Kelsey’s return to bowls
By Dee Ayre
There are many layers to Kelsey Cottrell. Certainly, her name is prominent in the world of bowls; astoundingly she even started playing for Australia at the age of 15. Fast forward to 2021, she has a total of 483 international appearances to her name, racking up achievements and medals, and has most recently won the Most Valued Player award for the 2021 Australian Open, following a fruitful fortnight which brought her the women’s pairs and fours titles.
Alongside her bowls career, so far she purchased her first house at age 20, gained two degrees, met her partner Andrew through junior bowls and has two young children, Sienna age three and six-month-old Ava. Kelsey has recently returned to bowls after a 12-month break, currently playing with the Broadbeach Bulls.
Kelsey’s dual career has gone down a few different paths. With encouragement from her mum, her early start with bowls in 2001 as a kid on the Sunshine Coast gained her considerable media attention. By the time Kelsey was in year 11, she wanted to be a sports journalist.
Years 2007 and 2008 were big for Kelsey as she was in the Australian Squad, played in many international events and had wonderful inroad to the world of sport. It was exciting for the teenager to have the opportunity to win prize money at Grand Prix events all over the country. By nature, she was very studious and always loved school, even thinking she was going to be a school teacher for a while. However, she also enjoyed bowls, travelling and had a taste for elite sporting events. She is grateful to have people in her life who had been in similar situations and her school was very supportive.
She visited the school careers advisor on an almost weekly basis to help keep her on the right track to complete year 12 with good grades. Her circle was keen on pushing her toward bowls but were very aware she must have something to fall back on. This was the same advice Kelsey’s mum gave; in that she was happy to support her sports ambitions but encouraged her to put a plan in place as well. With these steadying influences all around her, she took a year off to concentrate on finishing school, knowing she had to knuckle down and finish year 12 and get the marks she required to be accepted for the degree she wanted at university.
When she finished school, she moved to the Gold Coast, and the timing proved right. With ongoing support from Greg Brown from Tewantin Bowls Club who had guided her from when she started, she spent a year playing Premier League and ladies’ pennants for South Tweed Sports and was then offered a monetary contract from St Johns Park to join them in 2009. This was the start of becoming a professional; time to focus on bowls again and squeeze in some travel, which she loved. Never had she imagined as an 18/19-year-old she would have financial contracts on the table.
However, Kelsey had other goals as well. With a scholarship in place, she started a Bachelor of Journalism degree at Griffith, a university which is supportive of elite athletes. The first year was tough as she wanted to play bowls, study and have fun as well. She realised she still had decisions to make as to whether she was to be ‘in this bowls environment’ full time. Luckily for Kelsey and for bowls, her university was very flexible and, with supportive people to guide her, she was able to fit subjects in tandem with her bowling opportunities and still compete overseas. Her three- year degree took her about five and a half years.
Time management was key and she had to learn how to balance a futuristic five-year plan with the reality of taking things year- by-year. At the beginning of each year, she would work out her bowls opportunities, where she would be playing, when her down time was and then align these over the next 12 months with her long-term goals of winning gold on the international stage.
Within a blink of an eye, she had been at St Johns Park for 11 years, then working at Bowls Australia where she received strong support. The last subject of her journalism degree was to do an internship, so she approached BA, which seemed like a good fit. Next thing she knew she was playing in the Hong Kong International while reporting on the event from there. She considers she was lucky to be kept on after her internship and stayed on with BA for a further five years until she decided she was going to have a slight change in career path. She went back to university to complete a Bachelor of Business, majoring in marketing before baby number two.
Kelsey believes her mix between the bowls world and business skills has further developed her time management ability, given her opportunities to get the best out of people, gained her experience working in teams and be a good leader. Again, it was important to her to always have someone to talk things through with and she is thankful for many who have helped her along the way, both on and off the green.
Her advice would be to always believe in yourself and never think you must pick your sport or your career.
“Sometimes you might spread yourself a bit thin trying to do everything,” Kelsey said.
“It can be tiring, but it’s worth it.
“You can have it all; a career away from bowls and be an Australian Jackaroo.”