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Leading women in football: An interview with Kat Smith

Is it time for Tasmania to join the A-League? (Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)
Roar Guru
17th January, 2018
9

For years, Kat Smith has been regarded as one of the best technical directors in Victorian football. Now, she’s one of the top female coaches in the country.

The best coaches in any sport are educators. In this regard, the Melbourne Victory W-League assistant is right up there. Fresh off a grand final appearance as senior coach of Geelong’s Galaxy United in last year’s WNPL, Smith is currently in her fifth season at Victory.

Smith, who has her FFA A license, has carved out an impressive career developing the best footballers in the land as well as putting together programs for coaches. Armed with a degree in exercise science from Deakin University and a Diploma of Secondary Education from RMIT, combined with a genuine love of the world game, coaching was a natural fit for the former Box Hill championship-winning player.

Smith’s journey into teaching began in 2006 as Talented Player Development Manager at Football Federation Victoria (FFV). This involved identifying, developing and implementing an elite player pathway for FFV as well as building a syllabus for coaching education.

Prior to her appointment as Galaxy senior coach, Smith was a technical director at the club. This came after a year at Green Gully in a similar role. However, her most impressive stint was as facilitator, trainer and assessor for seven years with the SEDA Group.

The highly regarded SEDA program focuses on providing hands-on education for talented footballers while completing year 11 and 12, gaining nationally recognised VET qualifications. This harnessed Smith’s ability to deliver high-quality technical programs whilst managing relationships with people.

Smith’s credentials combined with her various successes won her a role as assistant coach for the Australian Under 17s (Junior Matildas) in August 2017. She also sat in the dugout for the senior Matildas’ recent matches against Brazil.

All of this bodes well for Melbourne Victory women as they seek their first championship since 2013/14, when Smith was also an assistant coach. Joining Smith at Victory this season are her Galaxy United lieutenants Laura Spiranovic, Whitney Knight, Annabel Martin and Adriana Taranto. Meanwhile, young goalkeeper Emily Kenshole had a four-week stint at Melbourne City earlier this season.

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Having five of her WNPL stars competing in the nation’s top league is a huge feather in the cap for Smith and a testament to the high standards she sets at Galaxy United. The program she set at Galaxy has reaped significant rewards.

Apart from the seniors making consecutive grand finals, the juniors coming through at Galaxy have improved significantly over the past two years with the Under 15s making a finals appearance last year (under Stuart Smith and Rob Casha). Under her guidance, there’s a high chance that more Galaxy United players will feature in the W-League in the near future.

Name: Kat Smith
Age: 34
Junior club: Albury Hotspurs
Favourite club: Manchester United
Favourite player: David Beckham

How did you get involved in football when you were young?
I remember playing in primary school with and against the boys at lunchtime. We moved to the country when I was 12. I caught the school bus every day and one of the first people I met after moving to a new town was Pip Kelly. Her parents were from Scotland, so football was in her blood. She played for Albury Hotspurs at the time and with her encouragement, I joined the team. The rest is history, as they say.

Biggest inspiration?
So many people inspire me. Those who live by their values, and those who demonstrate passion and dedication to follow their dreams.

Highlights of your playing career?
I was very fortunate to play for Box Hill United from 2001-2012, a very successful period for the club. Playing in and winning grand finals will always be special. Representing both Victoria and NSW Country throughout my junior years, as well as Victoria Vision and Melbourne Victory within the National League back in the day.

What made you get involved with coaching?
Sport has always been my anchor. Life’s ‘teacher’ in a way. Coaching, for me, is the platform to guide and nurture people.

Coaching highlights?
My first season as the assistant at Melbourne Victory in 2013-14 stands out. After a very intense semi-final away to Sydney FC, we won the Grand Final 2-0 against Brisbane Roar which was pretty special.

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What do you like most about Galaxy United?
As a club, they have a very strong sense of who they are and where they want to go. It’s evident that this application of core values positively impacts the ability of its football operations to meet key objectives.

What do you like most about coaching at Melbourne Victory?
It’s a privilege to work for Melbourne Victory. A rich history of success, in many forms of the word. As a club, as an organisation, they invest in you as a person. They provide opportunities for growth, and support your personal and professional development.

What do you think Geelong as a town needs to improve its footballing credentials?
Geelong, like the rest of the country, needs to invest in the future. Continue to recognise and respect the past, but be looking forward to the future. The region needs to invest and develop infrastructure, educate coaches and provide access to opportunities where players can learn, play and grow.

What do you think FFA needs to do to improve its female programs?
It’s been widely acknowledged that our current systems have a gap whereby players aged 15-20 are no longer serviced by institute programs which cater for the holistic development of the player. There’s been a significant shift in mentality to cater for the masses by decentralising programs to perhaps widen our catchment of talented players.

In my opinion, the best of the best need to be on full-time programs which provide the full ingredients for developmental success. It shouldn’t be a case of players getting a bit from here and there. This is where we need to invest in A-League and W-League clubs’ academy programs. Let member federations govern the sport, and allow the clubs to develop footballers.