JOEY Peters was working as an elite performance coach for a few years after retiring from a soccer career that saw her represent Australia 110 times when she reached burnout.
"There was so much stress and most of it was my expectations and high standards as a player that I was trying to transfer on to others," says the fifth-most capped Matilda of all time.
Soon after Peters set up her business Game Play Learn [GPL) in 2016 in an effort to inject the fun she believed was desperately missing into her beloved football.
"There was so much concentration on teaching technique ... as opposed to focusing on playing the game that the kids have turned up for," she says, adding that "over-coaching" was causing high drop out rates.
Celebrating play as a mode of creative learning, building confidence and personal development to in turn drive kids' engagement, GPL works on two levels.
Firstly, Peters trains other coaches, parents and clubs to facilitate her creative coaching, with clients at home and abroad. Secondly, she runs programs for children at The Lifestyle Hub, formerly the Belmont Sporties club.
During lockdown, Peters she renovated her business and recently resumed community programs that are inspired by her life as a "mum, dad and grandma" to eight children who became a part of her family when she met her partner.
One of them is "DJ Tyrese", who has Down Syndrome and autism and gained his name via his love of music.
"There was nothing out there that would really be suitable for him to be comfortable in his self - a lot of the special needs offerings are a group thing as opposed to offering a space where individuals have freedom to express themselves as they wish," she says.
Her Superbilities program is the highlight of her week, allowing kids to be creative with balloons, balls and music.
"As a parent I have so much respect for everyone there, you don't know what each person is going through but you have a good idea because you are going through it yourself," she says.
GPL's Baby Hub Fun program was inspired instead by Peter's grandchild, Ellie.
"Her mum is working full-time and I've looked after her with my other half and ... I'd bring her down here and she picked up kicking quickly," she says.
"I thought hang on, these little kids are creative geniuses and it would be wonderful to encourage that sense of play but exploring it a bit more deliberately in an environment with others ... we call it the Under 2s Matildas!"
GPL also runs mini football in two-a-side format for kids under 14.
Peters' efforts to create a fun space that helps connect families through play without the rigidity of sport which helps individuals develop character has been personally rewarding.
"I get bogged down in the adult's world, play is a state of mind," she says.
"Even if I am working I want to challenge myself, if I am doing bookkeeping I think how can I make it enjoyable, I'll talk to someone and make a social connection."
She describes her gradual path from serious competitor to creative force as a "semi Kerr backflip".
"I am a lot more successful now because I am happy."
DJ Tyrese and the families she connects also fill her cup.
"When you step into their word, the things that we worry about pale into comparison with their challenges. It helps me - I think if the Matildas lose at the World Cup, it's not everything."
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