Kalani Bates: a long and promising journey
Updated: Jun 19
Scenes of serenity weaved with adrenaline. The tranquil feeling of drifting peacefully out at sea – where the only worry is the ocean – is trailed by the exhilarating rush of catching a wave back towards the shore. Surfing: it is as Australian as footy. But what do catching a wave and kicking a goal have in common?
Well, they have both been done by Kalani Bates, 17, since her days of living in New South Wales (NSW). And while Kalani may have drawn the line at competing in school surfing competitions – because she wanted to enjoy surfing without the added pressure - her footballing life has been nothing short of spectacular.
Today, Kalani is one of the glimmering prospects of the Great Southern Football League Women’s (GSFLW) competition. Her speed, persistence, and explosiveness have made her a must-watch at the Goolwa Port Elliot Football Club. These skills on the field have combined effortlessly with her humble and laidback nature off it: embodying the qualities of both country football and surf culture.
Yet 2022 is just a small chapter of a 7-year-long football life that began in the Hunter region of NSW. There, in rugby country, it wasn’t an easy start for the young footballer. Her early days of football were especially tough. As the only under-17s girl at her club, she had to play for another team every year. Some teams were over an hour away from home, which meant she couldn’t train with them. “I struggled to feel part of the team,” Kalani said about her early days of footy.
Then in her first year of girls’ football, her team won 1 out of 16 games. “But it went up from there,” she said. She then progressed from the girl’s side to the women’s team: which she loved because it allowed her to stay at her club. There, she began to relish footy within the amazing atmosphere that her club provided.
“One of my core memories of playing up there was this one game where the other team were super dirty and this chick nailed me in a tackle that was completely illegal,” she said reflecting on the moment. “We were only just up, and I knew that if she got the ball they’d get another goal; so, instead of staying on the ground in pain I got up, chased her down and got her for holding the ball.
“It was awesome because the entire club was out spectating, and I could hear them all cheer so loud. That moment fuelled my enthusiasm for footy.”
The moment that fuelled her enthusiasm had also displayed many qualities that Kalani has shown throughout her football ever since. Resilient, persistent, and fast: are all terms that can be used to describe her actions on the football field. And these actions brought plenty of success her way while in NSW.
Kalani spent 3 years as a part of the Hunter Academy of Sport, where she won their Best and Fairest during her final year there. She represented, and even captained, the Hunter team several times during those 3 years as well, which “was very intense as everyone was solid country footballers”. She also represented the 2019 NSW under-15s squad at Nationals, where she won the Team Player award.
In the women’s league, she was named the Best on Ground during her team’s Grand Final appearance. Not stopping there, she was also named the Rookie of the Year, the Most Valuable Player, and the Rising Star. All of this added up to make Kalani an exciting NSW prospect, and a special one at that.
“The people and community in NSW was awesome,” she said when asked about her time there. “And I’ve got some lifelong mates that I found through rep and club footy.”
This is a lot to put on a resume of a young football player – all achieved through hard work and dedication. “I always put pressure on myself to be the best,” she said. And these awards and achievements are an obvious testament to her high level of self-motivation. But this is where a need for balance comes in. The pressure, the expectations, and the stress; can easily get too much over time. A prospect needs to balance the weight of expectations with the freedom of leisure – and this is where the importance of surfing lies.
Kalani uses surfing as a form of escape. The serenity, the adrenaline: when she is out at sea, it is only her – no pressure, no stress. Not only is it a good way to keep her mind at ease but – as fate would have it – it was also one of the deciding factors in moving down to the south coast of South Australia. “We all love surfing and footy, so SA was a good choice,” she said. And thus, a new chapter in the GSFLW began.
After moving from the Singleton Roosters to the Goolwa Port Elliot Magpies, one of the first things she noticed was the difference in the game. “It was a completely different game to NSW footy,” she said. “I think it’s far more skilful and tactful, whereas in NSW I found that a lot of the game style was hard tackles, long kicks and long runs.”
However, two things can be easily said about Kalani. One is that she is extremely sporting – since she has tried gymnastics, touch footy, swimming, rugby, netball, dancing, soccer, and surfing. And the other is that she enjoys a challenge. So, when she was given the sport-related challenge of adjusting to GSFLW football; let’s just say that she took it by the scruff of the neck.
The early days of life in South Australia were a little nervy. She knew what it felt like to be on the outer of a team: so, coming into a brand-new team in a new state was a little daunting. But the girls at Goolwa welcomed her with open arms.
“It’s hard moving into a club where it seems like everyone knows each other because it’s easy to feel on the outside,” she said. “But the girls immediately made me feel welcome. The coaches I’ve had have been awesome and focused on both team and individual improvement.”
“The girls I’ve been surrounded by have been fun, motivated, and very talented! So, it’s been really great and being surrounded by such a supportive club.”
Amazingly, within this beloved environment, it didn’t take her long to replicate her previous success in NSW within SA. She represented the 2021 GSFLW under-17 girls’ side where she was picked as their Best on Ground. From there, she was chosen to represent the Southern Districts team at the 2021 Country Championships. Kalani also soared at the Magpies. She finished runner-up to their 2021 Best and Fairest – despite having only played have the season.
And with an impressive season like this, it is no wonder that South Adelaide picked her to be a part of their 2022 South Australian National Football League (SANFLW) squad. Being a part of a club from the highest tier of women’s football within the state was an “amazing” experience for young Kalani.
“From the first session I felt my skills improving so fast,” she replied when asked about her time at the Panthers. “I had to push myself harder than I have for a very long time, and it was so rewarding.”
“The girls were also very nice and although I initially felt like I didn’t know anyone, I soon became good friends with a lot of them! I’m so keen to hopefully play for them again.”
Not resting there, Kalani was selected to represent GSFLW senior women’s side during the recently completed 2022 Association Game. There, her pace and her skills were on display for the entire southern region to watch.
Watching Kalani play is a pleasure – it becomes evident why she has been able to carve a promising path from NSW to SA. She seems to be in the right place every time. And her speed makes it seem like she has all the time in the world, and her explosiveness sees her break away from the stoppages at ease. A truly exciting prospect.
But of course, no prospect can do it alone. Whether it was in NSW or here in SA, Kalani has had some great support behind her. From her mum and dad who helped support and coach her, to the “awesome coaches” that are Nadine McBride from the Singleton Roosters and Michelle O’Brien at Goolwa – this young prospect has had some great support.
Showing her grateful side, her thanks do not stop there. “Also, thanks to my brother Jesse for training with me and my sister Asha for putting up with my games. And Kuti Shack for the on-going support and sponsorship.”
She has accomplished a lot within local footy in two different states; she has the mindset and the skillset to accomplish a lot more. So, it leaves us asking: what is the next chapter for Kalani?
“Well, I’d really like to make the AFLW and play for the Crows,” she said when asked what her goals are going forwards. “So, at the moment the goal is to perform well at representative levels this year and then get recognised at a SANFL level.”
She stayed strong during those early days of football in NSW to become an exciting prospect. It would have been easier – and maybe even understandable – if she had stopped playing footy and pursued a different sport. Yet she stuck at it, and in doing so she became something much more than an ordinary prospect.
And it is this persistence and dedication, weaved with her speed and explosiveness, that has made Kalani Bates a glimmering must-watch prospect who has immense potential.
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All of these photographs were taken by MWM.