The Sky is the Limit is an Inner Sanctum exclusive interview series which focuses on ground-breaking women in coaching.
The AFL industry is a tough industry to break into, especially for a female coach in an AFL/AFLW coaching landscape dominated by men.
For an aspiring female coach like Jessie Chester, it’s important to get as much experience along the way, and she has certainly already done that. Chester started her coaching journey at the Point Cook Centrals, and was one of the first coaches of the club’s girls footy team.
Her experience doesn’t stop there. Chester has coached the Western Region girl’s Interleague team, and has been involved with the Western Jets girls program. More recently though, Chester is the backline coach at the Coburg Lions in the club’s inaugural women’s side.
Chester spoke to The Inner Sanctum about her coaching career so far and what her goals are for the future.
Chester’s coaching career started after she was approached while helping out at her local Auskick centre.
“I was asked early in the piece when I was doing Auskick on coming across to the Sharks, where I was to coach their first girl’s team,” Chester told The Inner Sanctum.
“I think what made me want to do it was there wasn’t ever really an opportunity for women in footy as much as there is today. I think because I had grown up absolutely loving footy, there wasn’t really an opportunity to play.
“I thought I’d try my hand in coaching. I started to see there were lots of youth girls teams around when the AFLW was going to start.
“I thought this would be the perfect time to get on board in something I’m passionate about that previously I’d never had the opportunity too.
“I wanted to get on board, I thought that it would be something really special. Having that opportunity to go down to a club that was starting that pathway of girls footy.
“It was meant to be, I think just wanting to get involved in the community to give back and also getting on board something I’m passionate about for a long time.”
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Every coach has had a few mentors along the way to help them grow and for Chester, it was no different.
“I would like to say Darren Finlay is a long-time mentor in terms of coaching, I’ve always to reached out to him and run ideas by him,” she explained.
“He was also my mentor when I was going through my AFL Level Two coaching course a few years ago.
“Even today, Liam Cavanagh [the] head coach at Coburg. I’ve known him for a little while, but have really gotten to know him through my involvement at Coburg.
“From a coaching standpoint and even a little bit in life, he’s been a massive mentor, the amount of knowledge he has I guess I’ve obtained from him in the last six or so months has been huge.
“Starting out, coaches create a coaching philosophy about the type of coach they want to become and the environment they want to create for their players.
“So, I guess my coaching philosophy is I’m all about creating an environment where people can come and feel safe and included and learn and walk away knowing that that’s a safe space for them, but it’s also a space where they can achieve really great things and I’m going to help them get there along the way.
“Yes, it’s great to win premierships and be the best team on the field every single game, [but] if you don’t have that really good culture and comradery it doesn’t matter how good you are on the field. I think it’s all about what happens off the field.”
Chester is a trailblazer when it comes to women’s footy in the western suburbs of Melbourne, and it was no different in the beginning of her career.
“Creating an environment at the Sharks where girl’s footy was so brand new that a week out from round one we had 12 girls, and flash forward two years later and we had under 12s, under 15s, under 18s, senior women’s… being able to create that community was one of my proudest moments.”
For Chester, the sky is the limit to what she can achieve beyond 2021.
“I guess from here, [the aim is] to put in a solid career at Coburg,” she said.
“There are a lot of exciting things coming that way so what I’m involved with now already is super special. I’m keen to watch that grow and be a part of it.
“Of course, I want to be involved at the highest level, coaching at the highest level is the dream. Whether that be a head coach of an AFLW team or a line coach and assistant coach at a men’s AFL club, the sky is the limit.
“It’s getting into that top level I’ll keep ticking along. That’s the goal, to keep not just up-skilling the players, [but] making sure that I’m up-skilling at the same time.”
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