Determine Your Self Worth
with Cayla George
11 Aug, 2021 · Basketball
Cayla George, a current WNBL basketball player in Australia, describes her journey in the professional world, the recent start of her mentorship program, and balancing life outside of sports.
Athlete: Cayla George
“Determine Your Own Self Worth”
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Today’s guest is Cayla George, a 2 time Olympian and professional basketball player in Australia for the Melbourne Boomers. Cayla has competed in Europe, Asia and in the US in the WNBA. She has also competed in two Olympic games, 2016 for the Opals, and most recently in Tokyo 2021.
In today’s episode we start at the beginning of Cayla’s journey as a young girl attending the Australian Institute of Sport. As she goes through the ups and downs of starting her professional career at such a young age, she reminds us how important it is to get out of our comfort zone and stay focused on our goals.
Cayla’s support system was a huge part of her journey and she explores the importance of constructive conversations within your circle. With the right toolset, which she has created throughout her career, she inspires us around how to get through tough times. We also had the pleasure of touching on her passions off the court and what she hopes to change in the world of sports for women.
Cayla, thank you so much for sharing your story with us and welcome to the Voice in Sport Podcast.
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Thank you for having me.
Well, you are our first WNBL professional basketball player.
So I'm so excited to have somebody from Australia to tell us about your journey, how you made it all the way to the WNBA, and now back again, preparing for the Olympics in Tokyo 2021. Let's start with your basketball career. I mean, you started at such a young age, which I think is so fascinating about your story, around age 15 and 16, and in 2005, you were already part of the WNBL. Can you tell us, how did you get to the league?
Yeah, absolutely. So in Australia we have a sport called netball, so it's a Commonwealth sport. It's essentially, I call it basketball without dribbling and a few extra other rules as well. And so I was probably seven or eight when I started playing netball and I was pretty tall and I had pretty good hand skills for my height and so a basketball coach when I was nine approached my mom and asked if I'd like to join the local team and under tens in my hometown in Adelaide, South Australia the Zodiacs. And so my first official basketball game was on a concrete court, which my shins would absolutely cry about.
But yeah, I loved it. And then my mum being a single mom and raising my sister and myself. My sister was also playing multiple sports as well. She kind of made us choose between netball and basketball because financially, and also just, she couldn't take us to all of our practices and games and they were all over the place so it was just really tough for moms. So she made us choose a year or so later and so I chose basketball and my sister chose netball. And she became quite successful at net both through her teenage years, but I have no regrets at all with my choice of basketball and so I think I liked the physical factor and the fact that I could run everywhere all over the court and I could shoot. Being a tall player in like a small kind of town, I stood out a lot and I like to score a lot. So my team, my young teams would look to me to help them win and I really enjoyed that as a really young athlete, you know, 10, 11, 12. I really enjoyed the game. Essentially it got me to a scholarship to the Australian Institute of sport, which is in Canberra.
So the likes of like Patty mills, Andrew Bogut Lauren Jackson, penny Taylor- the big basketball names that you probably know in America, they have all come through the Australian Institute of Sport also. So, I got to go there just before my 16th birthday and spent three years there and while I was there the team that I played with there, they were all my age or young girls that I competed with from around Australia, the best of the best. We would compete in the WNBL against professional women. And so that's why I debuted into the league when I was 15, 16, because we were playing in the pro women's league just to give us a taste .
I mean, we'd get beaten a fair bit. In our second year, we almost made finals. But it gave us a good taste of what the pro life was like and it got us prepared for future professional contracts to come.
Such an important part of any journey for athletes is having role models around you that you can look up to. So the fact that you got to play against some of the people that you admire and must have had a pretty big influence on you.
It was super scary. And in one of my first WNBL games, Lauren Jackson, like, he best player in the world, and I had to play against her at 16 years old, it was pretty scary. Great experience though.
I mean, you have to leave home in order to go to this Institute and not like actually living at home at such a young age, you’re kind of basically going to college almost. What did you learn looking back now on that transition, what helped you be successful in that environment where you stepped away from your home and you were in like a whole new league?
It's really like a college campus. And you know, at 15 I had to grow up real quick. I had to do my own washing. We had a dining hall, but you had to make sure you, you respected the rules and put the dishes away in the dish section and you had to kind of teach yourself to make sure that you, you didn't want to get yelled at by the house parents in front of everyone there cause there's all other sports there too. So you, try and do the right thing. And I feel like, you know, reflecting on my time with the AIS, I really put everything into it. I didn't take it for granted. I used the specialists that were there, I spoke to the nutritionist, I spoke to the psychologist, I did the extra workouts with my coach.
I'm glad that I, even though I was young, I definitely used my time there and trained harder and learned what it was like to be a pro, started training like a pro mentally and physically and it really put me in a good state to become the professional I’ve become the last 14, 15 years. I definitely have no regrets there.
And I didn't, I didn't waste time there at all. I certainly missed home, but I had to grow up really quickly and I guess I could have chosen to just hang out and, you know, be cool and hang out the other sports and not really do too much. But I certainly took the time to make sure that I was there with a purpose.
Cause I wanted to get better. And I was really glad that I had that mindset because it really could have gone the other way, because there was a lot of distractions there with, you know, other people being there and being young and boys being there and not having parents around.
At Voice In Sport we talk a lot about creating a support system for yourself and how important that is for your success in your journey in sport.
So can you talk about, how did you create that environment? I mean, you're at an amazing Institute. So you did have access to some of these things, sports, psychologists, sports nutritionist, but a lot of girls have access to it and they don't use it. Can you just talk about reflecting back on when you were younger and then now how you approach training, what advice would you have for girls to create a support system?
I would say it doesn't have to be a huge circle of support. It could be just your mum. It could be just your closest friend or sister. It could be someone that you really trust. To create a system that gives you not only feedback that you want to hear, but sometimes feedback that you don't want to hear, but that you can take and really improve from that.
And so people that are just really trustworthy and honest with you to the fullest extent, you know, of telling you things that are hard to hear cause you don't want all the fluff all the time, because then you're just gonna put fluff in your head and you're not going to get any better and I feel like in life, the biggest lessons are learned in those low moments in the losses.
So when you have moments and you need to have some negative feedback, you need to grow from that. So people that are willing to give you that type of feedback and constructive criticism and people that you can go back and forth with a little bit with constructive criticism, both ways is a really healthy kind of relationship because if you've got people around you that are looking at the same goals and the same type of mindset as you I feel like that's really important because you are who you hang around. It's about sacrifice. And it's about committing to your goals and understanding that there will be distractions, but how much do you want your goal?
You've just got to embrace who you are and what you want to do in life, because you're always gonna have people on the outside trying to dim your light.
You've just got to deflect it. And it's not easy by any stretch, but you've got to get to a place where people around you are supportive and not trying to undermine you all the time. So a good supportive group that are in your space and in your circle.
That's so important. You're always going to get distractions all the time and it's never going to go away. So talk to me a little bit about then how did you stay focused during that time? Because you were in the WNBL for quite a few years before you made it to the WNBA in 2015.
So what best prepared you for that transition from the Australian league to the US league and how did you stay focused during that time?
Yeah, it was certainly an interesting period of time. Leaving the AIS was hard because I was there for three years and there was so much structure. So then I left the AIS and then had to do all that structure that was planned for me by myself. And so it probably took me like a year to adjust to that and be like, oh yeah, I probably should lift weights now, oh yeah, I probably need to get a program. So it was all kind of left to my own device. I was like, oh this is hard. As a young 18, 19 year old that had come out the AIS with a lot of success there and then playing in the WNBL for my local team, Adelaide, where I'm from.
So it was hard. It was a hard transition. But I was always trying to prove a point. I always wanted to make my family proud. I always wanted to prove to my family, like my mom, my dad, that I'm good enough to be here, I’ve worked hard, I'm going to do this, I’m going to make the Australian team, I'm going to go to the WNBA. I wanted to do all this stuff, cause when I was a teenager, I had five big goals and then off that stemmed little goals, but the five big goals were, I wanted to play in the WNBL, play in the WNBA, play in Europe, play in a world cup or multiple, and play in the Olympics or multiple.
So I've been able to do all five of them, which is amazing and there's little goals stemmed off of them. But at that time in my late teens, early twenties, when I hadn't quite hit the WNBA yet, I was still really concerned about what other people thought about me and I think that was as much as that's like, “oh Cayla shouldn’t think that”, it was a real driver for me.
Cause it was like, no, you don't think I'm good enough? Not that people were telling me that, but I just like was a bit paranoid. The mental games crazy. I wish when I was younger I had more control over it because I probably would have played better basketball in my twenties, but I would be like, no, I want to prove to you, even though I don't know you, but that's made me mad so I'm going to show you that I can do this. And so proving people wrong was a real motivator for me and really just making my family proud also.
Where do you think this motivation and drive came from?
It's interesting. In the family stuff, I know that it would have been, my mum and dad separated when I was in grade three.
So, and my dad moved away to Fiji for work and my sister and I, my older sister and I lived there in Fiji for months at a time during that period, he was there for almost a decade and now he's here in Cairns. I was almost trying to get my dad's attention, because he was always away and I just, I really craved his attention and his love because he was away so much. And so it was like, Oh dad, like, I want Dad to see me, so I'm going to make that team so I can bring Dad and tell him.
I didn't really realize that until reflecting on it now in my later years because I've been asked that question a lot, like “why were you so motivated?”. And so I think it came down to, a big part of it was, well, dad, can you see me like, look at the teams that I've made, you know?
And essentially I've got to thank Dad really, cause I've been quite successful, but I mean, I also wanted to do it for myself.
I asked that question because I think girls wonder, okay, how do I make it to the WNBA? How do I make it to these levels? And so I just think listening to you, maybe wondering just how much of it was natural talent and how much of it was hard work?
How would you answer that question for anyone out there today? .
I've been tall my whole life. I've been probably one of the best players on the team, in all of my juniors. I was really blessed. I had good hands for a big girl. I could move pretty quick for a big girl.
I'm six foot four, I got pretty tall, quite young. So I was always really long and lanky. But then it really hit me, when I got to the national team, the Opals, when I made the squad for the first time in 2008, so I was 17 or 18. And, I was like, wow, there's so many other players that are tall there's so many other players that are better than me, I can't just be the tall girl in my own age group anymore.
I had to reach a whole new level of mentality. When I understood in that moment, dang, like if I want to make this team and tick a goal off of my goal list, I have to work my ass off. I have to go to a whole different level of hard work because natural talent will only take you so far.
If you want it, how badly do you want it? You still have to put in all that work, you know? Always lessons in that though, cause you know, sometimes you won’t make teams, even though you feel like you should, or there's politics or you think some other girl shouldn't have made it and you should. There's always politics in everything.
But if you can control what you can control, then you’ll always learn from the moments when it is hard because you've worked hard and you don't make the team and there's always something to reflect on after that or, gives you more fuel for the next time and you’ll make the team the next time. So definitely from that moment, that first camp that I went to when I was like, wow, there's so many players like me, that are tall and can shoot the three.
I was like, I need to really knuckle in and change my work ethic to a whole different level.
So I want to talk a little bit about the mentality side. When did you start seeing a sports psychologist seriously and say to yourself, okay, I got to start working on my mental game just as much as my physical game.
I saw a psychologist a couple times when I was younger at the AIS, and they just really broke down a few things and helped me with some strategies for when I'm feeling kind of sorry for myself and lacking confidence and things like that.
And then I didn't really see one again until maybe like a few years ago. So it was a big block where I was just playing, hoopin overseas in Europe, overseas in the WNBA, just kind of like back and forth, back to back seasons. And so it wasn't until a couple years ago with the Opal’s program that I sat down with one again and we spoke about my faith, I'm a Christian. In those years where I wasn't speaking to a psychologist, I certainly would, you know, speak to the big guy upstairs and prayer and stuff and worship. And that would really help me in my low times and when I was in Europe and in America.
But I certainly feel that psychologists are great. You can just go in unfiltered and really just get everything off your chest and they kind of break it down in a way that maybe your mum can't or your close friend can’t, and they, they help you with strategies moving forward and I feel like that's really important. Especially because in young girls, that's who I kind of gravitate towards in my mentoring, I feel like there's a real big gap there and it's always all about the boys and the guys. So I just like to make sure I gravitate towards those young girls that are aspiring to be athletes. The confidence thing is such a big issue. And what I tell these girls is, hey, I've been professional for like almost 15 years, been playing basketball since I was nine and you know, I still sometimes have moments where I lack confidence in myself. Isn't that crazy that this is my job and I still have moments where I lack confidence.
The difference being now, I've learned how to combat that and to have quick bounce backs. Like I've learned how to, you know, what do I need to start thinking about and focusing on instead of the fact that I don't think I'm good enough, what do I change my mind? What's the narrative shift in my mind to help get back to a confident state? And that it looks different for everyone. But I just, I think letting these young girls know that, hey, this professional athlete, this hooper still feels that way, so I'm not the only one that feels this way, that’s kind of cool right? So I'm not alone here and she's a pros and she feels that way. So it kind of just gives them a sense of belonging, like, oh yeah, okay, cool, I'm not isolated by myself thinking that I'm not good enough.
I understand that it happens to everyone, which I think sometimes is hard when you're in a moment of anything, you know, when you're feeling sorry for yourself, you’re like “aw I'm the only one that this has ever happened to, I'm so terrible at basketball” or whatever you feel. Sometimes in anything in life, you just, you feel like you're the only one that's experiencing it because you're so deep in that. So just helping them understand that, hey, you got this girl cause we all go through it.
I think that's really important for these young girls to hear that from a baller that’s still hoopin’.
I love it.
I mean, confidence plays such a big role in how you perform, not just on the court, but also in your life. You mentioned you still struggle with confidence now, can we talk a little bit about transitions? Because I feel like that's the moment where sometimes confidence really dips, it's when you're transitioning from one league to the next, or high school to college, you know?
So what advice would you give to girls that are about to head into that transition? They don't know the team they're going on, the don't really know what they're walking into. What would you say for them to help build their confidence
I would say just be adjustable and adaptable to the environment that you're walking into.
Don't put yourself in a box and think, well, you know, I'm only good at this, so I can only do this in this team. If your coach is asking you to do something different to what you did in high school, then be adaptable. Get really good at that, even though you didn't do much of that in high school, just make sure you're adaptable because the more adaptable you are, the more the coach can use you, the more that, you know, you'll get better contracts if you want to become a pro because people can see you’re really versatile. And also remembering those low moments that, you've put in the work, like you're competent at what you do cause you've been training, you played hard in high school, you've trained in high school.
So you know what you're doing, your body knows what it's doing. You just have to remind your brain that, hey, I'm competent, I've got this and that it's okay to make mistakes. And if you've got issues with anyone, always have constructive conversations, whether it be with your coach, if you don't understand something, one of your teammates, if you need to have a conversation with them. Always try and nip it in the bud early so things don't build up. I feel like going into new environments, things can be quite, you know, testy and you might not really get along with everyone around you, They're not always constructive towards the back end of the conversation sometimes, but if you can, you know, nip things in the bud and give people a better understanding of who you are as a person, really open, transparent, want to get better, want to help people understand you, you understand them in a new environment, I think it goes a long way in helping you settle into your environment quickly, just being really open to being adaptable and, having those conversations when needed.
I love that, and I love that this path for you has now turned into a business. In November of 2019, you started your mentorship program through your website, which is incredible. And you're helping a lot of young girls, which is another reason why we love you because a big part of what we do at Voice in Sport is mentoring young girls and it's so important. So as you look back to all the girls you've been helping through your programs, are there common challenges that you find you're always talking to with these girls? Are you repeating some sort of the same advice over and over again? And for our community of young girls at Voice in Sport that might be listening, what could be some of those common things that you want to spread more awareness to?And for them to remember as they go through their journey.
Yeah, I feel like exactly what I just said is something that I say often and a lot of the common themes are, “I don't think my coach likes me”, “he doesn't play me that much”, “I don't think I'm good enough because he doesn't play me”. And then, so I often say, hey, let's have a constructive conversation with your coach.
And a lot of the time, these young girls, if the coach is really on their case, they don't understand or can’t grasp that that's a really good thing because they see your potential. So that's why they're on your case.
I really just reiterate what I've just said. I talk about those constructive conversations maybe a coach doesn't realize you feel that way. They're not mind readers. And that's a really common theme among the young girls
Then the confidence thing. That's kind of very fluent in my work as a mentor with young females.
Thank you for listening to the Voice In Sport podcast. My name is Macey Mannion, a sophomore swimmer at Princeton University and producer of this week’s episode. If you enjoy hearing from Cayla George and would like to get the chance to talk to athletes like her, go to voiceinsport.com/join to sign up for a free membership and gain access to exclusive episodes, mentorship sessions, and other weekly content. Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram, Twitter and TikTok @voiceinsport. Now let’s get back to the episode.
Well, I think it's so important also to recognize that there's not enough women in the coaching roles today.
And so it does make that journey for girls in sport, a little tougher, cause sometimes it's hard to relate or know how to speak to your coach, who might not be understanding what you go through. So it's so important to have that community around you, find a mentor and then obviously we want to advocate to get more women in coaching positions.
Along your journey, have you had any women coaches and what influence have they had?
In my juniors, it was dominantly male coaches. I had a couple of assistant female coaches, they were great. And then my first female coach would have been straight out of the AIS, I had Vicki Volk, and she was really great because she was a player, and so she really, he had a good understanding of, you know, what it's like to be a player. So she was really great. And then the next coach I had as a female was Sandy Brondello, who's actually my current Opal's national team coach, and she's the Phoenix Mercury head coach. So her and her husband coached me in my early twenties. And they will really critical for me in the best possible way. Moving forward to make the WNBA and go play and be successful in Europe.
So straight after I was coached by them, I got my first gig in Europe, and then not long after that, I was in the WNBA in Phoenix with Sandy. So she was amazing and still is amazing. She has a way of coaching that she understands. She was also a really, really talented player herself, all star of the WNBA, three or four time Olympian with the Opals, so, you know, huge respect for Sandy and as a player and a coach now. I feel like that respect has always been there, she’s always been really approachable, which makes it really easy to want to play for your coach when they're really approachable. And you know, having that respect go both ways also, as an adult and a pro, it's really fun to play for, cause you want to win even more cause you're all on the same page. So that's really important. And Sandy really brings that and I'm pretty sure that's the only female coaches I've had, which is crazy.
It does show, we just need to get more women in those positions, not just in the coaching positions, but in the positions of power of the teams.
So it's a big thing we're advocating for at Voice in Sport. And that kind of leads me a little bit to my next question, which is about money.
A lot was in the news last year in 2020 about the WNBA because of the new collective bargaining agreement. And we know the facts, right? That the average NBA player is making $7.5 million, is their average salary. And then the average WNBA player is making $116,000.
And the new minimum, I believe, minimum salary in the new CPA is 50,000 a year. So I want to talk a little bit about, why you think there's such a large pay inequity between the men's league and the women's league. And then what's that sort of like forced you to do differently as a female athlete compared to the men.
First of all, us as female basketballers, and I can only speak for us basketball players, but we have to play all year round. We can't have a two or three month break between NBA seasons, cause we go to WNBA to Europe or to Australia, or then back to WNBA and back to Europe, Australia. It’s forever, just back to back to back seasons, there was probably like seven or eight years there where I went back to back to back seasons without a break and I was really blessed that I didn't have any major injuries. So I literally just kept playing because it's like, why would I stop? I'll just have a week off and then I'll keep going.
I've got to make money. Right. I can't play this sport forever. So I'm just going to keep making money. I've got opportunity to while would I have a big six month break? We played back to back to back to back seasons away from our family for like majority of the year. It's crazy actually reflecting on my career, how long I've been away.
But I think the media, has a big part to play in how women's sport is portrayed and you can't be what you can't see, right? So even here in Australia, these women's sporting events were happening and they were still talking about, you know, pre-season for the men's AFL when it was the netball grand final. And it’s like, hello? Like that's a massive grand final playoff match like, why is that not on the back page of the paper? So it’s little things like that, that all add up, you know?
And so I think, I think the media can really help out and make sure that they're doing it equally and reporting on the sports equally. And even on the news, it's all about the men's sports and maybe once a week there'll be a female sport there with this sporting result, and it's crazy. Cause we're all out here doing the same thing and we're working hard if not harder.
And so I feel like that would help. And I understand, and I think a lot of people think that we're going, oh, we want the same money as Lebron. Like no mate, when we're not asking for LeBron's $150 trillion. All we're asking for is just a bit more revenue sharing. I think the smarter ways, you know, getting out this thing that's in the revenue, how they do in the NBA, there's smarter ways to be doing that.
In all leagues across the world women are kind of just, like oh they’ll be alright, you know. There’s not a lot of time and effort put into us as much as the men and resources I know are different, but I’d be good to put the resources in to help grow that. And so I know it is getting better.
That have been steps forward, but not enough that it's a constant push and there’s athletes now, like, you know, there's the Together brand with Sue Bird and they're all doing that to highlight women's voices, but we're having to do it ourselves, as female athletes. Like, hi, here we are like, hello, you know, it's crazy that we're here trying to get attention. Like, Hey, this is what we're about, listen to our stories for, you know, people to be like, hh, that's really cool. You guys should be able to do this, this and this. Oh, well, we haven't been able to, because you know, we're females and we've got to work twice as hard to get any type of recognition as the men.
That's our mission. Bring more visibility to female athletes and elevate their voice. So we have a lot of work to do because we only have 4% of media coverage today. And we've got so much work to do.
It's crazy how in 2021, we're still sitting here having this discussion about multiple, multiple areas of life, but in particular, this cause what we're talking about, it's like, whoa, it's, it's stupid. And I hope, you know, in 20 years when- I've got a younger sister, who's 13- I hope that it's better when she's coming through and then when my kids come through, whenever I have them. Like, I hope that it just gets better and better, but I feel like, you know, we're trying.
If you could have three wishes, for the sports industry, things that you wish you would see change, what would they be?
Pay equality across the board because we work just as hard, if not harder than the men. I would ask for media at 50, 50 percent coverage. And then the third one would be more female coaches in sport, for sure. Because I think that again, you can't be what you can't see, so if you’re not going to make it as a player, some kids grow up wanting to be a coach. So you can’t, you know, limit them, you want them to be able to see what they can achieve too. So just more women's coaches in female sports.
That's a perfect segue into how you've had to approach life as a non basketball player. How are you going to make money beyond the game? Not just while you're in it, but also for your life after basketball. So I think this is an area that a lot of athletes struggle with, is that transition from being an athlete to a former athlete.
I think it happens to people after high school, to college and after college to pro and I'm sure at pro level, it even becomes harder because you've been in it for so long. So what have you done to really develop your identity beyond sport? And how has that helped you sort of think about the future and the impact that you have in general?
Throughout my career, I think it was when I was like 25, 26, I've always got ideas running through my head, I’m very entrepreneurial mindset. When I was really young, like in my early twenties, I was like, I'm going to have like three subway franchises by the time I'm 30.
But I haven't done that, but I've always wanted to have businesses and I've always wanted to invest my money wisely and no one really ever taught me about any financial stuff so I've kind of learned on the run.
When I was about 25, 26, I started my own candle company called Remy and Coco. And so I started just making my own candles and I felt that that was really therapeutic actually. I was living in Australia and I, you know, put a batch of them on Facebook and I had them sold out within like half an hour. I was like, whoa, I got a real thrill from that.
I was like, wow! Something I made people want, that’s crazy. So I put up a thing on Facebook: Hi, I've started making candles, who wants one? And I had to make a batch of 70 candles, like it went off. So then I put together a business plan, I ended up over the next course of that year, adding diffuses, I added a peril, I added melts and oil burners, I added a bunch of stuff. Scripture apparel because, you know, being a Christian, I just wanted to get the word out there, on apparel. And so yeah, over the last four or five years, I have been having Remy and Coco as my side hustle. I employed my sister who's based here in Australia in Cairns, and she would make the candles and send out the apparel and everything from orders while I was playing overseas.
And so that worked out really well because she was a stay at home mom. So it really helped her. And that was a real big joy to me because I really wanted to help out my family with this business as well, I wanted to be able to employ them and big plans and visions that I had for the company, you know, when we got to a big warehouse, have all the family working in there. We haven't quite got there yet and I'm currently on pause a bit with Remy and Coco, just because it's a really big thing and I've started studies, I'm prepping for an Olympics, I've got my mentor thing. There's a lot going on so Remy and Coco is on pause at the moment. But for the last four or five years, it's been quite a dominant part of my life.
And really fun and lots of lessons learnt in starting my first business from scratch. And so I don't have any regrets because it's definitely helped me understand business better. And then I started my mentorship program, caylageorge.com in November, 2019, right before corona hit, so it was pretty good timing actually.
That's essentially just about helping young girls giving them access to me as a pro athlete, to be able to talk to me about their problems. I run programs to help the young girls. I show them what I eat in a day, how I'm working out, things like that- they can ask me questions.
So, especially during that COVID time and the lockdown period, I felt like my programs were, pretty great for the young girls to stay motivated and we spoke about mental health.
And I started these businesses because yes, I've got an entrepreneurial mind and not everyone has that mindset, but I felt like, okay, so basketball doesn't last forever, and I wanted something that I could set straight into right after I finished playing. I didn't really feel like I wanted to be anyone else's employee. I kind of wanted to be my own boss and help create. You know, a nice little foundation piece, but when I do finish. And so that was kind of my idea behind it because I am a basketball player, but it's not my full identity. So it took me probably until I was 25, 26, to understand that and to be okay with that. To be okay with the fact that, Hey, I don't just have to do basketball, like I can do so many other things. I can invest my time and finances in other things to help me prepare for life after basketball. Which is probably a lot better and makes it easy for me than retiring going, oh, I'm retired, what's next? I'm already putting plans in place. I've already started studying this year.
I do a lot of talking at colleges and stuff and so I was approached by a college here to come speak to their sports students. And one of the teachers there really love what I was about, and was like, hey, have you thought about being a teacher? So I might be becoming this college teacher while I can still play and they're really flexible with my schedule and so I'm kind of studying to do that now because the salary is really great. So for life after basketball or when I want to fall pregnant, like I could just keep teaching and it's just up the road and it's really great for me and my husband cause I wouldn't have to go anywhere. So just always thinking outside the box and being ready for things, doors opening, doors closing. That door opening about the college teaching. The first thing he asked was, have you ever thought about being a teacher? And I was like, oh no, I've never thought about being a teacher.
Oh, but I mentor. Oh, mentoring's a form of teaching. Oh, I guess so than I am. Yes. Sorry. I was like, yeah, I'll do it. What do I have to do? So I'm going to study for the next year, and then I can become this college teacher. I can do that while still playing basketball, so on top of everything else that I'm doing, prepping for the Olympics, prepping for my WNBL season at the end of the year, doing my two businesses, except one was paused at the minute, and then I'm going to study to be a teacher because can't stop. I have to always plan and prep and I want my family to be secure financially. I want to always be able to invest and do things, and help people and be able to give and not be, in a position where I’m like “oh well I’ve stopped basketball my whole life's gone now because that was my whole identity”, because basketball is what I do, it's given me a huge platform, and with that platform, this is what I'm doing. So that's where I'm at with that.
I love that you have all these passions outside of the game and it sounds like what I'm learning from you is that you've tried so many along the way, and you just have this sort of open mindset about ideas and that sort of openness to try different things, just to test it out even if it means you take one course towards something else and then realize, oh yeah, that's not for me.
You've approached it in a way that, you’re open. So what advice would you have for girls in sports that are struggling to maybe find their identity outside of sport?
Well, I think that's a really tough one because I mean, I'm really passionate about, you know, just being okay with trying things out. So not everyone's like that, but I would say you've really just got to set some goals and in your goals, what's something that you're really passionate about.
What's something that you'd really like to achieve in life. Like what's something that you really, think about a lot. And, you don't always have to focus on basketball. What's something, that you use in your downtime away from basketball.
It's easy to sit here and say that it's quite difficult to do, but set yourself some goals for outside of basketball, set yourself some goals for on-court and off-court and go from there and really try and strive and achieve them. And really at times, focus more on your off- court so that you're not so clogged into always having to be on the court. You've got your off-court goals as well to focus on I feel like it would be good advice. Just make sure on and off court, you've got, you know, a set of goals for yourself.
Well, I want to end on where you're at right now in your own individual journey, alongside all the amazing things you're doing off the court. You're getting ready to make your next Olympic team. So what does it take to make an Olympic team and what should girls be thinking about when they get to this same opportunity someday and they're trying to make that team?
What I touched on before was, when you're transitioning from the high school to the college thing, being really versatile and adaptable, to make it at this level, whether it be for an Olympic and to be pro in Europe or to be pro in America and the WNBA, you have to be adaptable because your role will differ from team to team.
So that's no different when it comes to the national team. So for me, my role on this team is to be a glue player, a leader, a three-point threat to space the key way for big Liz Cambage, and a rebounder and a solid defender. So that's my role. I know my role really well. I've been a part of this program for a long time, but understand your role, but also work really hard and know that you still might not be the star player.
Work really hard and make the team. And be a bench role and wave the towel and cheer for your teammates and create good culture. That's still a huge role. If you're the 12th man on the team and you're the loudest and you're so happy for your teammates' successes, that's just as important as being the top scorer for your team.
I believe that being super versatile, but also having the capability to come in when your numbers called and hit that big shot and the coach can rely on you to come in and shut down their prolific scorer because you've stayed ready and focused, not sulked.
And I've played all positions. Majority, I've been really lucky to be in that starting fives, big scorer type role, but in the WNBA I and my starting years in the national team I'd have no idea when I was going to get on. I would just have to support, be really happy for my teammates that were in my position that were taking my minutes essentially. I'd be happy for them. Because we're a team, right? So you've just got to have that mindset of doing everything in your control, working really hard, making sacrifices, not going to that party, going to shoot hoops at the court at nine o'clock at night with your parents or with your friends and missing things, missing family events, because you're away training or you're doing things for your sport.
You've just got to sacrifice, work really hard and be adaptable for sure.
So I want to talk a little bit about just wrapping it up a little bit, thinking about your younger self and, what now you would have said to her knowing all of this experience that you have had, playing for the Olympics in the WNBA, the WNBL and also coaching girls.
One of the first things I'd say would be don't ever let anyone else determine your self worth. If you don't make a team, the coach that didn't select you does not determine your self worth. Just go back to the drawing board and work harder.
And that's probably the biggest center of anything I would say because I was a pretty bubbly, and still am, confident, kind of tall, young giraffe looking thing when I was younger, anyway, so I didn't let much faze me as such, but I would definitely say, in terms of when I say, didn't let things faze me, that people saw.
I would always internalize a lot and I still kind of do that now because I'm a bit of a fixer. I want people around me to feel good, I want my teammates around me to feel good, but I would, I would say to my younger self, do not let anyone else determine your self-worth
Good advice. And since we are all about changing the game here at Voice in Sport, what is one thing you would like to see changed for the future of women's sports?
Well, I touched on a little bit before, but equal pay would be amazing, thanks. Appreciate it. And in the next couple of years before I retire. Thanks.
Well, thank you, Cayla. Thanks so much for joining us on the Voice in Sport podcast, and we're excited to see you this summer.
Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.
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We hope you enjoyed this week’s episode - it was produced and edited by VIS Creator Macey Mannion. Macey is a sophomore at Princeton University and is on the Women's Swim team.
Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us Cayla! You remind us how we can follow our dreams, but also stay open minded to new ideas as we explore who we are off the court. Through Cayla, we learn that the support systems we create are so important to our success. It’s not just about creating a support system but also how to have constructive conversations to work through the ups and downs of sport. Hopefully, today what you’ve learned is that even the highest level of athletes can still lack confidence at times, but we’re not alone in those feelings and I loved how Cayla encourages our community to seek mentorship in those moments of low.
At VIS, we want to bring visibility to girls and women in sport and one of the ways we do that is by providing access to pro athlete mentors like Cayla. We are excited to see that Cayla will tackle so many amazing things, both on and off the court this year and for the years to come! You can check out Cayla's mentoring program at caylageorge.com, and find her on instagram @cfannykg.
Please subscribe to the Voice in Sport Podcast and give us a rating. You can follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Tik Tok @voiceinsport. If you are interested in joining our community, sign up for a free account at voiceinsport.com and access our exclusive content, mentorship by pro athletes and group and 1-on -1 sessions with the top Experts in Sport Psychology, Nutrition and Womens Athlete Health.
You might also want to check out our other VIS League mentor Sophie Cunningham, episode #36 - Bringing the Midwest Mindset to the WNBA.
See you next week on the Voice in Sport Podcast.
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Host: Stef Strack
Producer: VIS Creators™ Macey Mannion and Shianne Knight
Cayla George, a current WNBL basketball player in Australia, describes her journey in the professional world, the recent start of her mentorship program, and balancing life outside of sports.