A testimony to my friend Awer Mabil – by Mike Conway

“What is the purpose of life? After much consideration, I believe that the purpose of life is to find happiness” – the Dalai Lama

January 26 has been a special day in my family for the last 23 years.  On the same day in 2000 we were made citizens of Australia.  A country which has like my country of birth given me so much. It embraced me and our family from day one.  The positive outlook of the Country made me feel like I belong: something I don’t take for granted.  The date this year, 2023, was also a milestone.

My good friend Awer Mabil was made Young Australian of the Year.  Something that’s made me so happy.  His story of him arriving in Australia via a refugee camp, settling with his Mum and family in Adelaide and making his way to represent the Socceroos in the World Cup and being a philanthropist through his fund raising for other refugees is remarkable as well as inspiring.  However, there are other aspects of Awer which makes him a success: some which I know only through working with him closely as a mentor and mind coach to the Socceroos for the last four plus years.

Awer is a goal setter.  I remember my first session with the Socceroos in Antalya in Turkey in 2018.  After the session, Awer spent some time with me. He liked the references I made to Michael Phelps and to Roger Federer.  I learned of his strong commitment to his family, particularly his deep love and respect of his Mum and siblings.  He was clear from the outset what he wanted to achieve. He’s a real goal setter and continues in striving to improve as a person and in his chosen sport.  You can use experiences such as difficult upbringing, low income, family tragedy and others as excuses for a sad life or, as Awer does, use them as drivers for higher improvement.  No stone unturned on this. We talked about things such as peripheral vision and improving focus and attention and where I could, I would provide exercises or additional materials to help this curious young man.  I remember introducing him to an app which had been built by neuroscientists with a number of exercises linked to improving focus and attention.  I know for sure his scores on the app will have been higher than mine in just a short time.  A few weeks after Antalya, I was celebrating his first game for the national team along with his good friend Thomas Deng.  Graham Arnold and all of us in the Socceroos staff group had been nurturing and encouraging both boys in the lead up to the game against Kuwait.  That game set the tone and the  path for young talent to emerge and participate in a changing face of the national team all the way to the World Cup.

As I reflect on his Award, I think of some of the qualities which Awer applies in life. Interestingly, many of these are typically themes of contemporary writings from people who are known for wisdom in their field.  Many who know my work in helping people grow and develop through mind and emotional training in sport, business and education know I often use Dan Siegel’s models including work on focussed attention, open awareness and kind intention.  (see “Aware, the science and practice of presence” Dan Siegel).  Naturally and through his genuine interest in growth and development, Awer works on all three.  He is committed to constant improvement in his chosen profession, is very much aware of who he is and the energy and information between him and others and through his connections to family, friends and his charity, has a very kind heart.

I remember a particular conversation when we were in Al Ain in the Emirates.  At the time I was reading the book of Joy which was a conversation piece between Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama and had become immersed in its messaging.  Awer and I talked about the most joyful things in life. We both agreed with Desmond Tutu’s commentary:

“Ultimately the greatest joy is when we seek to do good for others.”  We also shared their perspectives of the pillars of the mind and heart which I still use I some of my strategic psychotherapy work and so happy to see Awer embracing fully:


  • Perspective
  • Humility
  • Humour
  • Acceptance


  • Forgiveness
  • Gratitude
  • Compassion
  • Generosity

Just this week we learn of Awer’s “Barefoot to Boots” charity work which so far has donated more than two tonnes of boots and many more things into refugee camps including medical and educational equipment. Compassion, generosity and perspective for sure.  It also demonstrates genuine leadership.  The most recent Lencioni work “the six types of working genius” draws attention to six leadership activities: wonder, invention, discernment, galvanising, enablement, tenacity. Typically each one of us demonstrates two “genius” areas of leadership.  In Awer I see wonder and galvanising.  He’s got others around him that help him including his brother.  However, Awer’s eyes are wide open to the possibilities in life and he has the unique spirit of galvanising others.  A recipe for exciting things.

In recent weeks, I’ve been thrilled to see the announcement of the Adelaide 36ers XVenture Schools Program for year 10 HSC students in South Australia. The program takes much of what I’ve been teaching in elite sport, postgraduate and undergraduate classrooms and in the exec training room.  One of the big lessons is the need to understand that we will experience highs and lows throughout life as does everybody.  The key to a happy life is to learn and to practice overcoming the lows and to celebrate the highs.  Those who are older in our society are likely to have experienced many of both.  Those who are older and typically live a happy life have likely learned how to deal with such things.

For Awer, he’s young yet he has experienced many highs and lows already but significantly has already built considerable resilience through his young life. His early years weren’t easy.  His life in elite sport is a constant up and down.  He experienced the pain of deep loss when he heard the news his sister tragically died in a car accident in Australia when we were in the Emirates at the Asia Cup in 2019.  I felt privileged to be there to support him when that happened.  I was amazed of his ability to overcome the tragedy: not by shutting the thought down but by using his sister’s spirit as strength.  He works to live a happy life.

One of the recent trips I undertook was to the USA with the Adelaide 36ers.  Playing both Phoenix and Oklahoma in the NBA, this was an incredible experience.  Just a few weeks before the World Cup to Qatar. Suffice to say, Adelaide put on a terrific performance against a mighty Phoenix side and made history by being the first Australian club side to win in the USA. Whilst I was there, I did what I typically do on an overseas trip and take a new book to read.  On this occasion I took a book I had bought in the UK when I was working with the Birmingham Phoenix  cricket team during the English Summer.   The subject being very much connected with one of the key areas of my work: helping people with tools and techniques to be in a calm state when facing pressure moments.  This particular book caught my eye: the more I read it the more I learned.  One of the few I have honestly read from cover to cover.  “Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art” by James Nestor is a revelation.  How about this as a back cover comment:

“There is nothing more essential to our health and wellbeing than breathing: take air in, let it out, repeat 25,000 times a day…”

Back to Awer: a few months after his sister’s tragedy, I was having a chat to him one early morning.  (Awer was in Denmark and I was in Sydney.). We talked about the ability to be calm, to relax, to rest.  We talked of an exercise I took the team through in one camp: bringing a sense of calm in the last minute of a game. Awer: a young man short of 25 years old, sharing his belief in mindfulness, in focus on breathing to be aware of the present.  So much wisdom at such a young age.

I sent a message to Awer to congratulate him on his Award.  It was so good to see his Mum picking it up for him and his reference and care for her in his acceptance speech. It was a true reflection of modern Australia.  Yesterday, I sent a link to the book on Breath.  Awer is a life long learner and I know he will embrace it.  It’s hard to imagine what else will unfold for our young Australian of the Year. I’m sure it will be rich and plentiful.

To find out more about Awer’s Foundation head to: https://barefoottoboots.org/

About the Author, Mike Conway:

Mike is one of Australia’s top emotional agility and mind coaches. His work has included being part of the coaching team as part of the most successful Socceroos team of all time, as well as work at elite level in cricket and basketball. He is also the author of the virtual world based learning program FCA XV Essential Skills, which provides access to all his work directly to football coaches via fcaxvcollege.com

Preston Lions FC President David Cvetkovski on National Second Tier: “The key is to surround yourself with the best people with a real passion”

Preston Lions FC recently held their Preston in Business (PIB) event for the 2024 season to show their appreciation for their dedicated sponsors, to network and get an insight into the future direction of the club and their inclusion in the National Second Tier (NST) – commencing in 2025.

Taking place at Mystique Bar and Lounge, the special keynote representative was none other than David Davutovic – the producer behind the famous Optus Sport documentaries and also a football presenter, with a range of coaches and leaders also on the footballing panel providing information for the men’s and women’s teams.

A panel of coaches and leaders also shared their views on what Preston fans can look forward to.

President David Cvetkovski introduced the audience to a captivating evening of insights and networking. He discussed the significance of the sponsors have on being the backbone of Preston Lions in the past and into the future, NST progress and the impact Preston Lions has on the broader community.

“To our sponsors, we are so grateful to what you do and for what you do because without you there is no club and that is the reality,” he said.

“Our sponsors have been the backbone of this club over the last 10 to 30 years and longer than that – we’ve got a sponsor who is coming up 44 years, that’s an amazing effort.”

2024 will be a massive year for Preston, who are ready among other teams for the highly anticipated NSD.

Cvetkovski spoke about the core values and the secret of how a club from NPL2 got to be one of the clubs to be involved in the NST next year.

“To have good relationships and strong attendances, the answer is pretty simple and there’s a philosophy that l like to keep,” he said.

“Whether in business or in the business of football, the key is to surround yourself with the best people with a real passion – we have the best people, respect each other, and make logical decisions with a shared vision.

“It’s passionate people who aren’t afraid to roll their sleeves up and stand by each other when the going gets tough, that’s my measure of people.”

Cvetkovski finished off his speech with a special message about how Preston is more than just a club with the influence they have in the community.

“We are a football club, but we are more than that – we have had to see the human side – the impact that this club has on the people and the broader community,” he said.

“With the passing of lifelong supporter Jason Milosevski and the way the club has wrapped their arms around from supporter groups, everyone at the club has been touched,” he said.

“This is the fabric of our club, these were Jason’s last words – ‘Preston is not just a club, it’s a way of life.”’

Preston Lions have commenced their VPL 1 season, ahead of a huge year for them.

Events such as these are the entrée to what we should expect from NST teams when the competition is up and running.

Lawrie McKinna: A true survivor

Since 1986, when he first appeared for Heidelberg United in the NSL, Lawrie McKinna, the current Sydney Olympic CEO, has seen it all in Australian football.

After playing stints with Apia and Blacktown City, he eventually teamed up with David Mitchell at Sydney United and Parramatta Power in coaching roles, followed by Northern Spirit in his own right.

When the A-League commenced in 2005, Mckinna was involved at Central Coast Mariners and eventually became mayor of Gosford.

In recent times, he was CEO at the Newcastle Jets until the opportunity arose two years ago to take the helm at Sydney Olympic.

It is no coincidence that Lawrie McKinna faces one of the greatest challenges of his career in preparing the club to be ready for the start of the National Second Division in the winter of 2025.

Fittingly, on Saturday January 13th, a challenge match commemorated the first NSL  match between Sydney Olympic and South Melbourne which was played on April 2nd, 1977 at the Sydney Sportsground.

It was a unique day for football as it was the first code in Australia to form a national competition.

Lawrie McKinna is well aware of the famous players who appeared on that day, notably Gary Meier and Joe Senkalski for Sydney Olympic and former Socceroos, Jack Reilly, Billy Rogers, Duncan Cummings, Jimmy Mackay and Peter Ollerton for South Melbourne.

In fact, it was Peter Ollerton who scored the two goals for South Melbourne to secure his team’s victory.

In this interview with Roger Sleeman, Lawrie McKinna discusses the current state of Australian football, his vision for the success of the National Second Division and the significance of the Sydney Olympic v South Melbourne clash.


Looking back over all those years you’ve been involved in the Australian game, how do you see its current state?


When I first played at Heidelberg in the NSL, there were big crowds but we played at poor stadiums like Connor Reserve and Sunshine Reserve in the winter. Furthermore, we played in ankles of mud which was very much like playing in Scotland.

The current A-League stadiums are top notch with good surfaces and part of the criteria for the B-League will be for this to be replicated.

One of the glaring weaknesses of the A-League is the lack of media as the other codes receive blanket coverage.

If the game is trying to entice more support there is no incentive for the general sporting fan to follow it so this must be addressed.

However, the success of the Matildas is well known and the Socceroos popularity has never been greater so these strengths have to be built on.


Do you think the right people are running the game?


I don’t even know who is running the game since Danny Townsend left the APL.

I’ve never seen Nick Garcia, the new APL CEO, because he’s never appeared on television.

There are very large staff numbers at the APL but they’re invisible people.

James Johnson, the FA CEO, is their spokesperson and at least people recognise him but there still isn’t enough exposure of the FA Management to the supporters.


Newcastle Jets, Perth Glory, Western United and Brisbane Roar are in survival mode.

Is this a satisfactory situation?


This is not the only country in the world with financial problems so it’s a matter of getting the right owners who will commit for the long term.

However, it’s not a bottomless pit so better broadcast deals are required to bring money into the game.


What do you see as the vision for the National Second Division and how can it integrate with the A-League?


The admission of the first eight clubs is positive but a 12-club League is desirable.

We also need Adelaide, Brisbane and Tasmania to be represented to make it a truly national competition.

At the moment, a new television deal is being worked on to encompass the Matildas, Socceroos, Asian Cup and National Second Division and this was the major reason the new League was postponed until 2025.


Will there be promotion from the B-League to the A-League?


There won’t be for a number of years and the only way it could happen is if there is a bid for an A-League licence which would be in the vicinity of $10 million.

Eventually, there will be relegation from the B-League to the NPL and promotion upwards.


Why should the B-League be more successful than the NPL?


Simply, of the eight teams accepted for the B-League, seven of them were former, large NSL clubs who have strong community support and financial backing.

There’ll be more money spent to get better players into the League and also compensation will be provided to the clubs if an A-League club signs a player.

At the moment, there is virtually no compensation for the sale of NPL players to the A- League and if a player moves overseas , there’s usually a free transfer clause in their contract.

Also, contracts in the B-League will be for 2-3 years while in the current NPL they’re usually only for one year.

There’ll be more movement between NPL and the B-League with the aim to provide players with more games and opportunity which is one of the weaknesses of the current system.


What is the main purpose of the match between Sydney Olympic and South Melbourne?


Apart from recognising the famous match of April 2nd, 1977, we are attempting to reconnect the Olympic fans who haven’t identified with the game and the club since the end of the NSL.

At the Greek festival, I attended last weekend there was a lot of interest expressed about the B-League which resulted in some promising ticket sales for the match.

The venue at Netstrata Stadium is ideal and we intend to play our home matches there in 2025.

We also hope those former fans will bring their children to the games and create a new generation of supporters.

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