Ep 11: Interview with Socceroos Star Mitchell Duke

1 Jun 2023 PODCAST

Louie sits down with Socceroos star Mitchell Duke to discuss the mindset, skills and determination it takes to perform at your best on and off the field. They delve deep into his life playing football, growing up in Western Sydney and overcoming setbacks. Mitchell shares openly about the pressures of playing professionally overseas and being away from friends and family. This is an interview you will not want to miss. 

In this episode, we chat about: 

  • How Mitchell's youth career paved a way into the A-League
  • Career in Australia/Japan/Saudi 
  • Dealing with injuries, mindset, rehabilitation and coming back post injury 
  • World cup 2022 (Scoring against Tunisia, making it out of the group, Round of 16 match against Messi/Argentina)
  • What life will be like post football
  • Reaching your goals, even though you experience setbacks

Louie: Welcome everyone to another episode of Flip the Script. I'm your host Louie and today we have a very special guest with us. He's just come off a successful World Cup campaign with Australia. He has played for both Western City Wanderers and the Central Coast Mariners in the A-league, and currently applying his trade in Japan. We've got the one and only Mitchell Duke. Hey Mitch, how are you today?

Mitchell Duke: It's not a bad introduction at all mate. Good to be here and chat with you.

Louie: No, everyone's going to experience something like that in their life. I want to dive right into it. Let's just start from the beginning, I guess. You are a Western Sydney boy, you grew up in Liverpool, I think that's right. Yeah. And yeah, look, tell us about your upbringing. What was your family like? What got you into the football in the first place?

Mitchell Duke: Yeah, my life's been carnage from the beginning to be fair. I'm one of nine kids. I'm number eight in the ranking, so obviously a lot of older siblings. I've got six sisters and two brothers. So the family lifestyle and everything like that, we weren't at all coming from a wealthy family. We were in a very small three bedroom house with also a small granny flat in the back that my older siblings had shared. I was sharing a room with my two brothers, crowned into a tiny room. But without wealth financially, we had wealth with family, love, support, that kind of thing, which was quite cool at times when you think, "Oh God, I wish I was an only child," because it was chaotic and it was a struggle for my mom and dad. Credit to them massively. They are absolute superheroes for what they've done for us.

Making sure we all didn't go without... and trying to be in nine places at once because we all were active children, doing some sport or athletics, or something growing up and they made sure we didn't miss out on things like that. So my mom literally had to be Houdini and turn into an octopus with eight arms and all sorts of things to be in all different places and manage all of us kids, while my dad was the main breadwinner.

So yeah, it was cool. But yeah, like I said, I was lucky they put me into cricket and soccer at a young age and played that until I was about 11, 12 and then I had to choose because I couldn't do both sports, it was just getting too much for my mom and dad as well as it was starting to creep in like how much I wanted to commit to one sport, because... I like to say I was quite good at both and I had to choose. So yeah, lucky enough I chose football and long story short, I've had a pretty decent career some players would dream of I reckon.

Louie: No regrets picking football over cricket?

Mitchell Duke: No, absolutely not.

Louie: All right, and I guess what'd your dad do for work?

Mitchell Duke: Basically I actually worked for my dad for a little bit as well, which is terrible. I don't really know exactly. He worked for a plumbing company. It was like the old school clay pipes. He would basically be a courier and distribute them to the construction sites and this heavy duty old school clay pipes and he's just been a grafter doing that job basically his whole life from very young age. I think it took its toll on him now because I was carrying around some of those pipes and they're very heavy duty. But yeah, that's basically what he did his whole life and just a standard paycheck to paycheck kind of dad that brought in the money for the family.

Louie: So you chose football from the age of 12. What was the journey from there to your professional career?

Mitchell Duke: At a young age it actually probably started with me. I had a lot of rejection actually at a young age, funny enough to try and go into the selective sports school, Westfield Sports. I tried it out for them because I think if you're not in the capture area, being classified as a local, you have to basically try and become... trial out for sport, I guess in them. So I had to be basically a rep football player to try things so I had to do tryouts and stuff like that. And I actually got rejected to try and make the year six school and then I tried for the year seven as well and I got rejected as well by people that are still in the national team set up to this day funny enough that rejected me then. I also got rejected at the age of 12 when I was told I was too small and not good enough when I played for Blacktown City.

And yeah, it's always funny because I still see those people today in the sport being either scouts or coaches at pretty top level in Australia. So it's always nice to see that I've come to where I am now and proved them wrong in a way, you shouldn't have rejected me at a young age and you could have maybe taken some credit that you coached me and helped me develop, but instead you gave me the motivation to prove you wrong. So that was basically at a young age I went through that and then I was playing for representative soccer as well for my school, All Saint Catholic Boys in Liverpool from year seven to 10 and then all Saint Senior College in Casula, it was year 11 and 12 was separate from year seven to 10. So that was basically my little journey there and bounced between NPO clubs of Parramatta Melita, it was called back then, and Blacktown City. I ended up going back there as well before then, eventually playing for Central Coast Mariners getting my chance there.

Louie: So what are some highlights of your career playing in Australia in the A-league?

Mitchell Duke: Oh man, I was a very late bloomer. Lucky enough I signed my first pro contract at the age of 21, and getting to a bit of desperate times to be fair because I was starting to get a bit old and like I said, I didn't come from a very wealthy family. Even though my mom and dad tried to do everything possible for me. Financially, they weren't able to just... be able to support me. A 21-year-old needs to look after himself in a way as well. So I was becoming to a late stage. Lucky enough I signed there and in my first professional year at Central Coast Mariners, we actually became champions and we won it. So that was huge. And that was Graham Arnold actually back then as well, which is now the current national team coach who also took me to the Olympics and to a World Cup.

But yeah, so that was basically... Yeah, I was starting to give up to be fair, 21 is very late. When you see players now in the A-league 17, 18, 19 becoming regular players at first team football. And I didn't sign my first pro contract until I was 21. So it was very, very late and I was becoming basically... I don't know, just losing not... I wouldn't say losing love for the sport, but I was just starting to think about how am I going to provide for my own future. So I was working three jobs to just try and make it as a footballer. That became too much at one point. So I started an apprenticeship to become an electrician actually. And I got 10 months into that. And then, yeah, basically I'll say to myself after that first year apprenticeship I needed to just fully commit to that instead of football. Now I just played football on the side, and at the 10-month mark I got offered the pro contract. So very, very thankful that ended up happening because my life would be very, very different as a sparky.

Louie: So you would've been training with these guys at the age of 16, 17, 18, 19 and you were seeing people that you were brought up with getting their contracts before you. How did you stay focused? To be 21 and now you're thinking of doing a trade, you want to give up the sport. What was that focus like to just really get what you wanted out of football?

Mitchell Duke: Yeah, like you said, you start to doubt yourself especially because I was getting to that point and I felt like me not getting my opportunity was completely unjustified at some point because I was doing so well. Through the younger age groups, I always coming off the bench. I wasn't getting too many opportunities. And I said to myself, I wasn't a great player from the... but I've always had that hard work ethic grinder and I've always believed and I feel like my dad's always told me that hard work can beat talent, and I've seen a lot of talented footballers not make it for that reason because they wouldn't put in enough work. And where I was the opposite, I probably wasn't as talented as the others, but I was definitely the harder worker and I just didn't have any other option then to just keep going until I get my opportunity to make it.

So for me, I was actually very frustrated because I was training with the first team and with that came a lot of challenges because the first team players, obviously they're getting paid full time, it's their job. So they're training at 10:00 AM in the morning, up in the Central Coast. I was still living in Western Sydney but I wasn't getting paid for that. I was on a youth contract with Central Coast Mariners, which was $700 a month at that time the deals were, that was petrol to the Central Coast every day for a week there and back. And so I had to obviously work around that, so I committed to that. And then I was working in a retail with Supercheap Auto and then I also worked at Bankstown Airport on casual shifts a few times a week. That was from midnight to 7:00 AM. So I'd go from there to the Central Coast, then after that I'd either go to Supercheap Auto.

I used to work for a freight company as well called Henning Harders in the city and I'd be rotating between those three jobs and training full-time trying to make it. And which was... More frustrating is that I was doing well, I was Golden Boot in the youth league two years in a row. I'm not sure if I was the second year, but I was up there either the first or second, scored on my debut before I was even a pro footballer as well. So they gave me a chance with the first team in a real game, scored on my debut, still didn't get the contract so I was just like, "What more can I do?" And I saw players get their contracts before me that I felt like I was older, I was doing better in a way statistically and still wasn't getting my chance.

So I was getting to a place of doubt, giving up, it's not going to happen, it's never going to happen. But thankfully my dad always was such a great support for me. I think he's a huge factor and my mom of course as well. But he just made sure I just never give up and just keep going until you can't anymore. You're almost forced out of it and at least you can say you gave it everything and you look back with no regrets. And thankfully on the back end I've got that opportunity, and I'm so thankful I grinded it out because I couldn't imagine my life any other way now. And what I've done is just, I've made some memories of a lifetime being able to play for your country one time. Let alone for me, I think 26 times now, played at a World Cup, scored at the World Cup, played at the Olympics and other things that I've achieved is just insane to think about.

Louie: Well yeah, you touched on how your dad more... just kept pushing you, gave you that motivation, gave you that support, kept you, I guess kept you focused in a way. It's really good to have that sort of support system and especially being in such a big family, like you said, it's really nice to hear that still at the age of 20, 21, you've got your dad in your ear saying, "Come on, do this, keep it up." Which is really, really nice.

Mitchell Duke: It was so good and there was a period of time as well, obviously I thought I'll transition almost from high school, finishing year 12 as a 17, 18 year old. And then I was thinking like, "Oh, I'll try and make it as a pro football almost straight away." It didn't happen. And my dad was actually even still supporting me there. I worked with my dad for eight months and he was going to give me like $120 a week because that was out of his own pocket, he'd be like his work wouldn't pay me. So that was basically what I was living off, still trying to make it at that point. And that was just him helping me out as well. And even when I was...

I think from the age of 11 or 12, he used to wake me up before school and make me do a hundred pushups, a hundred sit-ups and about 25 chin-ups before he left for work, which was like two hours before I had to wake up for school, which was a nightmare and a drag. But I think back to it now and he set the platform for me physically to be in such great condition to be able to put in that hardworking and stand out and maybe work harder than the others because I was physically in better shape. And for that reason because any... and I feel like that mentality of routine where he woke me up Monday to Friday, 5:00 AM to do a hundred pushups, a hundred sit-ups, 25 chin-ups, I couldn't imagine too many other 12 year olds doing that.

I didn't want to do it either. I was fighting every morning but he made me do it before he left for work. And I think back to it now and I'm so thankful for things like that that just make such a big difference. I think it's so small, 10 percenters that maybe give you an edge on someone else. And maybe that also helped me being... get to 21 before giving up instead of other players that I've seen give up at 18 because they need to get a job and they need to become an adult really in a way.

Louie: Yeah. Oh, that's interesting. He taught you discipline at such a young age to stay focused on what you wanted to achieve. That's really good. That's really nice to hear that. You mentioned... I want to touch on the goal in the World Cup. We got to talk about that. We can't not talk about it. Tell me what went through your mind when the ball came, the ball went into the net. How was your feeling there? Because we needed to win that game, there was no doubt about it. We wouldn't have been able to really get through unless we won that game and then get to the third. How'd you go? How'd you feel?

Mitchell Duke: Yeah, honestly, it's probably the hardest thing to put into words exactly how you feel. But still to this day when I think about it still gives me goosebumps and it gives me this sense of just ecstasy being like, "Wow, I scored a World Cup." Because for me, I never thought I'd ever be in that position. So it's so surreal. Even thinking about it now still feels a little bit like a dream. And obviously because of the game, the circumstance ended up being the winning goal after we had just gotten, I guess pumped in a way by France 4-1, which is not the best start to a World Cup campaign for us, coming up against the current champions that could have easily deflated us, killed our confidence. But Graham Arnold set a huge great atmosphere and set in huge belief to the boys being like, "This is now our time to shine and get the job done."

And so for me to be at the top end, being that goalscorer, ended up being the winning goalscorer, the first win at a World Cup for 12 years or whatever it had been, just massive. And then the special cherry on top was being able to share in that moment with my son that I flew from England who told me the celebration to do and shared in that moment. And I'm so thankful for the cameraman at the World Cup to be able to pan to me doing the celebration, found him in the crowd, him doing it back to me. And that moment in itself I feel like just... it took over. He stole a limelight massively, but I couldn't be more happy that it worked out that way. And to be able to share in that moment with my son is a memory of a lifetime and as a father is something you can dream of.

And to have that as a memory is so special to me. He was even a little superstar when he went back to England. He went back to school. And when I saw him after the World Cup and went back and he said the first thing when I was just putting him into bed, he is like, "Daddy, I'm famous." Just little moments like that where you feel like, I don't know, special daddy brownie points where you shared it in that moment with your son and you were able to make him feel that way and that special connection is always going to be, I don't know, the pinnacle of being a father I guess.

Louie: Oh yeah, that's super rare, to score your first goal or was it the first goal for Australia that you've scored as well?

Mitchell Duke: No, that was at a World Cup. That was my ninth goal I think for Australia, so not bad.

Louie: And you are in a very elite group of goalscorers at the World Cup though.

Mitchell Duke: Yeah, that's right. So I was the eighth goalscorer for Australia at a World Cup. We had Craig Goodwin number seven, me number eight, and Matthew Lecky number nine from the current World Cup. And to think about numbers like that is also an insane statistic to think we've made five World Cups and I was only the eighth goalscorer. So it's like you put yourself into the history books of Australian football and that's one thing you want to do as a professional athlete is be remembered for what you did. So for me to know I could always be remembered as a World Cup goalscorer, the eighth Australian to score at a World Cup and things like that, especially on the earlier statistics with such low numbers already to put yourself on there, that just shows also how rare it is to be on that list.

So for me that adds just to the special feeling for me. And I always think because I was like... I don't know, because of the journey I had already, it just feels insane to think that I'd scored in a World Cup, being on that list, that very, very small list of players that have, thinking that I was going to be happy just playing as a professional footballer, let alone playing for my country, let alone representing them at huge tournaments and scoring goals and being... Yeah, or just even playing any minutes at a World Cup, things like that. It's just like I was so appreciative for every moment. But I also had that mentality instilled where it's like you get given an opportunity, you got to take it with both hands because opportunities are rare to come by, especially in elite sport. So I feel like that's the mentality I've always had is when you get your opportunity, you have to take it.

You don't want to feel like you didn't give it your all and you sit back and look back and have regrets. And that's one thing I never want to do. But that all comes down to the mentality side, which I've realized now being 32, 12 years into the professional world, mentality is more important than anything else. And if you've got that right, the rest of the things come a lot easier and you handle things a lot easier and you can perform at your best without any doubts. And then I feel like that always gives you confidence because when you're lacking confidence, especially as a striker in my position, that can affect your game massively and make you go missing in games, and you can't afford that in elite sport because you lose your position, you're fighting for your spot every day. So that's the crazy mentality I feel like I've grown over time as an elite sportsman at the top level for 12 years now.

And you're still getting better. I'm still going through experiences now that have tested me massively, mentally in the last few years that I wasn't prepared for. I still struggled to deal with at times and still constantly growing because I think as you get older anyway, there's always different challenges regardless, like starting your own family, supporting kids, thinking about their futures, you're not just thinking about yourself now, and that comes down to making sure you're successful in your job, to give them the best future. So there's added pressures. So yeah, it's been a crazy journey and I'm still mentally getting to better places I'm finding myself now, even thinking how I was going to handle the pressure at a World Cup. There's hundreds of millions of people watching games at a World Cup. So if you grasp the concept of that, it's just insane.

Louie: And when you're in that position where you know you need to score to keep your position, otherwise you're probably going to be on the bench, what's your mindset? Is it harder in training? Do you focus on the little things? What do you need to do to make sure that you're... if you're having a rough patch, how do we get back to... is kicking those goals metaphorically?

Mitchell Duke: Yeah, I think what I found over time anyway is... because I've been there, I've had moments when I had a great first year as a professional actually, and the second year I wasn't anywhere as prolific, and I had some games where I've missed some chances and it really knocked my confidence. I feel like I needed to escape social media and just have a mental reset because it was affecting me so much. I ended up actually... with my partner at the time, we ended up going away to Hunter Valley for a couple days when we got given the days off just to get away from everything and try and reset mentally because it was affecting me so much, my confidence was down.

So you just try certain things, doing something like that to try and see if that works, escape the... I don't know, complete reality of being around a lot of people and try and just get away and try and just be around the people that you love and try and reset and not get too caught up on social medias and platforms and things like that, which seem to help a little bit.

But I feel like it's... what I've realized now as getting older, especially in my job is to just don't put too much pressure on yourself and just get back to the basics. Make sure you put yourself in the best position physically to perform at a high level because then when you're feeling good, you'll start to perform good. And then when you start to perform good in training and you're starting to feel good, your confidence grows, touch by touch, pass by pass and things like that can start to rebuild as long as you're mentally not putting too much pressure on yourself thinking, oh.

I've been there. As a striker, you go a few games without scoring goals and you're like, "Oh, the goal just keeps getting smaller. When is that goal going to come?" And you start doubting yourself again. It can be a rollercoaster, but I think if you always trust in your ability, who you are as a player, what your strengths are, and going back to the basics and not over complicating things, I think that's where I've managed to get the best out of myself and get myself out of those little rough patches and moments like that.

In saying that, there's been circumstances where it's hard to get yourself out of that because there's no escape anywhere. For instance, my experience when I went to Saudi Arabia was the hardest wake up call for me emotionally, mentally, physically, all the circumstances were against me I felt like when I went there. I was isolated. It was during the pandemic. I couldn't have people come visit me. My ex-partner was pregnant at the time and I wasn't going to see my daughter for the first five months of her being born and being in a place during the pandemic in Saudi Arabia, in the Central Saudi as well. I was in a compound. My routine was bad, so I was missing family. I wasn't able to see my kids. I'm missing massive milestones, the births, the first time you hold your daughter and your baby and things like that. And I didn't have any escape because also in football I wasn't playing my own position. I was playing wininger instead of...

Off the back of a great season, I played in Australia, I scored a lot of goals and then I went there, felt like I wasn't appreciated. So there was the biggest mental test there, but thankfully enough, I recognized that after six months and felt like I need to get myself out of this situation, otherwise it's only going to snowball and get worse and the problems are going to get bigger. So I took it upon myself to approach the club saying, "You need to give me a chance as a striker or you need to let me leave." And I think that was the best thing I had ever done because I ended up going back to Australia to a lifestyle I enjoy, back around people that I love and in a country that I love and I'm comfortable with and get back to enjoying my football.

And as soon as I did that, start banging in goals again, got myself back into the national team and then since that moment I've just skyrocketed, obviously went to the Olympics, went to... signed in Japan, went to the World Cup and did everything of what I've done since that moment. And I think that emotional mental test that I had in Saudi Arabia made me grow massively and it taught me so much to be fair. And I feel like that's helped me through any other little moments that I've had. Since that period of time, I feel like I'm mentally at my peak now and nothing can break me and I'm unstoppable and I feel like that's a great position to be in, especially in my sport.

Louie: It's interesting because you said as soon as you came back to Australia, the mindset changed.

Mitchell Duke: Yeah, the switch.

Louie: You were happier and all of a sudden you're scoring goals again. So it's very important, I guess. It's like when you were in Saudi Arabia you were doing everything you possibly could, right? But you were just kept getting denied or rejected or blocked. So you just made a decision to just leave it.

Mitchell Duke: Yeah, a hundred percent. And that's what I mean. I think I became aware that the situation that I was in was not going to get better and I made a decision, it's always a risk because I was on great money there in Saudi Arabia, so I was risking losing my contract and my bigger contract. But I took that sacrifice to think, "You know what? I think for this short-term risk, it could have a long-term benefit." And you have to make those decisions. Sometimes you have to take risks. But I put my own wellbeing, my mental state, my happiness before any of that and I just need to make sure that risk paid off and thankfully it did. But I think the most important thing was that I've made myself aware that I needed change at that moment, otherwise it was just going to snowball and get worse like I said.

So sometimes you got to take that upon yourself, assess where you are, the situation. If you are that unhappy, I think you need to sometimes put your happiness as a priority and because I feel like when you do that so many more things come your way in a positive light instead of a negative. And I'm so happy I made that decision because it has... and since that moment... Not saying that anything... I've had some really rough times still since that moment. I've gone through a separation being here in Japan for the last two and a half years now, just missing a lot of time with my kids in England, my son in Australia as well, that I'm getting very, very little time with. So I'm missing them growing up. So these are all challenges that I'm still currently facing and having to put myself through while performing at a top level.

But I think the mindset that I've gotten now is I'm 32, I know I can't do this sport for much longer, maybe four years at the top level at best. And I know in that four year period, financially I need to make sure I'm in a good position to look after everyone by the time I retire, give my kids the best futures that they deserve. So I think while it sucks, I'm missing out so much time with my kids, but they will appreciate it I'm sure when they realize that they're going to have all these things given to them when they're older and a bit more of a comfortable lifestyle thanks to these sacrifices now financially. And that's what keeps me going and that's what keeps me motivated and gets me through the tough times of where I'm feeling lonely in a country that you don't speak the language, you don't have any family or friends support network immediately around you.

Okay, you got FaceTime and things like that, which I'm sure a lot of people could say is not the same as having that physical presence and having there someone to just hang out with and catch up with to give you a release from maybe the stressful job or whatever it is. But that's why... I think Saudi helped me become a mental machine and just be able to be like, "You know what? I'm doing this for a reason." And when... I had them here recently actually, and if my situation has taught me anything, it's just to appreciate time, just to literally appreciate every minute of every second that you get with family, friends.

I think for me that's everything why I'm doing what I'm doing. So it's made me appreciate time with my kids and I can't do this forever and I see them for a very short period of time. So I literally just soak it all in and just appreciate things, all the little things. And I feel like once I've come through this mindset now, it just makes everything so much easier. The goodbyes are never easy at the airport, but for the long term I know that they're going to appreciate what I'm doing. So that's what gets me through.

Louie: Yeah, it's tough. They're not going to exactly understand what's going on now, but yeah, you are right, in the future when you have got them, you're retired, when you get to that state, I guess when you're retired and you have much more time with them, they're going to look back and they're probably going to understand it a little bit better, but still going to be tough. Do you contact them frequently? You're always on the phone and just keeping up with them daily?

Mitchell Duke: Yeah, so as they're getting older, thankfully where we are with technology these days it's so helpful. I can even start messaging my sons now, my nine-year old in Australia and my seven-year-old, they've got this kid's messenger thing that you can message them now. So they can send me little messages, I can send them my little pictures or just I love yous and whatever and obviously I'll FaceTime them as regular as possible as well. But yeah, like I said when I had them here recently, I still have moments of being like, "Oh, can I keep being here in Japan? Should I just go to England or Australia to be closer to family and friends and not miss out on so much," because when I had my kids here recently being like, "We just want to stay here in Japan with you daddy, why can't we just stay? Or why can't you just come back to England and be with us?" So these little questions that they don't quite grasp what I'm doing now kills me inside because they just want time with me.

Louie: It's tough, you're seeing them leave and they want to stay or they want you to come back with them home, and you've got this career in Japan and they've obviously got their own lives in Australia and also England. It must be just super tough to let them go, but the bigger picture, you know that bigger picture what you want to achieve.

Mitchell Duke: Yeah, absolutely. And like I said, those moments kill me when they ask those questions because all they want is just time with me. So to try and let them understand being like, "Yeah, but what daddy's doing now is giving you a really good future and all." They've just been like, "We just want daddy. We just want to see you after school. We just want to play with you after school," and just do the simple things that a kid wants to do and just enjoy time with their father. But yeah, for me, like I said, I know what I'm doing is going to benefit them in the long run, and for me it's hard because it's a lot of pressure for me. I'm scared of retirement because I don't feel anywhere near ready enough yet for myself to be having an income that's coming outside of my job at the moment.

At the moment, football's my job, it's my income and it's really good money at the moment, but that's not forever. And I'm a lot longer retired than I am playing. So I need to make sure I put myself and my family in a position that when I transition outside of football, we're all in a comfortable position to keep moving forward and not be in a tough spot. So a lot of pressure comes with that. And right now if I was to go back to England, I would be taking a 70%, 60% pay cut of what I'm on here. So right now it's just not possible. It's so hard and I feel like sometimes it comes off a little bit selfish because like, "Oh, money's not everything," but in a way it is if you are the sole earner for your kids and for their futures.

So not that I need to explain myself to a lot of people as long as my immediate circle, my family and friends know why I'm doing it, they're reaping the benefits of it. That's all that matters to me. And I'm pretty sure a lot of people... it's easy to speak on the outside, but if they're in my position and they see what comes across their table to sign and what decisions to make, I'm pretty sure they'll all make similar decisions of what I've made. So not that I need to justify that with anyone else anyway.

Louie: No, it's all right. I guess, we've touched on a few of the things, living abroad and just having... even when you were younger, trying to get that first contract. I know that you suffered an ACL injury and I know that's one of the most difficult things to come back from. How were you feeling at that point when you've achieved so much, you got to where you wanted to be and then now you've got another setback?

Mitchell Duke: Yeah, I actually think about it now. Speaking about it more, there's so many things that was mental, emotional massive tests that you can experience. I think about everything I've already spoken about. But then actually, yeah, the injury was actually a huge shock to the system because it was my first serious injury. Long term they say you're out for six to nine months and that was off in my second year of my move to Japan. I had a really good first year, played like 31 games out of the 34 available, which is hard for any Aussie that's come to Japan. It can be a hard transition with the culture shock and the level of football here and doing that. And then in my second year, I'd actually just flown to England for the birth of my son, Jackson. And then I'd just come back and then two days later after arriving I've done my ACL.

So I've just had that huge high of becoming a dad to my son Jackson in England with my ex-partner at the time. And then I've come back and just had this huge setback with an injury and then you obviously don't want to ever get told as an athlete that you're going to be out for six to nine months, which is basically the whole season. And that was on my second year contract. I didn't have any other contract lined up after that. So I was on good money there. Yeah, so that was my final year of my contract.

It's just insane. And I was like... You're scared. I was scared because I was like, "Wow, they're going to not give me a new contract. I'm going to end up going back to Australia off the back of this serious injury. They're going to offer me a minimum wage. I'm going to go from this money to this money." I've just had my son. I was freaking out. And then thankfully enough, my Japanese cup was brilliant, they let me do the surgery in Australia. They let me be around my immediate family and friend network, which helped me mentally instead... well obviously the physical side it's a process but it's the mental side of things that can really get you down and affect your rehab. You feel like you're not in a good place, you're not doing rehab right or you're just lounging around feeling sorry for yourself.

But lucky enough, I was back in Australia, I was around my friends, my family. And mom and dad were making sure I was going to rehab and little things like that helped me get through and reset my mind instead of being scared, approach it being like, "You know what? Just do your progress through your rehab, tick off all the boxes and try and come back as soon as possible, show that you're fit and ready and maybe you could own yourself another lifeline in Japan and see what happens." Thankfully, maybe a little bit of AmeriCorps, came back after five months playing and was able to show that I was in good condition and they gave me a six-month extension on my contract, which was basically a little lifeline and I'm so thankful for that because otherwise I was going to potentially go back to Australia and on minimum wage, on a huge pay cut.

So I think I approached it in a way of, "You know what? Do everything right. Give yourself the best possible opportunity." Like I said, with everything that I've done, just basically do as much as you can and hopefully you're in a position that you can either show yourself or get yourself another opportunity. And I feel like it worked out that way and that six month extension was another opportunity for me being like, "Okay, I need to turn that six month into another year or a year and a half." So I needed to make sure I'm performing well in my best shape possible, make sure my diet's good, I'm sleeping good, just give myself my own routine and give the best possible thing to perform at the best level. And that's just one things you just learn as you go along. But if there's one thing is that it's definitely not great or healthy feeling sorry for yourself for too long.

And if you are down, surround yourself with the people that you know genuinely feel... are there to help you and actually feel like they want to help you as well. Because I think speaking about it sometimes, if you're actually just feeling down and sometimes you just bottle things up, to get it off your chest, I think that helps massive because I'm one to definitely, I don't know, bottle things up and I just brush things off when it's genuinely affecting me and then it'll hit a little bit of a breaking point and then I'll have a little bit of a breakdown or little bit of a ramp with someone. And then once you get it off your chest, you just feel like a hundred kilos less. But that's like one thing-

Mitchell Duke: Yeah, a hundred percent. It's just like you don't want to come across people like you're feeling sorry for yourself or you're looking for sympathy. And so I don't really share some of the things I go through because I just feel like not genuinely everyone cares and stuff, but that's not the case. People genuinely like to help you and have a conversation and just listen to you. So even if they don't give you any advice or they're not saying anything back, I think sometimes it is just good to put it out in the open and get it off your chest.

You can sometimes feel a little bit lighter and I felt like that's definitely me. I've turned into a bit of an open book now. Maybe I'm too honest and too open now. And then people be like, "Hey, you don't need to tell me that. It's fine." But for me it's like everyone's different and that's how I've handled it and I feel like that's what makes me feel the best mentally. And I think as long as my mental health is at its peak, everything else feels better. Everything else like life, lifestyle, my job, family, everything like that just feels better.

Louie: It sounds like the healthier way.

Mitchell Duke: A hundred percent.

Louie: From everything. Everything that you've shared, every time you've got that negative thought and then you go into that positive atmosphere, you've just seen that there's better outcomes, you're getting better results and it's not unusual. It's definitely something that's working.

Mitchell Duke: Yeah. And that's the thing I'm quite thankful for because I've become aware of it myself and I've made certain changes to get myself out of that situation. And I've probably learned that along the way, thankfully to my experiences. But I could imagine some people in certain lines of work where they just feel they're in a rut, or they're in a hole and they can't get out and certain circumstances, but sometimes it takes a risk or a big decision. Putting yourself first or your happiness and your mental health first, that at the time might seem scary to make a decision like that. But the benefits can be hugely positive to your lifestyle and your mental health.

And sometimes you just got to take those risks and make those changes. But I'm lucky enough that I've been able to live through that and experience the benefit of doing that. But it's never easy. If it's the first time you're going through something and you think, "Oh god, is this going to be my forever?" But yeah, if I can give any advice to some people in any certain circumstances, you can get yourself out of it if you can just either...

Depending on... obviously the scenario is very different, but if anyone can relate to anything of what I've said, what I've done has been beneficial to me and it could be beneficial to them in those scenarios as well.

Louie: Yeah, no, it's true. Regardless of what situation you're in or what profession you're in, if you've got that positive mindset that's going to make a huge difference. If you are going to beat yourself up and always be negative, then maybe the laws of physics or whatever it may be, many things will happen, right? So if you-

Mitchell Duke: Exactly.

Louie: Yeah. So if you're being more positive then you're attracting more positivity and it's definitely something that we can see.

Mitchell Duke: Yeah, I see it. I know people, some of my friends that be in jobs that they don't enjoy. But then I feel like there are little things you can do to make changes to maybe if you... Okay, can't just be like, "Oh, I can't just quit my job, I can't do that. I need an income." Things like that. But there's other ways of building towards a better future. If you want to make little changes or make short-term sacrifices, maybe earning extra income for a short period of time that will help you maybe start your own little business, or find out what you enjoy in that period of time and start to work towards that with something that you enjoy. And you got to find that... sometimes short term. For me, I was not living for... I didn't have much of a social life.

When I was working three jobs as well as training with the first team, I wasn't enough with three hours of sleep. My main diet was energy drinks, it was a disgrace. But I'm so happy I did that because I'm reaping the benefits now of what that grind and that tough time was. I didn't have money. I didn't... I was driving a little lawnmower of a car. I didn't get any benefit back then. I wasn't able to take people out. I could barely pay for my own drinks if I wanted to have a social life and go out and things like that. So I didn't really have that for a long period of time, and now I'm reaping the benefits of all that period of time and that sacrifice and things like that.

So sometimes if people are in their situations now, I think short-term sacrifice or short-term... you have to grind it out at six months harder to put yourself in a better position to maybe make a change to your lifestyle in a better way, it's so much more worth it than constantly being in this negative mindset being like, "Oh, I hate my job. I'm just doing a nine to five." And like, "I don't enjoy it, this, blah blah blah." And then you don't make any effort to make a change.

I think... And I can understand as well, you might not have energy to do it, but it's just like you just got to find that little bit just for that short period of time, just kick on for six months and that period of time can change your life. But yeah, it's just... I guess my little take on everything I've experienced and I'm not a professional in anything outside of that, but I'm just going purely based off what I've done and some of my experiences and hopefully if people can relate, they can take some of this on board and hopefully it makes it a positive change to them.

Louie: Oh look, it's fantastic that you're sharing all of this because people are going to listen to this and just in general, they probably see athletes or celebrities or whatever it may be and probably think it's just so easy. There's no reason for them to complain everything's given to them, they're so successful then everything must be happy and positive with them. But obviously in the background as a normal human being everyone's going to experience some setbacks or some issues and we just all have to know how to manage them our best way I guess.

Mitchell Duke: And I guess for... You just actually touched on there, that's probably another mental challenge, probably more in this sporting world that people could relate to is that if you have a bad day in the office and you're an accountant, not too many people realize. But you have a bad day in the office as a footballer, say on the World Cup stage, there's a lot of people watching you have a bad day and then they feel the right to send you messages on social media calling you a bad player, why you're professional? How are you professional? How are you playing for your country? Blah blah blah.

Sending you horrible messages on social media. And that's another thing to make sure you don't let affect your confidence and develop thick skin early on. Because I've seen that affect young players, especially when I was back in Australia at the beginning, I've seen players deactivate their Instagram accounts because they're getting abuse from people calling them bad footballer, they should quit. You shouldn't be playing for our club and blah blah blah. And that can really mess someone up because people take away the fact that they're a person behind the athlete and people feel the right that they could send horrible messages, which I still don't understand to this day why you go out of your way to send horrible negative messages. I just don't get it. I don't get it. But I just become to be like, that's them reflecting-

Louie: It is.

Mitchell Duke:.... maybe the negativeness on their side. They're just trying to put that on someone else or take that out on someone else for whatever reason, and you just got to laugh it off and things like that. And thankfully I'm one of those lighthearted positive people where I experienced that in Saudi Arabia. I had death threats and everything in Saudi Arabia. Yeah, actually one little funny story, well, not funny. You can laugh a little about it now, but on my birthday I had all these fans saying happy birthday and sharing pictures.

And I had some in Japan, Saudi, Australia. Anyways, there was just one from Saudi that was sending a happy birthday and it was my picture on a cake and then it was Arabic writing, and I shared it thinking he said happy birthday in English. So obviously it's got to be a positive message. But the Arabic said... because my teammate messaged me after five minutes of having it up, being like, "Man, you need to delete that. They're saying something horrible about you." And I was like, "Oh God, I've just shared this on my own page, making myself look like a mug." But yeah, anyway, so what it ended up saying was basically saying, "I hope you die within three years." On this cake in Arabic. And I was like, wow.

Louie: I've never heard of anyone getting a hate cake before. Who went to the effort to bake the cake and do all that. Oh god, that's so bad.

Mitchell Duke: That's not bad. There's some outrageous experiences. But for me I learned... I take that with a grain of salt. It's just like, is what it is. That's people just being hateful and negative. And for me, I don't get caught up in that. I laughed about it being like, that's just sad. I feel sorry for the person doing kind of things like that, as being like, you're going out of your way to do something like that horrible to someone else that you don't even know for whatever reason, just purely based off a game, let's separate a little bit. Don't need to get that ruthless. You can call me a bad player, but let's not go too far.

But yeah. But for me, I could see a message like that really affecting someone else a lot worse. But lucky enough for me, I'm a seasoned pro now. I feel like I've developed thick enough skin you can't penetrate. So I can laugh things off like that. But it's all part and parcel of development and growth and getting to the point of you know who you are and that's enough, because you can get caught up in wanting to please random strangers on social media, live a certain life that you're not necessarily wanting, but you're doing it to try and impress people, and all that facade and things that you can put out there. When you get older and you experience certain things, you become to understand about who you are as a person. And the sooner you get to that point where you just put yourself in happiness and everything first, I think you're winning. You're winning massively in life.

Louie: It's great advice for a young athlete that's making their way up. They're obviously going to experience that, especially nowadays with social media, with all of that. But I guess, what are some other advice that you could give an up and coming athlete? They're probably going to experience setbacks, similar injuries and things like that. What advice do you want to speak directly to them about?

Mitchell Duke: Yeah, maybe a few points, I'll be, use rejection as motivation instead of a way to kill your confidence. I think that's one thing that massively helped me. I turned rejection instead of starting to believe what they were saying that I wasn't good enough. Start to believe that you know you are good enough or you can make it and keep that inner belief in yourself and use that as extra motivation to even put in extra work and be like, "You know what? I don't want them to be right." Use that as motivation to prove them wrong, which for me personally speaking is very satisfying when you get it. My own uncle rejected me. He told me I wasn't good enough. He was working at Sydney FC at the time, I trialed for the youth team there.

Louie: Oh really?

Mitchell Duke: And they rejected me. And my uncle at the time was there and he was part of the reason being like, "No, he doesn't read the game." Well, whatever. I made met him in his word and he's apologized to me. And I'll tell you what, it's a good feeling. But then, yeah, certain things as well, I would probably say hard work and putting in those extras will definitely give you the platform to become better because like I said, the way I play, hard work can beat talent. Some people can rely purely on their talent, but if you work harder than them and you've got as good ability, you can overtake them for sure if you've got that mentality to be better.

And for me, you have to be prepared for some sacrifices. And that's just... if you're not willing to make sacrifices, you won't make it to the top or you won't stay at the top for a long period of time, because there's a lot of sacrifice involved in elite sport. So you need to be prepared for that, especially for Australians and especially in my job as well, where if you have a career just in Australia, financially it's going to be tough to probably put yourself in a great position.

So everyone wants to make it overseas and the sacrifice of going overseas is tough. You're going to be on your own at times. You're going to have to get yourself out of certain situations at times on your own, and mentally perform at the best level while you're going through these transitions and these culture changes, and setting up a new life and adapting to different lifestyles. So, you have to be prepared for that sacrifice. And if you're not, you'll end up being like some players that have come overseas, come back after six months and then never leave Australia again. So that's probably another one there. And then I'll just say, putting that extra work on your weaknesses, improve your weaknesses to the point where they're not weaknesses anymore, because that's a huge asset for anyone in elite sport. The less weaknesses you have, the more, I guess... well, least dispensable you are to a team that you become a huge valued asset to them because they know that you can always rely on you and be consistent.

And you have so many things that help the team instead of being like, "Oh, they'll use a weakness against you to not play you, or use you in a certain circumstance." So I think, yeah, improve your weaknesses to the point where they're not that anymore and they become a benefit or an asset. And you've got... say, if you're right footed, you've got a better left foot than the other guy who's right footed and his left foot's not as good, that can give you a little bit of an upper edge, just for an example.

Just little things like that. So that's probably about it really. And just to, yeah, like I said, if you ever are in a emotional or mental hole in certain circumstances or you are starting to self-doubt, try and become aware of it yourself and try and make certain changes that you think will benefit you in the circumstances of you know what can make you happy. Surround yourself with that, whether or not that's also just having your moral alone time, catching up with friends, speaking more about certain things, whatever it is to give you that little edge to get back to your pure happiness. Because when you're at your happiest day, I think that's when you can perform best as an athlete.

Louie: No, that's great advice. And yeah, I guess when you're young and you're moving up and you're starting out, it's not something that they're probably thinking about. Mental health and all of that at a young age, they probably have never experienced it, but it's really great advice to give back to them and to help them understand what they're expecting as well if they want to move into a professional career like yourself.

Mitchell Duke: Yeah, a hundred percent, mate. Yeah, it's always one of those things, it's one of cliches you say. Now that I'm 32, I wish I had this mind on my 20-year-old self because you'd be massively more able to handle certain scenarios that I've went through a lot better, get myself out of certain situations quicker and whatever. But it's part of development, so that's why maybe it is good to have these kinds of chats as well, because then if people can take some of this on board and apply it to themselves, maybe that gives them an upper edge on getting themselves out of a situation or giving them an upper edge in developing quicker or doing something better to give them the best chance of becoming either a pro athlete or whatever it is in their line of business.

Louie: That's right. And I guess Mitch, after football, what have you got planned? Do you know what you want to do after? Do you have any interests that you really want to dive into?

Mitchell Duke: Yeah, look, for me that's been a massive thing now that I'm thinking about. Like I said, I had my world turned upside down last year going through a separation. So I've got two kids in England, I've got one son in Australia while I'm playing here in Japan, which is the middle ground. And now I've got to put myself in a position that I can either be flexible outside once I retire, that I can maybe either bounce between both countries so I get a fair amount of time with my kids or whatever. So I'm trying to work out what that could be to give myself the best situation because time with... I think family's a huge motivation for me, that's why I do everything that I do. I've come from one of nine and I appreciate family. It's like everything to me. So that's my main motivation now to make sure I get much time with them.

So I like the active lifestyle. I've done my cert three and four in fitness just to give myself something if I want to open up my own gym maybe, or I was always prepared to really just eventually settle in Australia and my name, I would stay in the football world and that'd be a bit more of an easier transition.

But now that I've got my kids based in England as well, if I need to go live in England, I need to make sure I can do something that's going bring me in a good enough income, that's going to be stable and comfortable enough. But I won't be able to use my name there. I'm basically a nobody in England, so I'll have to figure out other ways of maybe doing a business either my own gym or invest in certain things and try and make something happen over there as well. So that's the process I'm going through now and trying to figure that out. So yeah, right now it's hard to give a complete answer of what I'm doing, I'm just making my time to try and figure it out without going too crazy and putting too much pressure on the future.

Louie: Mitchell, thank you so much. Honestly, what you've shared today, I hope that everyone that listens takes something out of it. And I know they will. I know they will. There's going to be a lot of people that have listened to this that are probably experiencing similar things or like you said, instead of talking to someone, they're just happy to listen to this and maybe that'll help them, guide them in the right way. But I'm so happy that you came on and shared everything with us. So we're really, really, really... thank you for that.

Mitchell Duke: No, I appreciate it, man. I'm happy to do it. And if it affects one person in a positive way, I think we've done our job with having these kinds of conversations and I'll be buzzing with that.

Louie: Yeah, no, look, again, thank you so much. Everyone that's watching and listening, if you do want to ask us any questions in the episode notes, you can check. We've got our email, which is info@optimhealth.com.au. If you want to send us some questions, if you want to ask Mitch anything, we'll say he's pretty busy, but we'll work that out.

Mitchell Duke: I'd be happy to answer any questions.

Louie: And if you just want to vent or just share your own experiences, maybe something that we can share again for other people that are experiencing things, please don't hesitate. That's what we are here for. And also, if you like this episode, please hit like, share, leave us a review. That way we're able to bring more guests, just like Mitch, amazing guests that can share their life experiences with us. So we can then take it on and use that in our day-to-day. So again, thank you so much, Mitchell, thanks for coming on and maybe in the future we'll have you back on. We'll see how it all goes.

Mitchell Duke: My pleasure, mate. Yeah, maybe in a couple more years I've experienced some more crazy things.

Louie: Yeah, let me know. But yeah. Look mate, thank you so much again, and to everyone, thank you for listening.



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