I wrote a few years ago about my niece, Rebecca Goddard, who made it to the big time by being the first female Division 1 umpire in the Australian Capital Territory, if not Australia. There were a few comments following that article, suggesting I may not have been correct and, as I said, we should start recording these momentous occasions.
I have taken on the role of historian-in-chief as far as my niece’s footballing achievements are concerned. It is one proud aunt reporting that Rebecca has been appointed as a senior coaching assistant at the Queanbeyan Tigers, a team that plays in the NEAFL. She is the first woman to be appointed to a senior coaching role in any NEAFL club and I rely on the NEAFL records here (not my own biased ones).
Of course, there are two other senior female coaches in Australia, namely Peta Searle (Port Melbourne, VFL) and Michelle Cowan (South Fremantle, WAFL). It’s terrific that Rebecca joins the ranks of these elite coaches.
How have these women made it in what is predominantly a man’s world? I have not had the pleasure of meeting Peta and Michelle, but have read extensively of their careers. Like Rebecca and other successful leaders in Australian rules, these outstanding young women have been imbibed with the game from an early age. Michelle was an assistant coach at the age of 21. Peta and Rebecca both have extensive experience as a player and coach of female teams at the highest level. On a personal level, I cannot see any similarities in their careers outside of football. Peta is a mother of two in her late 30s and a school teacher. Michelle is in her late 20s and has worked in the corporate world, running her own national company. Rebecca is in her mid 30s and a police sergeant. Perhaps the only link here is that each of them probably had to be fairly assertive with their ‘clients’.
Indeed, coaching female teams seems a lot harder than coaching blokes, if the suggestions contained in the AFL community website are true. There are some very useful tips for coaches on that website, including information about pathways and body image, although this latter issue contains more generalisations than seem warranted, eg., Girls can find it ‘uncool’ to sweat or work hard. The bon mots from this website include:
- Female footballers . . . . talk a lot.
- Females won’t stick around if they don’t feel they’re improving, whereas males will stay just for results.
- Coaches should be flexible to allow AFL to not be the #1 sport for females.
My conclusion from these tips, unencumbered by any rigorous statistical analysis, is that these three marvellous women have had to endure a lot more than the men to attain near or mere greatness in their coaching lives. They are putting up with the chattering class. They have had to ensure that every coaching session and every game has resulted in every player improving in some way. And they’ve also had to allow for players not turning up because it’s their turn to play bocce! I don’t think Alastair Clarkson would put up with this; I may be wrong.
Rebecca, Peta and Michelle have all received significant awards for their contribution to AFL in their time and I would say that they have well earned their awards (rarely monetary, though). Most recently, Michelle was named as the Australian 2013 Football Woman of the Year.
Congratulations to all women involved in the AFL, from the women who take their children to the grounds before the fog is lifted, to the high achievers including my wonderful niece.
It will be a great day indeed when we don’t have to single out the achievements of women, when we take them in our stride and when they are routinely considered for all senior positions including on the board, the coaching staff, the umpiring staff and the TV/reporting panels.
Oh, and the Federal Cabinet. But that’s for another day.