Indigenous Sports Month: Eel star Will Smith reveals why he has such a strong sense of his identity


Will Smith said that in the process of growing up, someone will always provide advice, but especially someone who can’t stick to it. Now he has realized the dream of NRL and is determined to be a role model for indigenous youth.

Will Smith is a typical Rugby League success story.

After his debut with Penrith in 2014, he played a vital role in the club’s final. The proud Anawin and Gumbaynggirr suffered a serious knee injury and threatened to end his career.

But Smith fought back, and the talented utility company has been a frequent visitor to Parramatta for the past four years.He is a leader in the club’s connections with indigenous communities, including helping to design their venue for the 2021 NRL Indigenous Round.

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My indigenous heritage …It means a lot to me because it makes me proud. I feel strong about my identity and knowing who I am makes me feel connected. I know where I come from, which makes me feel strong about myself. I’m not sure if this is really a custom, but I like that we are taught to be so respectful to our elders since we were young. Even if someone is not an aunt or uncle of your descent, you always say “hello auntie” or “hello uncle” just out of respect. I like that we are taught because this is something we can pass to our own children. I like that people respect me, just like I respect other people. It’s a good feeling.

My earliest memory… I am playing my first football game and I am chasing a child. I leaped on his leg, his nail kicked me in the face, I think I ran away crying and told my dad that there was a nail in my eye, and it was dramatic.

One piece of advice I would give to my teenage self is… When I left school very early, I might stay in school to finish. I am in the 9th grade and I am very focused on football. This is what I worry about. This is my top priority. Even when I was in school, I was not really there. Football is my only hobby. But the best advice I got was “Beware first.” This applies to me, if I go out to party with my cousin and have some trouble or something like that, stay away from it and take care of yourself. My old man told me so.

If I don’t participate in sports, I will … A youth worker, I am currently studying for a diploma in this area, and I am very interested in helping indigenous youth. We went out with my manager and some other boys (such as Ash Taylor and Tyrone Roberts) to visit some schools or rural areas in the west. We went there to see the children because they don’t often come into contact with NRL players. It’s really great to go out and spend time with them and learn how they spend the day. The feeling of smiling on their faces is awesome. I remember when I was a kid, NRL players would come to my school, or in public, how star-studded I was. It is really worth giving back. I have been to Dubbo in Wellington, to Walgett and Cargelligo Lakes, everywhere, usually during NAIDOC week. We also invited Shannon Noll to perform.

Family means ……my world. Without my parents, grandparents, partner and children, I would not be who I am now. My parents are both aboriginal people, but I still don’t really understand my mother’s background. Her mother passed away a few years ago. She never really knew her father, but my father was really strong. I learned a lot from him and my grandfather.

The only strange, superstitious thing ……The game day I made was to put my left sock on my right and my right boot on my left. If I don’t do this, I just think it’s weird and I don’t know why.

My sports hero… It’s my father, Eddie. I followed him when he played. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t like football so much when I grow up. I really don’t have any NRL players who are idols in my growing up, I just like watching my dad’s games.

My most important sports moment… Participate in the Koori knockout with my dad. It was in 2010, I was 16 years old, and since then I won the knockouts, which means a lot to our employees. But the most important thing is to play with my father. He was in his 40s and he retired at the age of 45. He played in the local league in Newcastle, he finished the game at Singleton, but he played everywhere. This means a lot, knockouts, this is a grand event for our entire culture. On a weekend of the year, families can meet, towns and cities gather, and if anyone has any disagreements during the year, put them aside to support their towns and communities. We all fight for victory, but no matter what happens between anyone, we will resolve our differences when we get together that weekend. In terms of competition, without our brothers and cousins, I don’t think we would become NRL players, and they are the ones we go back to play with them. Playing football in the backyard or on the road, this is where our love of the game begins.

I like to be an indigenous athlete… Returning to our community as an indigenous NRL player, I saw those young children being sought after as before-I remember seeing people like Brad Tighe who I know very well now come to our school. It’s a great feeling to be an indigenous NRL player and bring it to others. We can be a truly positive role model for any child, no matter if they are in trouble or on the right path. I think we have a responsibility to show them the right way to do things and how to respect ourselves.

In order to improve the support network for indigenous athletes, every club should have an indigenous liaison officer, and there should also be a Polynesian who is willing to talk to. I am happy to talk to anyone, regardless of their background, but if an aboriginal child comes from the west and does not know anyone, I know it is easier for him to open up to someone from the west with a similar background.

In terms of career highlights…It was a great experience to participate in the finals, but the closest thing I came to was after I did ACL in Penrith. I didn’t know if I would be able to come back and make my debut in Parramatta next year. I defeated any demons in my head, and I found that my spirit was stronger than I thought. I did everything you can to my knee during an injury. My contract expired and some physical therapists said that I can no longer play at the top level. It is very beneficial to prove that people are wrong and I am right.

My dad let me go on my way …He never forces me to train hard, but I always see how he stays away from football and takes care of himself. He gets up at 5 o’clock every morning for a run. When I was a child, I used to get up and go with him, which made me want to do this.

My family is my inspiration… I just want to make sure I am proud of them. I am the only one who has come down from Sydney and they have all returned to Newcastle. Everything I want to do makes them proud.

A key priority for improving player and leadership opportunities for the next generation of Indigenous athletes… Paths are being opened for indigenous children, especially those in the West who don’t have too many opportunities or are not seen by too many scouts.


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