Mind games: How star Pie fought back against self-doubt

Passing the Torch is a new spin-off podcast series under the Credit to the Girls umbrella. It profiles the young players of the AFL Women's competition who will be at the forefront of the league over the next 10 years. Episodes can be listened to via the traditional Credit to the Girls feed, wherever you get your podcasts. 

LAUREN Butler's first thought taking to the field for her AFLW debut wasn't one of excitement. 

Instead, she didn't feel like she deserved to be there.

Butler had been captain of TAC Cup (now Coates Talent League) side GWV Rebels and was drafted with pick No.18 in 2018, but despite that, she didn't believe she should be playing AFLW.

"I'm a big believer that your performance in football is 90 per cent in your head. You can do all the work, you can have all the skills, but if you're not, in your mind, really ready to perform, you're just never going to be able to show it on the field," Butler said.

"I'm really envious of those players who have such good self-confidence, that it's never been an issue for them. Because that's something I've really struggled with.

"I vividly remember so well, my first ever AFLW game was Geelong's first game at GMHBA (round one, 2019). That game we lost by (one point).

"I remember I started on the bench, and I ran out onto the field, and the first thing I thought to myself was 'I'm not good enough for this. I'm not good, I'm not ready, I don't deserve to be here'." 

Butler is now entrusted with the opposition's most dangerous forward every week, and her work isn't limited to a shutdown focus, given her ability to provide drive out of defence.

Lauren Butler takes a mark during the R4 clash between Collingwood and Adelaide at Victoria Park on September 18, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

She was named in the All-Australian squad last season. 

"For a long time, that was such normal dialogue inside my head, just that negative self-talk. Modesty has been something that's really important to me, but I let that bleed into really negative self-talk and always putting myself down," Butler said.

"That's something for me that I really want to work on. I've had great help from Maddy Haydar last year, who was our player development manager at the club, she's been really helpful for me. Also Carol, our psychologist, has been really helpful as well. Just working on things I can do before a game, or in the middle of a game, if I can start to feel those self-doubts coming in, to help reset and have that a more positive dialogue.

"People always say to me, 'on the field, you're so calm, you're so composed', and I think that's a massive strength of mine, but then in my head, I'm panicking, I can hardly breathe, I'm really doubting myself and I'm really worried about letting the team down.

"I shouldn't feel like that now, with the amount of experience I've had, but it's still something I struggle with after making mistakes on the field."

Alison Downie, Joanna Lin, Stephanie Chiocci, Lauren Butler and Sarah Rowe celebrate after the elimination final between Collingwood and Western Bulldogs at Victoria Park on November 6, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos


0:34 – Still feeling like the new kid on the block
1:10 – Growing up in Maryborough, country Victoria
4:20 – Driving to and from Collingwood in Butler's first year
10:34 – Playing defence with Stacey Livingstone
14:35 – Thunderstorm delays in semi-final loss to Adelaide
18:49 – The off-season player turnover at the Pies
21:35 – Consecutive "players' player" awards at Collingwood
24:48 – The impact of Steph Chiocci's leadership
28:48 – Self-doubt
31:08 – Coping strategies for on-field panic