I learnt about being competitive from my mother, Greta. She was a stay-at-home mum and loved playing tennis. My dad worked in insurance and was the peacemaker, while Mum was single-minded and wanted to win – especially when it came to sport.
We had a traditional upbringing. Mum made sure meals were on the table and kept herself busy juggling the extracurricular activities of my younger sister, Nicki, my older brother, Simon, and me.
Although Mum and Dad divorced when I was 20, I remember them working as a team when I was growing up to support me through my passion for basketball and football. I didn’t become successful on my own – it’s because of my parents’ support.
Mum would turn up to my football training in her Mini Minor and I’d get in the car in my dirty boots. She was constantly there for me. Even when I went on to coach the Sydney Swans, there was always a letter, a hug and the knowledge that she was supportive and proud. We’re still close.
I got on well with my siblings and we all connected through sport. Nicki played tennis and basketball like me but we didn’t socialise much as kids because she is three years younger than me. If her friends came over, I’d pick on them a little – I think that’s pretty normal for the older teenage brother. We are much closer now.
My first kiss happened in my mid-teens. It was a game of truth or dare with a group of friends. It wasn’t dramatic and there wasn’t a real connection, it was more a case of “let’s get this over with”. Girls weren’t a high priority for me; I was so into sport, and spent every night after school and all weekend training and playing it.
I had a crush on Christie Brinkley in the National Lampoon movie where she’s riding the red Ferrari alongside Chevy Chase. I also recall noticing Bo Derek when she was in the movie 10, that scene when she’s coming out of the water. Both of those women have always been faves of mine.
I wasn’t that comfortable around girls at school – I mostly hung out in a group of four boys at lunchtime. I definitely noticed girls but I found them intimidating and didn’t really have close female friends like my sons do now. I remember asking a girl to be my girlfriend in year 10 at Donvale High School, in Melbourne. It was very traumatic but something you did, and then we broke up a week later.
I had one serious girlfriend from high school and we went out for a few years. We had a few problems and knew it wasn’t right to keep going but you do so in the hope it might work. When the relationship ended, we knew it was okay to move on. You learn a lot about yourself in that time.
The pressure on young footballers to look the part and have a social media profile means they have to be so much more than players. When I started attending the Brownlow [Medal] in the mid-’80s it was nothing like it is now. In those days, my role models were people like teachers and parents. Now it’s about following someone on Instagram and it’s less tangible.
I met my wife Tami while on a holiday in America with a friend in 1988. I told her I was a professional surfer. I lied, obviously. We hung out at a few bars and really connected. She said her parents had bought her a trip to Australia as a graduation gift. I told her to get in touch when she came to Australia and she did.
To spend a life with someone, you have to have a connection and a common goal. I found that with Tami. I wasn’t worried about timing or the distance between us. I just trusted it would work out as it went along.
We married in San Jose in 1992. We move between our home in Melbourne and our home in Hawaii.
My parents’ divorce didn’t affect my views on marriage. I’d already left home when it happened. You become sceptical, sure, but I knew if I did marry it had to be because we were compatible, not for the sake of it. I wanted to marry my best friend and I got that.
Tami is my spiritual advisor. She is always suggesting books for me to read to expand my thinking. While I was baptised Catholic, I didn’t grow up in a religious family. I am more about spiritual beliefs and meditation that stem from Buddhism.
Tami and I did a meditation course years ago and have remained dedicated to the practice as a result. I believe we all have a purpose in life and nothing comes down to coincidence. Tami and I are on the journey together and that’s why our relationship work.
Here It Is by Paul Roos (Penguin Random House) is out now.