Another First for Women in AFL

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.


About Anne Cahill Lambert

One of the first females to be admitted to membership of the G. Thank you Mr Cain. Nicknamed The Hyphen by Alamanac Editor, despite the fact I don't have one.


  1. Cat from the Country says

    What a great story. Women can do anything they set their hearts on.
    Women have to work harder.
    They have to put up with crap with which men would not up with put!
    These women are winderful role models in AFL and real life. Well done all of you:-)

  2. Fantastic. It is about time that some of the male crap towards women was put where it should be. On the scrapheap. All the best.

  3. Thank you Anne for a wonderful write-up.

    For those who don’t know, I’m Rebecca’s Mum – and a proud one at that.

    Let me assure you all, Bec has worked tirelessly at this goal – and there are more goals to achieve. She has been single-minded in her focus and her appointment is in recognition of all the hard work she has put in over very many years.

    Bec has spent the greater part of her adult life promoting football – through her roles as a boundary umpire, then as a player and then as a central umpire and coach – in the Nation’s Capital.

    In her young years she supported her family in their support of the Belconnen Football Club. This included “manning” the scoreboard (with calculator!), running the boundary and running water, together with cooking sausages!

    There was a comment in today’s Canberra Times that she was almost born into football at Jamison Oval. That’s correct – she was born into football; but it was between games!!! Be assured, her father did not miss a game!

    So … well done Bec … it is a phenomenal achievement, particularly in an environment which is not well known for the promotion of women. May you have all the success you deserve.

    Perhaps Bec will go on to be the first female President of Hawthorn??


  4. Very cool. I have watched with interest the VFL female coach in the VFL so very chuffed that a family member has joined this elite group. Beyond impressive. Well done Rebecca.


  5. Thanks Anne and congratulations to Bec both on her football coaching career and as part of the forward guard that must and will breack down traditional attitudes and structures.

    The instructions you cite from the AFL community website are flabbergastingly patronising. To borrow from Archie Roach, little by little, step by step, the ignorance that pervades current understanding and appreciation of female capability to play and coach aussie rules will collapse to be rebuilt by an educated and insightful approach. Bec is a leader in this much needed reform. Her story and others like her must continue to be told.

    My daughter plays for Darebin Falcons U19s. If anyone has any doubt of the skill and intensity displayed in female football come on down and watch a game. The GF was a highlight is this regard and not just because the Falcons won (by kicking 3 late goals in the last 8 minutes to steal the game from Diamond Creek).

    The game was fast paced and action packed, flash and dare mixed with high level kicking, marking and tackling skills. It was as enthralling as any other (male) footy game I’ve watched. Both team were coached by females (Darebin coach is 20 years old). The gender was a non-issue, this was a footy game.

    That’s the direction the sport is heading and Bec is part of what’s taking (getting) us there.


  6. Malcolm Ashwood says

    A very significant lady is Eleni Giouftsis who made her SANFL senior field umpiring
    debut this season and I will be v surprised if Eleni is not on AFL senior panel in next couple of years

  7. Peter Fuller says

    Thank you for this super post, and congratulations to Bec on her achievement. It’s lovely to see her Mum’s post, as it suggests she has a wonderfully supportive family as well as an aunt who is particularly proud of her.
    Having been around football clubs for most of the past fifty years, I can only think that they constitute one of the toughest glass ceilings to penetrate, but we are definitely progressing. Women trainers and medical staff have long ceased to be a novelty. In administration, the subordinate women’s auxiliary is long gone, with women taking on all functions. Umpires, media and coaching are slowly being liberated.
    Good luck to Bec and the other trail blazers.

  8. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Fantastic post Anne,
    my 13 year old daughter is going to play for the Darebin Falcons next year and I look forward to watching and supporting the girls. Rick, might see you during pre-season training!

  9. I loved this, Anne! So reassuring that there is movement towards greater representation. It really is all about baby steps, but one day the women and girls who led the way will be awarded the recognition and acclaim they deserve. This is a subject close to my heart – see my piece on the Almanac about not being allowed to play as a kid – and I look forward to watching Rebecca (Michelle and Peta) rise through the ranks. (Though I bags first Hawthorn president.)

    Thanks for bringing it to our attention.


  10. Yvette Wroby says

    Hi Anne, didn’t catch this first time around. It is brilliant watching all the women shine, from players, umpires coaches, board members etc. Loved your piece and it’s still relevant 4 years later.

  11. It sure is still as relevant. The 20 year old coach I mentioned in my comment from 2013 is Jess Dal Pos who is now playing for GWS and making a deep impression in the first year of AFLW.


  12. Danae Gibson says

    Bec Goddard is a beauty. My favourite quote thus far – “we don’t get nervous, we get ready”.

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