Talking mental health and cricket with Mikayla Hinkley


Signed up to the first ever WBBL Sydney Thunder team at the age of 17, Mikayla Hinkley knows a thing or two about cricket! She also knows a thing or two about having to grow up quickly and dealing the pressures of being a professional athlete. We recently caught up with Mikayla in between matches with the Queensland Fire and Brisbane Heat, for a chat on her journey to where she is today and the struggles she had along the way. 

Tell us a bit about yourself . . . 

I was born and raised in the western Sydney suburb of Penrith. I am the second eldest of 4 and the only girl. We grew up in a very working-class lifestyle, our parents worked unbelievably hard! They did everything they could to provide for the four of us kids, they’d sacrifice holidays, nights out and mostly their weekends to enable us to have the best education and ensure we could take every opportunity sporting wise. We weren’t always the most “well off” family financially however our parents instilled the importance of hard work and gratitude in us kids from a young age. 

What age did you start playing cricket and how did you get into professional cricket? 

I was 3 when I forced my way into playing have-a-go cricket with my older brother Chris. Technically I was too young to be registered but the organisers and coaches let me join in any way! I received my first professional contract not long before my 17th birthday. I wasn’t really expecting to be offered a contract due to my age and inexperience however I became a member of the first ever WBBL Sydney thunder team whom then won the inaugural women’s big bash competition in the 2015/16 season. 

Does anyone else in your family play cricket? 

My older brother does, he played representative cricket for Penrith as a junior. Now he is a popular member of the emu plains cricket club senior grade squads. He often showcases a lot of my old gear in the competition which he concludes to be performance enhancing. He loves the game and could have gone further however likes the idea of no warm ups, synthetic pitches and a beer post-match (also known as strictly park cricket) this is his happy place and often reminds me to enjoy cricket as if I was doing the same thing!

You have played for a number of different teams all around the country, is it a difficult emotional transition to move teams and have to establish new bonds with your new teammates? 

Absolutely! People whom know me well know I’m a bit of a Larkin however I’ve struggled with social anxiety for the best part of my cricketing career. It’s taken me almost 5 years to develop strategies to counteract these anxieties when joining new teams. The movement around the country has been amazing in experiencing different team dynamics, personalities and even cultures.

Being away from my family and support network is always challenging. Since my most recent move to Queensland I’ve built the foundations of a support network in my house mates and some family members who live up here. It’s amazing how mental struggles can sometimes allow you to discover yourself. Obviously going through elite sport as a teenager can be exciting but it can also be extremely daunting and lonely. My outlook now is that I’m happy I experienced everything I have and I actually wouldn’t change a thing I’ve done or a decision I’ve made to move interstate. 

What has been one of the most challenging moments in your sporting career? 

I lost my love for the game late 2017. That crept into the following season where I wanted time off, I just wanted out. I felt so weak for wanting to quit. I didn’t know how to communicate my struggles with support staff and coaches. I was only 19 and I felt like I had the weight of so many expectations on my shoulders, more so my own expectations than anyone else’s. Looking back, it’s probably been the worst I’ve ever felt mentally. There was so many other things going on outside of cricket that were affecting my mental health and I just could not communicate this to people outside of my support network in fear I’d look weak. I just needed a break. I initially endeavoured to have a full season off. Instead I decided to have a season break from the WBBL competition. I had some amazing opportunities in front of me that year however I just wasn’t in the right headspace to take any of them on.

Again, my expectations were weighing me down and I just wasn’t coping mentally. I needed to be close to home, not interstate where these opportunities were being presented. This was a massive decision! I got ridiculed for it, but I also got praised for making that decision. There was a lot of background noise from people thinking I just hadn’t been offered any contacts and that time off was just an “excuse” for not being offered any opportunities. That made me feel worse. Its never ok for other people to speculate on another’s mental health as an “excuse” for something else, it was extremely invalidating and made me feel like my mental health was all just a joke. I was lucky enough to have my awesome psychologist (outside of cricket) and family help me through my own self sabotage on the back of this speculation.

The irony of this was that I had all of these offers in writing. They were there and I did take a legitimate break from cricket due to my mental state. I had the facts, the people whom presented me the offers had the facts and my family had the facts and supported my decision. Although this was a low point, it encouraged me to realise how important it is to listen to yourself, be kind to yourself and ask for help from those you love. There is always a group of people, a friend, partner, parent or sibling who wants to listen, who wants to help, and I guarantee they will always be there to help!

What has been one of the most rewarding moments in your sporting career? 

Only about a month ago now, we (the Brisbane Heat) won the WBBL competition. It’s something I would have never foreseen looking back 12-18 months ago when I was looking at walking away from the game all together. I was and am so proud of my team, I’ve never felt such a sense of belonging than what I have playing for the Brisbane Heat this year. I’m so blessed and humbled to have been able to share the victory with an extremely diverse and hard-working group of girls. It was never about one individual doing it for the team, everyone had a job and a role, we all stepped up to the plate at different times to help the team.

When you are a part of something so special that you get to share with others there’s often nothing that can compare to that feeling. Especially when you’ve gone through previous struggles and self-doubt!    

You have openly shared your struggles with mental illness with your diagnosis of depression and anxiety, what made you speak out about those difficult times? 

I really kept my feelings and diagnosis to myself for a long time, I’d gone through dealing with friends losing their battle with depression and anxiety. The only thing worse about going through depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses yourself is watching some one you love and care for go through it too. When I was able to speak out, I wanted to not only share my experiences but throw out my hand for anyone suffering to grab a hold of and know that they aren’t and are never alone.

From your time as a professional sportsperson, you would have been involved in extensive physical and skills training.  Do you feel there needs to be the same emphasis with emotional and psychological support and ‘training’ in the professional sporting industry as a whole?          

As much as I’m an athlete and have different daily grinds I think more emphasis on psychological support in every workplace is imperative. It’s obvious in the media that a fair few cricketers of late have put their hand up and taken some time away. There is speculation around cricket Australia stepping in and “helping” the players. The reality is that players have been stepping away from the game for mental health reasons for decades.

I think the real message the media needs to address is not what’s causing these various athletes to have time off and sporting associations to “do something” but actually that its ok to walk away and have time off, its never going to make you a weaker person regardless of whether you wear a green and gold jersey or a suit and tie. My opinion rests at the fact that athletes have a platform to speak out and be an influence. If our most elite cricketers and other sports stars can do it, any and every Australian that is struggling can and is entitled to take care of themselves and strengthen their wellbeing.   

When you are personally feeling stressed or overwhelmed, what are some strategies and tools that you use that helps you get through those tough times?

I meditate, it’s a great skill to have and I encourage anyone struggling with stress and anxieties to give it a go! I also enjoy a lot of different recreational hobbies that help keep my mind off struggles. I think the most important strategy I have is to talk to loved ones. As I mentioned they will always be there and will always help.

How did hear about LIVIN and what made you connect with our message? 

About 3 years ago I actually saw a teammate wearing one of the original LIVIN tees. I then googled LIVIN and was totally amazed by the message of #itaintweaktospeak. LIVIN’s philosophy sticks closely to my values behind mental illness and the network that has been created by LIVIN is amazing! I attended a LIVINWell event in Bondi and got in touch around then to see how I could be a part of the movement and help get the message out to others whom are struggling. 

What advice would you give someone who is struggling with their own mental health?

I used to hear people say this at my lowest points and want to punch them, mainly because I didn’t believe it at the time and thought it was a bit of a condescending thing to say but honestly I promise it gets better!!! It Is so hard and the road will always bend and curve, there will be bumps and cracks but the light is there! It will always be there!

Your mental health is on a continuum, stay strong, engage with your loved ones and ask for help! Every struggle you have after your worst will be easier. You are loved and you are cherished, be kind to yourself and remember it ain't weak to speak!

Are you happy?

Absolutely!!!

Follow Mikayla through Instagram at @mikaylahinkley_14