Olympic Gold Medalist Natalie Cook Shares Her Advice On International Women’s Day
The volleyball community is joining people across the world to mark International Women’s Day, Tuesday 8 March.
Sport has played a big role in helping to #BreakTheBias, with female sports leaders both on and off the sporting arena, helping to inspire women to forge equality.
Beach Volleyball Olympic Gold Medalist, Natalie Cook, became a household name after claiming gold with teammate Kerri Pottharst at the Sydney 2000 home Olympics. Cook’s playing career was just the start, with her record off the court achievements equally impressive.
The five-time Olympian has held leadership roles across sport, including serving as the President of the Queensland Olympic Committee.
Cook said she hoped her and Pottharst’s win in Sydney showed so many young girls what is possible when you aim high.
“The more we see (women) on TV and the more we see in the paper and the more women’s achievements are highlighted and uplifted and elevated, the more young girls and women want to be better at whatever they choose to do in life, not just sport,” said Cook.
“I think it’s often leading from the front and leading by example… not so much with the intention to inspire and lead others, but that’s just how a lot of women athletes run their life. They just do the best they can do.
“I used to get up every day wanting to be better and wanting to live in a state of what Kerri [Pottharst] and I called ‘gold medal excellence’, which was raising the bar and being the best we could be at everything, not just on the court but off the court,” she said.
When she started to embark on her post-athlete career, Cook said she wasn’t too aware of the ‘bias’ that existed for women, and she approached her career with motivation that she could reach the highest level.
“I didn’t know about bias in the beginning, I didn’t know about ‘glass ceilings’ and I didn’t know that I potentially wasn’t supposed to do things.
“So breaking the bias is actually setting a mind set and setting goals and setting ambitions for me as a person regardless of what’s out there.
“Start with the end in mind. If there was no bias… and there was no glass ceiling what would you be doing? Then set that intention and set that goal and then work on that,” said Cook.
When it comes to achieving goals both on and off the court, Cook has some great practical tips that have helped her throughout her career.
“My biggest advice is building relationships and networking. Often if there’s a minority and you’re not in an environment where there’s lots of females and that’s where you’re comfortable, then you have to learn to develop professional working relationships with men and enrol in courses and get experience.
“Just find something little to work on to make sure you’re keeping your professional development up. Have a mentor in the area you’re trying to get better in and put your hand up and say ‘I’ll have a go’.
“Surround yourself with people who can support you on that journey. Have a go even if you don’t know, then run some development and education alongside that.
“Whatever you want to do, find someone who has done it and ask them for help,” she said.
22 years after the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, Cook has turned her sights to the next Australian home Olympics at Brisbane 2032. A proud Queenslander, Cook is hoping athletes will have the opportunity to make the most of the runway to 2032 and the prospects a home Games will present.
“My hope for any Queensland or Australian athlete is they get to experience a home Games, like I was very lucky to do in Sydney.
“I hope we get the biggest number we’ve ever had reaching the top of the podium in 2032 and to experience home success, that would be special.
“Along the way, that dream and aspiration will lift many others to wear the green and gold, and that will lift many others to play club sport, to hop off the couch and be healthy.
“We want more and more people to be inspired to walk, run, swim, play sport, be active because it’s better for health… physical and mental health.
“By driving that message and hopefully our Olympic athletes inspire people to have a go, we’ll see more people playing sport, we’ll see more people wanting to wear the green and gold and then more people representing Australia at the Olympics,” said Cook.