someone starting out?
LE: The best thing you can do is be very clear as to why you are doing something. People tend to think about the what and it’s not so obvious to think about the why. When you are very clear about why you are doing something and the answer is because you are passionate about it and you want to make a difference somewhere to someone, yourself or somebody else, that will get you through those really low times. It’s that clarity.
JC: What is the next step for you?
LE: Quite happy to just keep doing what I am doing because my priorities have changed from my career to family. That might change as Evelyn gets older and if we have more kids. I am quite deliberately floating along in terms of my career because I’ve got different priorities. How I treat my career is going to be largely determined by my family. That’s sort of where my head’s at at the moment….
“Be very clear as to why you are doing something.”
~ Liz Ellis ~