Imagine being 15-year-old and signing up to be a professional female basketball player.
That’s exactly what happened to Tahlia Tupaea – the Aussie high schooler that made her debut in the Australian Women’s National Basketball League in 2012. She was the second-youngest debutant in WNBL history.
Now, Tahlia is 16 and plays for the Sydney Uni Flames. She’s also working towards finishing off Year 12 while she travels the world with her basketball team.
Just last year, she was able to score herself a spot on the bronze-medal-winning Australian Gems U19 World Championships team, who travelled to Lithuania in July. She also travelled to France and China with the Gems in 2013. This year, she’s travelled all over Australia – everywhere from Townsville to Bendigo.
The bright young star started playing mixed basketball when she was only six years old. By the time she was eight, she had already been selected for Penrith’s U12’s representative team.
I asked Tahlia to tell us a little bit about what it’s like to be a professional basketball player and a high school student. Here’s what she had to say…
My two older brothers and sister all played basketball in the local competitions at Penrith. I used to follow them around the courts, bouncing the ball. When I turned six, I started playing Aussie Hoops mixed basketball and just played as much as I could from there.
Even though I was playing in the U10s, I started filling in the U12games when the team was short of players. I loved playing against the older and bigger girls – I think it taught me to be smart and work out how to get around them.
During the 2012 October school holidays, I had just returned from Australian Development camp in Canberra. My parents told me that the Syd Uni Flames wanted to sign me for the season. I was quite overwhelmed and really surprised by the invitation.
I still attend school five days a week and train with the Flames on-court three or four times a week. Some of these sessions also include additional strength, conditioning and shooting training. I have really good support and flexibility from the Flames to ensure I can meet my school requirements and also my on-court and off-court training. I really try hard to have a balanced eating plan, although this is not always easy when travelling. I’m trying to just eat heaps of fresh foods.
Last year, I had 12 weeks off school, but still managed to complete Year 11. I now plan to do Year 12 over two years so I can successfully balance school and basketball and achieve good marks. The curriculum and faculty at my school are very supportive and have strategies in place for when I am off school with my basketball commitments.
I don’t really feel pressured, even though I’m the youngest player. I don’t really think about my age – just about basketball and what I need to do to improve.
I think more women definitely need to get involved in basketball. There needs to be greater exposure of women’s amazing achievements in the sport to encourage female players to become and stay competitive. The Australian Opals have been medalled at the last five Olympics, I would imagine that not many people are aware of this.
However, it can be very expensive to play basketball, particularly compared to other outdoor sports such as athletics, soccer, netball and football where local sports are heavily subsidised by local councils through the provision of grounds and facilities. The initial costs of basketball need to be reduced to attract a higher number of women to the game, and then greater exposure of competitive basketball for women.
And here are Tahlia’s tips for any kids that are keen to get into professional sport:
1. Keep working hard
2. Listen to your coaches and be open to many different coaching styles
3. Never give up, always have a plan and dreams