Elite female athletes pursuing purpose beyond competition

For Jocelyn Bartram and her Hockeyroo teammates, playing an international match for the first time in 446 days feels surreal after a COVID-riddled year.

“It’s been a real roller-coaster,” she said.

“It’s been such a big effort to keep on track and focus on the Olympics.”

The Australian goalkeeper is competing in a four-match series against New Zealand, in what is a final audition for selection in the Tokyo squad.

If successful, it will be her maiden Olympics.

“It would be quite positively overwhelming, I don’t know what it would feel like other than incredible elation,” she said.

With team selection two weeks away (June 14), the nerves are kicking in but Bartram is already planning her future beyond the hockey pitch.

The 28-year-old is among 17 current and former elite female athletes selected by the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) to participate in a program that aims to increase the representation of women across all roles in Australian sport.

Jocelyn Bartram hopes to be in the Hockeyroos Olympic squad named on June 14.(

Supplied: Hockey Australia


“It’s so important for athletes to focus on more than just their athletic career while competing because when we finish up, we need somewhere else to go with our careers,” said Bartram, who already has a Bachelor of Science degree.

A catalyst for change

The inaugural AIS Athlete Accelerate program aims to increase the representation of women across senior jobs in Australian sport and other professions.

A separate AIS Talent program focuses on advancing the professional development of women in sport science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine.

AIS CEO Peter Conde is hopeful the programs and women participating in them will act as a “catalyst for change across Australian sport”.

For Bartram, who plans to compete during the next few years, the Athlete Accelerate program represents an exciting prospect and some reassurance for her future after sport.

“It’s such great opportunity to be able to positively give back to the female sporting industry,” Bartram said.

“Whether it be a sport scientist, strength and conditioning coach or administrative role, these high placing roles for women will pave the way for more females in sport to succeed.”

Cycling Para-athlete Emily Petricola is also taking part in the AIS Accelerate program.

“Anything that can help encourage athletes who are either currently competing or not long retired pave a prominent path within sport is a positive thing,” she said.

A world record holder in the Women’s Pursuit C4, Petricola is also a multiple world champion having won gold medals at the 2019 and 2020 UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships.

An action shot of a woman cycling in an indoor arena
Emily Petricola is hoping to make her Paralympic debut at the Tokyo games.(

Supplied: Michael Shippley 


“Being diagnosed with MS 14 years ago hasn’t been easy but para cycling has been a massive silver lining and given me a real purpose and opportunity to reconnect with a part of my identity from before I was ill,” Petricola said.

The AIS Accelerate Program begins this week (June 1- October).

If selected for the Paralympics, Petricola will still be able to participate in the program, while competing in Japan.

“It will work concurrently; we have online inductions starting this week,” she said.

As well as online sessions, there will be some face-to-face ones in Canberra.

Achievements beyond the sporting track

Joining Petricola and Bartram in the AIS Accelerate program will be retired sports stars Sally Pearson and Casey Dellacqua.

Pearson retired in 2019 after a glittering 16-year international career that included Olympic gold in the 100m hurdles at the London 2012 games, along with World and Commonwealth Games titles.

“Female athletes have a lot to offer beyond their achievements on the track, court or pool,” Pearson said.

Sally Pearson poses with her women's 100m hurdles gold medal at the presentation ceremony.
Sally Pearson looks forward to connecting with other athletes in the program.(

Reuters: Eddie Keogh


“It will be great to talk with other women athletes about their experiences in transitioning to professional careers in sport”.

Loss of athletic identity

Dellacqua hung up her racquet in 2018 after a successful career that included a top-30 singles ranking, seven WTA double titles, and a Grand Slam mixed doubles title at the 2011 French Open.

A dual Olympian, she says the transition from full-time athlete to retirement was challenging.

“It can be daunting, I can vouch for that,” Dellacqua said.

“You are only an athlete for a short period of time and it’s important to future proof your life and have a career path outside your sport because it will come to an end one day.”

Casey Dellacqua knows all too well the fear that comes with beginning a new career. 
Casey Dellacqua knows all too well the fear that comes with beginning a new career. (

AAP Image: Mark Dadswell


The prevalence of mental health symptoms and disorders in former elite athletes is well documented, including depression, anxiety, a loss of identity, even substance abuse.

Making the most of transferable skills

But Dellacqua believes solid support networks and programs like the ones being offered by the AIS can help.

“Absolutely there’s no doubt in my mind that opportunities like this, can help fill that gap when athletes retire.

“As athletes we’re driven, we want to keep working hard and there are many transferable skills that can be leveraged to another career.”

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