Women’s Footy – VFL: Debbie Lee

The VU Western Spurs finished the 2015 season winless with a percentage of 12.5 and “holding up the ladder”, as coach Debbie Lee dryly put it. Lee entered the off-season looking for a way to build her side into one that could compete with VFL title-bearers like Darebin, Diamond Creek and Melbourne University.

In order to put Lee’s situation into context, think of this: the Spurs had narrowly avoided potential closure by aligning themselves with Victoria University. They retained just seven players for the 2016 season, making up numbers with recruits from other clubs as well as players who were completely new to Australian Rules. What would they be good at? Could her current players be repurposed? How do you build a confident culture with such a jigsaw puzzle of a list?

Lee started by strengthening the players at her disposal. She had the beginnings of an experienced backline with Lauren Senserrick and Danni Teasdale and an AFL playing captain in Bree White, who has represented Melbourne. And if she had to start from scratch with the majority of her list, then at least she would be able to mould them to her game plan.

Thus far in 2016, the Spurs have won two matches against expansion teams Geelong and Knox. They were defeated by 2015 opponents Eastern Devils and St Kilda, but bridged the gap considerably from their previous meeting. More importantly, the Spurs had a very clear game plan that they were successfully implementing: both the Devils and the Sharks were frustrated by VU Western’s restrictive structures.

“It’s about keeping simple structures and being repetitive so that they get it come game time,” says Lee.

Lee was a legend to the Spurs – and, indeed, to women’s football – long before she became coach. After playing 302 games across 22 seasons, she has been able to impart the lessons of her playing career into coaching her players.

“You’ve got to build a relationship with them,” advises Lee. “And that’s not just about on the field, that’s about ‘How’s Mum going?’, and knowing stuff in their lives so you build a really good rapport with them. That comes back to the confidence as well.”

In April, Lee was appointed to the AFL Women’s Advisory Board, which will act as a brains trust into the preparation for the National Women’s Competition in 2017. It’s a recognition of her experience and vision, but on a personal note for Lee she will be working alongside the woman who has influenced her coaching more than anyone else: Melbourne Women’s coach Michelle Cowan.

“I’ve learnt so much from her style,” says Lee of the woman who was appointed Player Development Coach of Melbourne’s Men’s side in February. “When I talk about building good communication and relationships with players, Michelle Cowan nails it.  Through working with Michelle, I have seen first-hand how building a great culture within a playing group and a club is imperative to on field success, that’s what Michelle has taught me.’’

The VU Western Spurs have laid the foundations for becoming a good side: they have a clear plan and the commitment to execute it. Still to come is the ongoing development of several key position players and a collective refusal to fall into accepting “brave” defeats against the sides that scalded the Spurs in previous seasons. Lee is also looking to instil in her team the skill and confidence of offensive play, of taking the game on and winning whilst still continuing to hold teams out. They’ll certainly take heart from their massive 137-point win over Knox last weekend – no side can kick 22 goals in a game and not have the ability to enforce an attacking game style.

“It’s amazing now when I look out and see 70 girls training at the Spurs with our Youth Girls underpinning the senior group. We’re pretty proud of the growth of our Club; it’s taken an enormous effort by a number of people. The last two years were pretty tough so it’s great for the girls who stuck by us to now get some wins on the board.”

The VU Western Spurs play Darebin at the Henry Turner Memorial Reserve on Saturday from 2pm.

About Callum O'Connor

Here's to feelin' good all the time.


  1. Ritchie and Eddie says

    John Cleese: why are you always going on about women Callum?
    Callum: I want to be one

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