Westfield Matilda Clare Polkinghorne is one of 40 Australian athletes who received funding to complete and further their studies as part of the AIS Education Scholarship program.
Polkinghorne is currently completing a Master of Criminology and Criminal Justice degree at Griffith University to add to her undergrad degrees in criminology and psychology with honours.
In 2020, the studious defender has been working on her thesis as the final requirement for her degree while playing abroad for Avaldsnes IL in Norway.
The act of juggling studying and professional football might seem challenging for many, but for the 31-year-old it is second nature.
“It's something I've always done," she said. "I really enjoy learning new things and keeping my mind active. And I've always found that studying and playing sports have been a really good mix for me.”
Rather than viewing sport and study as opposing, conflicting forces, Polkinghorne believes pursuing her studies and her football career have helped her achieve balance.
“I think not being completely focused on football or not being completely focused on study has been really beneficial to me and helps me find that balance."
"When I'm not playing football, just being able to switch off and, and think about something else makes my football better as well.”
Luckily the skills she’s gained are transferable whether she is in the classroom or on the pitch.
“And I find that a lot of the things that I've learned playing football have helped me be able to continue studying, which has been really good.”
“You need a lot of self-discipline and motivation to keep yourself going.”
Polkinghorne is not the only Westfield Matilda combining a successful international football career with the pursuit of education. Fellow AIS Scholarship holder Elise Kellond-Knight is currently undertaking a Master of Business Administration at Griffin University.
Kellond-Knight is looking to add the MBA to her Bachelor of Pharmaceutical Science. A business degree was a shift in mindset and, while rehabbing from an ACL injury, the 30 year old is making the most of the opportunity to gain academic grounding to supplement her many leadership roles.
"I'm still not sure, I'm still working out exactly what I want to do," said Kellond-Knight of her post football prospects. "However, I think this [degree] will give me a better skillset to make that decision."
"I don't necessarily only want to work within football after my career is done. For me, it's about having a leadership role in any industry, it doesn't just need to be football. Although I think there's definitely a need for it within football."
"Hopefully, through studying this area, I can develop my skills a lot more to be able to identify the gap areas within."
Also combining education with football is Westfield Matildas vice captain Steph Catley who is studying Bachelor of Education (Primary). While Hayley Raso is completing a Bachelor of Paramedic Science, Chloe Logarzo is studying Interior Design, Tameka Yallop has a double Masters in Business and Marketing under her belt and Laura Brock's persistence over eight years earned her a Bachelor of Education.
Current and former Westfield Matildas have made educational attainment in areas such as Zoological Science, Medicine, Law and Physiotherapy, among many other disciplines.
Polkinghorne has found that a passion for what you are doing makes things easier, and making sure you have that passion is a big part of the advice she would give to young footballers also hoping to balance study and sport.
“It's important that you like doing what you're doing. So you’ve got to have an interest in what you're studying. Otherwise, you definitely won't put in the time and effort that is required.”