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Commentary Video Games

I became a better footballer by playing FIFA

I wasn't allowed a gaming console. Instead I played football. Outside.

Icon Sports Wire, Corbis via Getty Images

Some would say I was a deprived child.

I didn't have any tech other than a TV and a PC (with a 30-min allowance a day) to keep me distracted at home. I wasn't allowed a Game Boy no matter how much I begged my dad while out of breath as I ran with him at the local oval.

Instead, up until I had ankle surgery, I did some kind of physical activity six times a week. Turns out, that can help you become a semi-professional footballer. I did all right.

But now, thanks to a FIFA competition on Xbox One in the Sydney CNET office, I've discovered something about video games. They're not mindless entertainment. With the right focus, they can make you better at their real world analogues. They might have even taken my career to another level.

My sort-of-brilliant football career

I was a semi-pro.

I played for Canberra United in the W-League, Australia's highest women's football competition. We won the premiership and the grand final. That team took me to Japan to play in the International Women's Club Championship -- we're talking all expenses paid. After that, I signed a contract to play in Finland for an eight and a half month stint with PK-35 Vantaa, who paid me an "allowance" every month. It was hard, but it was good. My parents made the right decision to keep me outside.

But it does feel pretty good to score in FIFA. Not quite as good as a goal against one of Japan's top league teams in a huge Tokyo stadium in front of very supportive and coordinated fans. But still, I whooped.

Ew, FIFA

A long-running series of football video games released annually by EA Sports. A franchise including exclusively-licensed leagues and teams from around the world. One of the best-selling video game franchises out there.

I didn't know FIFA was any of that. So at first I was skeptical. Why would I want to move digital figures around a neon green football pitch? I'd rather watch "Goal!" and its two sequels -- those movies are terrible, but that's how skeptical I was.

It was seeing all my favourite Premier League teams in hilarious 3D form that drew me in. Some of those faces are seriously scary (Thibaut Courtois seems to have an evil eye). I picked up one of those controller thingys, pressed (mashed) the buttons and made the computer guy kick the football really high over the bar. Yet from those awful beginnings, something started to happen.

courtois-2-copy.jpg

"Come on, he looks nothing like me!"

-- Thibaut Courtois, Chelsea FC goalkeeper.

90min/Goal.com

After just two weeks of solid FIFAing (post-work and during lunch if I could squeeze it in), I learned how to (1) use Finesse and not smash the shoot button too hard; (2) not get three red cards in one game; and (3) win.

Real talk

Back in the real world, I was never very good at scoring. I rushed my shots, kicked too hard and always wished, not aimed. As much as I tried, I couldn't score like my favourite player Steven Gerrard of Liverpool FC. I had a poor record in the W-League, which was probably why I didn't go further with it.

You beauty!

A Stevie G classic.

Anfield Legend/YouTube

A colleague helped me find a new, more casual football team when I moved to Sydney. I noticed something about my playing style in this new city, new team and new playing environment. I was more patient. I was turning away from a dangerous situation and passing the ball back. I wasn't making brash tackles. I was shooting with less power, aiming for the corners.

I was playing FIFA.

That's not to say FIFA has solved all the little issues once holding me back. But if I'd had a mindset closer to what I have now, playing with more awareness across the field (the bird's-eye view from the video game really makes you expand your vision), I might have been a different player. Could finding this video game years ago have changed the course of my real football career?

Rise from the ashes

Last year, FIFA made room for women's international teams, which gave you the option of playing with and as Marta, a legend of the Brazilian national team. Someone it was my honour to play against in real life. Here's hoping one day FIFA will expand to female club teams like FC Rosengård, INAC Kobe, NTV Beleza and Seattle Reign FC, top teams from Sweden, Japan and the US -- so I can play against the greats again.

Football tore me down with injury, politics, questionable ethics and just plain negativity. Playing FIFA, I've picked up a thing or two about patience, aiming carefully and keeping possession of the ball. My parents were incredibly supportive and poured their time into my passion as I grew up, but it's a video game that's feeding me fresh energy for an old love I thought I'd shunned.

I haven't won the office comp just yet, but I do have several wins and a finals appearance under my belt. And one thing my co-workers don't have: real experience in real high-pressure matches.

So when my fingers catch up to my feet, who knows where my next step will take me.