At the young age of 18, Canberra girl Emma Ilijoski has already achieved some amazing things in her short but impressive professional soccer career.
With a strong passion and love for the sport Emma has played for Capital Football/Canberra United Academy, U16 Junior Matildas, NWS Koalas and in the recent season, debuting for Canberra United. Ilijoski has recently relocated to Sydney where she now plays in the Sydney Premier league for Sydney University SFC.
Keep reading to learn all about this incredible 18 year old.
Tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Emma Ilijoski, I am 18 years old and born and raised in Canberra with my mum (THE 121hair haha), dad and younger brother. Family is everything to me and I would not be where I am today without them! I am currently living in Sydney at St Andrews College, studying for a Bachelor of Arts and Social Science at Sydney University full time, as well as working and playing football.
How did you get into soccer? How old were you when you started playing?
I used to be a dancer from the ages 4-9, however, I would always go watch my younger brother play and grew a love for the game even while standing in those freezing Canberra mornings. I was 8 years old when I first started playing, where I did both sports however I had to choose between the two. I obviously chose soccer and I’m glad I did, I haven’t looked back since.
What are your hobbies/passions outside of soccer?
I feel like I am an extremely busy person, which I do love, however, I also love downtime to relax with my family and friends, whether it is going for a walk, exploring, going out for lunch or a shopping trip. I also really enjoy my job, which is coaching. Although still football-related, I coach younger kids ranging from 18 months to 10 years which is so adorable and rewarding! Coaching is definitely a passion of mine.
Tell us a bit about your sporting career so far?
My sporting career has been such an incredible ride and I am so grateful for every opportunity that has been given to me. I started off playing in junior football at my local club. When I was 11 years old I got asked to play for the ACT representative academy called Capital Football/Canberra United Academy, in which I played until the end of the 2018 season. During my time with the girls, I represented ACT at multiple junior national tournaments and from there I got my first call up for the U16 Junior Matildas. During 2019, when I was 16, I moved clubs to Gungahlin United U16s and played in the boys competition, which was an unreal test for me physically, where I was forced to improve all aspects of my game very quickly. From that season I continued to be a part of the Junior Matildas, where I had the opportunity to travel to Asia, playing in Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Thailand, Tonga, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands. After my thoroughly enjoyable season with the boys, I decided to face another challenge which was to play in Sydney. I made my first-grade debut in 2020 with the NWS Koalas, and it was a challenging year for a few reasons, being; playing while Covid was at its worst, studying in year 12, driving to and from Sydney up to 3 times a week and being in a completely new team and adapt to the new league. Although, this new and challenging experience once again added to the player I am today. This recent W-league season I achieved one of my dreams, debuting for Canberra United which was an extremely proud moment for my family and I. Currently, I am playing in the Sydney Premier League again full time with Sydney University SFC which is amazing because I am living, studying and playing all at the one place.
What has been your greatest achievement so far?
I’m torn between 2. Debuting for the Junior Matildas and being able to lead the team out was such a special moment. However more recently, being able to debut for my childhood club, Canberra United was a dream come true. Especially being born and growing up in Canberra, being around the academy and the senior team made me realise how badly I wanted to play for them and wear the green jersey from a young age and it feels like something I had been working towards for years. Even for this season just passed I was first rewarded with a training agreement, however, I continued to work hard at training which resulted in me becoming a regular player in the squad. The reason this sticks out to me most is because of how hard I had to work for it and therefore the reward felt that much better.
What do you love most about soccer?
My favourite thing about soccer is being part of a team. It is so special to be part of something bigger, knowing you have 10 other people backing you on the field and even more on the sideline and stands, which definitely gives me a lot of confidence. I have also made some of my best friends now from teams that I have played in or played against. It is so special being able to share memories, whether they are good or bad, with teammates and coaches. I am genuinely so grateful for every single team I have been part of, because it has left a lasting impact on me and I have taken something from each teammate and coach I have come across along the way.
How do you balance your sporting career and everyday life?
That is a great question! Sometimes I don’t, and I overload myself. However, most of the time, I have decent balance. One thing that I do thoroughly enjoy, almost obsess over, is writing in a calendar or diary to plan out my days and weeks. This helps me designate times and days away from sport to relax and recharge. Whether it’s hanging out with friends, studying or simply spending time alone to myself.
Moving to St Andrews College on campus has also taken me out of my comfort zone, but I have loved every minute! I have met so many amazing people and already made so many memories, which has been perfect for me to adjust to moving away from home. Small things like this really helps me take my mind off sport to ensure that I am feeling fresh and ready for whatever is next.
What’s your sporting dream that you’re working towards?
My sporting dream is to continue working towards becoming a full-time professional footballer and be able to play overseas. I also would love to put on a Senior Matildas jersey one day and play in a World Cup. I never gave the quote “Dream big” much credit, however now I believe it more than ever because it has truly motivated me to stay focused on my goals and realise the sky is the limit.
How do you prep for game day?
I don’t have a strict routine however I do like to make sure I got a good sleep, go for a walk and have a good feed. One thing about me is that I love being organised, so I will usually pack my bag and set up my kit the day before or in the morning! I also like getting to the game really early because being at the field calms my nerves so I like to get there to watch and support the other teams playing before us.
How do you stay so driven and motivated?
Finding a way to stay motivated is simple when you love what you do! I am driven by my aim to be the best version of myself for my teammates. I have also grown to realise that everybody is on their own journey in life so I just stay keep focused on what I need to do to reach my goals, not what the person next to me needs to do. It is so important to me to stay humble and work hard. Over the years I have also significantly improved my mental toughness, which is just as important as physical toughness. This has kept me goal orientated. Football has also taught me so much about myself and I am still learning, every challenge I am faced with, gives me new understandings of myself and how I work and find a way to overcome it to come out even better on the other side. Every challenge gives us a new opportunity to get better.
What would you say to someone who might be doubting themselves? (In football?)
For someone that is doubting themselves, I would say that the first and foremost this is normal. Then, remember why they started playing, to remember all of the good memories and feelings that the sport has given them. This reignites the love for the game. Coming out of it on the other side will make an individual a much stronger person mentally. These challenges faced by athletes overall make them stronger people and gives them the tools and what works for them to overcome the challenge for when it happens next time, in football, but especially in life. I always try to look at the positives, so ultimately, a period of doubt can be a blessing in disguise and an opportunity to become a stronger individual and learn about yourself.
What’s a piece of advice you’d give to younger players?
One thing that I believe resonates with me most, is work ethic. I feel like it is applicable to everyone in everyday life. For me, I believe work ethic and winning mentality sets one apart from the rest. The willingness to do anything for the team is one of the most fundamental parts of being a footballer. Finally, every day is a new opportunity to get better and most importantly, ENJOY it.
We can’t wait to see where Emma’s talents take her over the next few years. Follow Emma on IG to keep up to date with her journey and watch her achieve many more amazing things.