Over four years of AFLW, we've seen only three female coaches. Although in the VFLW, Hawthorn is now leading the way for female mentors.

Over the four years of AFLW we’ve seen only three female coaches.

Adelaide premiership coach Bec Goddard, Fremantle’s Michelle Cowan and St Kilda’s Peta Searle. 

Today, only one female coach remains, with Searle leading the Saints in 2021.  

Why is it that out of the 14 teams in the league in 2021, why is it that there is only one female coach? 

It’s not due to lack of candidates, with the likes of current Hawthorn VFLW Coach Bec Goddard and Collingwood VFLW Premiership and current Williamstown VFLW Coach Penny Cula-Reid, not coaching AFLW teams, who have had proven success both on the field and off. 

The Inner Sanctum sat down with Bec Goddard about improving women’s coaching in the AFLW for the future and how the Hawks are becoming industry leaders in promoting women in coaching roles.

Personally, in my two years playing Aussie Rules locally, I’ve had two terrific female coaches show me the ropes of the game, although that is a rare story throughout Australia.

“That’s a very unusual story you know and I think at VFLW and AFLW level, I felt the majority of the coaches they probably had were Males. there might be a few outliers where they’ve been lucky enough to be coached by Peta Searle or Narelle Smith in South Australia,” Goddard said.

Vacant positions had been going to male coaches; Richmond with Ryan Ferguson, North Melbourne with Darren Crocker while also retaining his role in the men’s program and West Coast with Daniel Pratt.

“Largely you find the players are used to a very certain way of being coached so you hear the players say that I just want the best coach with a job,” Goddard said.

“The agenda doesn’t matter to me, which is true, but what we’re seeing is that women can’t compete in that field, they can’t get the job in the first place because there’s this very strict idea about these deep held beliefs about what a coach should sound like smell like and they can’t win jobs and get those jobs because this isn’t mentality of like us.”

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Although it may come down to cost cutting, Goddard mentioned of a certain incentive that she helped introduce to get women in these roles.

“I certainly caught up with a bit of a consultative group, while COVID was happening, which was great to talk to the AFL about some of the concerns I had coming out of COVID and what might happen to women in the competition,” she said.

“The AFL did come out with their initiative to change a soft cap and salaries for people with diverse backgrounds, outside of the soft cap which would have hoped to be a bit of an initiative to entice clubs to hire outside of the regular circle. 

“But today I haven’t seen many clubs take up that offer.” 

Last week, Hawthorn announced that their VFLW coaching team is made up of all female coaches, the first time an AFL affiliated club has done this. 

“Hawthorn has been absolutely fantastic you know during COVID I was able to start having some discussions with some key players in the club in general manager of VFL and VFLW Dan Napoli, has been a real driver of this and, and we just started talking about what we could do, like, do we want to return to COVID normal, whatever that looks like or was it an opportunity for the football club to do something a bit different and put a fresh lens on things,” Goddard said.

“He and I saw this real opportunity instead of having the dialogue with the chief executive Justin Reeves about that and we were able to set some new contracts with some amazing women, who haven’t had a chance in coaching before to really reach their potential.” 

Hawthorn was one of the handful of teams that missed out on an AFLW Licence in 2017, when the AFL granted Geelong and North Melbourne entry into the competition in 2019 and St Kilda, Richmond, West Coast and Gold Coast in 2020. 

Yet, without having an AFLW licence, the Hawks have been industry leaders in Women’s Sport.  

“I see a lot the conversation is lingering and I feel like when having the support of a powerful football club like Hawthorn come out and really be over this brave leadership that really adds a bit of context to this,” Goddard said.

“Because women can keep talking about this although like, but we’re not the ones that are in the position of change, we’re not the ones holding those leadership positions that can take that overt action and make the change so we need these institutions and our industries to actually recognise that there is a gap, and the barriers are too great and we need more overt action and bravely shift to break that down.”

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