Tania Gallo, Head Sports Scientist at North Melbourne FC in the AFL, is gifted–not only in her intellect, but in her ability to recognise the ups and downs of her career path, and the people who have helped her along the way. In our latest Women in Sport interview, Tania discusses what led her into sports performance, the struggle to complete a PhD while in full-time employment, and how the people she’s worked with have made an impact on the industry.
Right Place, Right Time
“I’ve been one of the fortunate ones who managed to get my foot in the door in professional sport at just the right time,” says Tania, who graduated at a time when sports science was erupting in the Australian Football League (AFL). That timing helped to launch her into an enviable role in a competitive industry. Ten years later, the rest is history.
Tania was always keen to enter the world of sports science. “It seemed like a natural fit for me, mostly due to the ‘black and white’ nature of the discipline being great for my logical mind.” Little did she know, the further you delve into science, “the more grey it becomes!”
Growing up, Tania was constantly in awe of the ability of humans to push themselves so far for the sake of victory. In particular, she was drawn to team sports because of the “natural camaraderie and willingness of the individual to put the team before themselves.”
North Melbourne FC
North Melbourne FC has been Tania’s home since she graduated 10 years ago. Since then she’s worked her way up to her current role of Head Sports Scientist in which she’s responsible for the testing, tracking and monitoring aspect of the team’s high performance programme. Tania works alongside the performance coaches and medical staff, “aspiring to implement evidence-guided practice” to support coaches and players.
However, Tania’s favourite part of her role is “the conversation that follows the science, and being able to contribute to informed interventions in achieving a desired outcome.” It’s clear to see she thrives on exploring new science and technology, and experimenting with new techniques and practices.
Prioritisation & Perseverance
When discussing challenges, Tania tells of her struggles during the last component of her PhD candidature “where the pressure was building at work and the demand for my time was increasing.” While struggling to find a way to give her all to both jobs, thanks to guidance and support from teachers and colleagues she was able to switch her commitment to full-time work/part-time study. This alleviated some of the time pressure, allowing her to pave her way in professional sport at a time when Australian Rules was crying out for it. “The whole experience certainly taught me time-management, prioritisation and perseverance,” Tania reflects.
Hearing Tania talk passionately about her lecturers, mentors and colleagues gives us an idea of her total appreciation for the part they’ve played in shaping her career. “Ray Breed [Exercise & Sport Science Lecturer at Swinburne University] gave me my first opportunity in professional sport. He taught me work ethic beyond measure and demanded a quality of work that left a great impression on me.”
When studying at the renowned Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Tania notes Dr. Kade Patterson, Dr. Morgan Wiliams, Dr. Chris Lorenzen and Dr. Stuart Cormack as just four of the exceptional teachers she was luck enough to study with. However, it is Dan Meehan who tops the list: “He always had time to push me to think critically and keep learning, but most importantly taught me to trust in my ability.”
Sports Science Culture
This notion of self-worth appears again when discussing Tania’s colleagues at North Melbourne FC, in particular Jona Segal, the club’s High Performance Manager. “Knowing that you’re working for someone who trusts your work and values your opinion while being able to challenge you, and is your biggest advocate, is a position I remind myself not to take for granted.”
Having only ever worked within the AFL, Tania is aware of the privileges that come with that particular sport. “I think the main difference between sports science in the AFL and other sports is that we are extremely lucky with the access, buy-in, and even hunger for sports science from our coaches and players.” Tania highlights that given the strong integration of sports science into the culture, the AFL is able to evolve and progress techniques and practices more rapidly than some sports newer to the sports science discipline.
With her PhD playing a huge part in the last 10 years, it’s unsurprising that Tania focusses on education when discussing the future. “The industry demands a variety of skill sets, differing substantially whether you end up not only in clinical practice vs professional sport, but strength and conditioning or performance analysis or data science. I think the content of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees will expand as a result of the sports science discipline catering for increasing specialisation.”
Tania quips that “not even sports science has all the answers – something I wish I’d known before entering the industry!” All jokes aside, she highlights the competitive nature within the industry; “everyone has their barriers to entry, and these days I see great people, with solid qualifications and a great work ethic struggle to land that role to accelerate their career.” Tania knows she may be one of the lucky ones who’s landed on her feet, but there’s no mistaking luck for pure hard work: “Keep at it. If it truly is your passion find a way to keep pursuing because it really is worth it!”
Read our previous Women in Sport profiles: