Noella Green is now inspiring the next geenration of female athletes through her knowledge and experience. (Photo: Supplied; Design by Madeline Irwin)

Athletes across a multitude of sports are exposed to competitive competition in different forms. Some are pushed by their parents while others are born with a natural talent.

For Noella Green, a former professional rugby union player who represented Australia and the New South Wales Waratahs, her passion for the game materialised after lighthearted practice matches and having fun with friends.

Out of Green’s many achievements in rugby, the biggest one is her continuous drive to inspire the next generation of female athletes by educating people about everything associated with pregnancy while still competing at the highest level.

Her life is now set up how she hoped for after long hours of planning – conducting education workshops, rugby coaching, and still following a lifelong keenness in exercise physiology at Selph Health Studios.

In this next part of the Life After Sport series presented by The Inner Sanctum, accompanied by careers coach Max Kalis, Green deeply articulates a whirlwind journey of highs and lows.

Q: How would you describe your journey growing up and leading down the path of becoming a professional rugby player?
A: During my time at university in Townsville, I began to get involved in sporting competitions and that’s the first time I crossed paths with rugby union. It wasn’t until I moved to Sydney later on that I reached out to a couple of rugby clubs and fell in love with the game during my early twenties.

If you had asked me beforehand if I ever thought I would become a professional athlete, I would’ve said no because I was playing to connect with friends.

Q: What has been your greatest sporting achievement on a personal level?
A: Without a doubt, putting on the Australian rugby sevens jersey and representing my country, which I feel is the biggest honour and privilege for any athlete. My whole family came down to watch which was incredibly special because all I wanted to do was make them proud.

That was probably the first time I did something whilst fully backing myself and giving all of my energy – and I believed that I belonged in the sport.

Q: What work are you doing now post-retirement, and how did it eventuate?
A: For female players, unless you’re a contracted player, you need to at least be working one job outside of rugby to pay the bills which is what I had to do. I’m currently an exercise scientist which is my full-time job that I have always had a strong passion for since I studied at university.

When I became pregnant, I was on the pill and that was the catalyst for thinking about what life would look like after retirement. I started to become more fascinated with female physiology and looking at it from a sporting performance perspective. I asked myself, ‘Am I maximising my performance being on the pill?’ and the answer was no because the research suggested that I was losing five to eight percent of my performance when it came to strength and conditioning.

As I went through that experience, I started talking with other female athletes that I was playing with and it was interesting that the medical team at the club didn’t have much information on the issue, hence why I made a real concerted effort to learn about it so that I could share my experience with as many people as possible.

Through Sydney University we collaborated to organise workshops with athletes to talk about load management, recovery, nutrition, and the menstrual cycle which grew and evolved to the point where I’m now consistently educating young athletes and working with other sporting organisations.

Now when I get invited to conduct rugby coaching, one of the big things I bring to it is the knowledge I’ve soaked up over the years and discuss topics that otherwise wouldn’t be mentioned as often.

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Q: When the time arrived to think about life after sport, where were you when those thoughts came to mind and was it met by any fear?
A: Those thoughts began when I found out that I was pregnant. I was still training and was too hesitant to tell any of my coaches just in case I had a high-risk pregnancy and decided I didn’t want to go through with it. That was the real turning point that helped me learn what I wanted to do in my clinical space after retirement and how I wanted to transition as an athlete.

By the time I fell pregnant at 35, I was at a stage in my life where I was completely ready for that transition. I wanted to come back to rugby to show female athletes that it is possible to return to the level they found themselves in pre-pregnancy.

The scariest part in all of it for me was going through the club (Waratahs) and discussing it openly. It took me a while to get into contact with the coaching staff to let them know that I wasn’t available for selection, but not planning on telling them about the pregnancy because I didn’t want to do that through text or a phone call. I received a call back wishing me all the best with no further communication or asking any questions.

I trained throughout my entire pregnancy, knowing that I wanted to make a comeback, which was the case with the help of external support to organise specific programs to help return to my best level.

Many sporting organisations have sustainable policies around pregnant athletes, but if it’s all in writing tucked away in a folder without anyone talking about it – how are female athletes supposed to know what’s available to them and how are they supposed to feel comfortable?

Q: Who are the main people in your circle that have helped you transition for life after sport?
A: There are certainly a bunch of athletes that helped me through the transition phase whether it be women who have been there before me and had children which is where I picked up advice and gained the motivation from there to follow in their footsteps.

I am grateful toward New South Wales rugby to some degree because while I was at the Waratahs they did pick me out to do some coaching courses and pushed me down that path which I will always have a love and passion for the game. There have also been people within the organisation who have seen me bring my daughter to rugby training and said to me ‘You are an inspiration,’ so it’s those types of comments that are spearing me on to continue my journey and lasting legacy.

Q: What is the single most effective thing that you have done to prepare for life after sport?
A: I had a plan. You commit so much time to the game of rugby which includes spending at least 20 hours every week training and managing your body to be in peak condition, and especially when it was me on my own before starting a family it was all about being selfish and focusing on myself which isn’t a bad thing.

Once you have a child and a family of your own, priorities change and therefore plans need to adapt to be selfless.

I was at that point in life where I was questioning how would I look after my physical and mental health without rugby, but I knew that I could fall back on my sporting habits such as nutrition and fitness which have provided me with a clear mindset each day.

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