Over the last five years, women’s sport has become increasingly prominent.
In most of our professional sporting codes, women are visible everywhere you turn; as players, spectators, volunteers, administrators, media commentators and as officials.
But despite all the change over the last five years, there’s still plenty of work to do.
In my view, the next opportunity for women to get involved in sport, particularly at the elite level is through coaching. Whether it’s in relation to coaching men or coaching women, when we look at the upper echelon of coaching in this country, it is still predominantly male.
But sporting codes are working hard to change this perception.
This month, the AFL marks the inaugural women’s coaching month which is designed to celebrate women in coaching across all levels of the game, whilst at the same time promoting coaching as a legitimate pathway for the next generation of young women.
Currently, there are 1,537 women in coaching across the country. This equates to six per cent of all accredited coaches.
But change is slowly happening.
In 2021 there are nine women employed as coaches in the NAB League working across boys and girls teams including Emma Grant, Melissa Hickey, Courtney Young and Lisa Roper. Importantly, these women are involved in coaching both boys and girls.
It is crucial that people are empowered just to coach; not to coach any particular gender. So often it is assumed that women are only interested in coaching women or that women are automatically more suited to coaching women.
Just like there is a proliferation of men coaching women’s teams, we should aim to create similar opportunities for women to coach men.
Additionally, in the VFLW competition, four of the 12 senior coaches are women: Chloe McMillan, Bec Goddard, Dale Robinson and Penny Cula-Reid.
Another woman forging her own path in this space is AFLW GWS Giants captain Alicia Eva.
Coaching is a space that Eva has been involved in for several years. She is a Personal Development Coach for the men’s GWS Giants VFL team and in June, became the first women to join the NAB AFL Academy coaching panel and coached the boys AFL Academy team with Tarkyn Lockyer.
For Eva, this experience gave her another chance to develop her coaching skills.
“Every time I work or get the opportunity to work in these pathways, no matter if it an ongoing week by week thing or a block of coaching, I always pick something up from the different coaches involved,” said Eva.
“What struck me about Tarkyn was how much of a teacher he was, but also such a well balanced footy brain and communicator at the same time.
Eva is in a unique position, in that she is developing her coaching skills while she is still playing footy.
For Eva that can pose some challenges.
“I wear a lot of different hats and I need to make sure that when I am playing, that I have my player hat on and when I am coaching, that I have my coaching hat on,” said Eva.
“But I think my coaching skills have changed how I play on the field; it has made me a more effective on-field communication and helping other players to understand why we are setting up in a certain way and what we are hoping for the intended result to be.
“At times, it does make it harder for me to switch off after a game whether things go well or whether things don’t go well.
“I find myself thinking about what happened and how we can improve.”
While Eva concedes that the challenges of the pandemic means that some of the work being done to develop female coaching pathways has been impacted, Eva continues to see her friends and teammates branching out into the coaching space.
“I know Bec Beeson is working with the University of New South Wales women, Jodie Hicks and Katherine Smith are coaching the Macquarie University Women’s team,” said Eva.
“It’s amazing to see the women up here getting involved in this space and giving back.
“There may not have always been a pathway for women in New South Wales to play or to coach, but with the growth in the amount of women playing the game, it also means we see players move out of the game and into the coaching space.”
For Eva, one of the joys of coaching is that it involves constant learning.
Each time Eva gets an opportunity she learns a little bit more about the type of coach she wants to be.
“What I have observed in my coaching experiences is that coaching is most effective when it is authentic and done in a style that feels genuine,” said Eva.
“If I try and emulate Leon Cameron it won’t be effective, because I’m not Leon Cameron.
“I want to be Alicia Eva.”
This piece originally appeared on The Roar. Thanks to Mary K for her support of the GIANTS AFL and AFLW programs.