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Mary’s Wonder Women: Where are the female AFLW coaches?

Mary Konstantopoulos Columnist

By Mary Konstantopoulos, Mary Konstantopoulos is a Roar Expert


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    Bec Goddard won an AFLW premiership but no longer has a coaching job. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

    If the AFL started AFLW simply to give women the opportunity to play football at a professional level, then that purpose has been achieved. But what if it was about something more?

    What if it was also about the AFL indicating to its fan-base that it was passionate about diversity and inclusion, and also demonstrating a commitment to adequate female pathways – for not only players, but also those who wanted to be administrators, coaches or involved more broadly in the physical aspect of preparing a team for game day?

    Has that purpose been achieved and if not, are we on track to achieve it?

    Season one, I was blown away by the joy which surrounded the competition. It dominated the news and names like Erin Phillips, Daisy Pearce, Amanda Farrugia and Moana Hope became part of the national conversation.

    There was momentum surrounding and I was hopeful that this would carry on into season two, particularly after the scenes on AFLW grand final day when Bec Goddard and her team – split across Adelaide and the Northern Territory – held up the trophy for the first time.

    Adelaide Crows AFLW Grand Final 2017

    AAP Image/Dan Peled

    For the most part, the momentum continued – because AFLW helped so many women to fall in love with the game again, while others were brought to the game for the first time.

    As a female fan of any male-dominated sport, it’s often hard to explain why you love the game so much – particularly amidst allegations of player misbehaviour, sexism and a perceived lack of opportunity for women.

    But in season two, a couple of other things happened which made me question the direction of the competition and how committed the AFLW really was to making systemic change.

    The first was the memo leaked, after Round 1, asking coaches to rethink their strategy to produce higher scoring games. The two key areas highlighted were congestion around stoppages and defensive flooding.

    Asking coaches to prepare their teams in a certain way was disingenuous, did not allow the game to develop naturally at its own pace, and suggested that the AFL did not think that the competition was entertaining enough to maintain spectator interest.

    Interestingly, I saw no such memo sent to coaches in the wake of some low-scoring games in the AFL this year – most notably the Round 1 fixture between the Gold Coast Suns 7.13.55 and North Melbourne 5.9.39, or the Round 6 clash between the Greater Western Sydney Giants 10.17.77 and Brisbane Lions 5.13.43.

    But far more concerning was Crows coach Bec Goddard and Fremantle Dockers coach Michelle Cowan both resigning after the season’s conclusion.

    This means there are no female coaches in AFLW, which is a telling example of women not being supported to take on professional opportunities in what is still a male-dominated sport.

    How astonishing that there is no longer a place for the coach that won a premiership in her first year, and the club’s first premiership coach in 20 years.

    Goddard may have been willing to take a pay cut to take a more full-time position, but this was not an option.

    What separates Goddard and Cowan is that all the other coaches have roles that allow them to support themselves. For example, Wayne Siekman (Collingwood) is a Next Generation Academy coach at Collingwood. Alan McConnell (GWS) is also the men’s director of coaching.

    Unfortunately, particularly in the case of Goddard, her role was solely as AFLW coach and Adelaide conceded that they could not find the funds or another position for Goddard so that she could continue to commit to coaching.

    A well-established path exists for men interested in coaching: play football at a professional level, then move into coaching, starting at the bottom and working their way up. Such a pathway does not yet exist for women and nor will it until women in these roles are appropriately supported.

    We now have a competition which is coached entirely by men, and seemingly judged by people other than the women playing suggesting changes to the spectacle to make it more attractive.

    This leaves a sour taste in my mouth about the role AFLW has in the wider AFL family and the direction it’s being taken.

    The NRL starts its women’s competition later this year with four teams – the Brisbane Broncos, New Zealand Warriors, St George Illawarra Dragons and Sydney Roosters.

    My great hope is that women’s competitions do not look at other women’s competitions as competitors. Each sport can learn from the successes and the failures of the others, and we can get better together.

    I urge the NRL to closely look at the AFLW and think about what has worked and what has not.

    I have every confidence the rules will remain the same. I’ve watched plenty of women’s rugby league and I am sure that the product will be exciting, entertaining and compelling. There will be no need for a memo from above to coaches, telling them how to run plays because of concerns about the ‘low scoring nature’ of the game.

    The slogan of the competition is ‘same game, our way’. I’m hoping that particular emphasis is placed on the ‘same game’ part of that phrase.

    But the advice I would give to the NRL would be to not create a competition which limits the ability of women to get involved in ways other than playing. Already, the Warriors have announced former Kiwi Ferns captain Luisa Avaiki as coach for the inaugural season. This is a good start.

    The Women’s National Rugby League competition must make sure that women are given not only the opportunity to play, but to participate in other ways as well.

    Mary Konstantopoulos
    Mary Konstantopoulos

    Mary Konstantopoulos is a lawyer, sports advocate and proud owner and founder of the Ladies Who empire, including Ladies who League, Ladies who Legspin, Ladies who Lineout and Ladies who Leap. You can find her podcast on iTunes and find her on Twitter @mary__kaye and @ladieswholeague.

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    The Crowd Says (56)

    • May 4th 2018 @ 9:33am
      GJ said | May 4th 2018 @ 9:33am | ! Report

      You’ve conveniently left out that Bec Goddard has a career and a senior role within the AFP and lives in Canberra. Its also interesting to note that Erin Phillips refused to commit to a new contract, yet suddenly re-signed immediately after news broke that Goddard would be returning to Canberra. Though in the news denials were made, rumours remain that Goddard had fractured relationships with a number of key players.

      Sure it would be nice to have more woman in coaching roles etc in the AFLW, however if the skill set isn’t there yet it makes no sense to shoe horn them into roles purely PC reasons. The AFLW is still a competition.

      • May 4th 2018 @ 9:39am
        Ben said | May 4th 2018 @ 9:39am | ! Report

        No! Bec Goddard quit because of SEXISM, which is the ONLY reason any woman could possibly resign from such a role! 😉


      • Columnist

        May 4th 2018 @ 9:45am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | May 4th 2018 @ 9:45am | ! Report

        I didn’t ‘conventiently’ choose to leave that out. I saw it as almost irrelevant. Bec did not go back to the AFP because of money – had there been a position available to her full time which was financially viable, Bec has hinted several times that she would have considered the offer. The bottom line in, Bec’s choice was either quit her job to do AFLW and be unable to financially support herself or go back to her career. There was no middle ground.

        And as for there being no female talent… Bec is the equal best AFLW coach out there. The talent is there. We can’t keep it.

        • May 4th 2018 @ 9:49am
          I ate pies said | May 4th 2018 @ 9:49am | ! Report

          “Bec is the equal best AFLW coach out there”…By what measure do you make that assumption?
          If you really want women’s footy to improve to the point where it’s a viable professional sport (ie. people will pay to go to the games and there’s a TV audience) how do you expect it to achieve that if the best coaches aren’t employed?
          Coaches with AFL experience are always going to have far more knowledge than coaches from the VFLW. It seems to me that you’re putting blind sexism in the way of your long term goal.

          • Columnist

            May 4th 2018 @ 10:05am
            Mary Konstantopoulos said | May 4th 2018 @ 10:05am | ! Report

            She’s won a premiership.

            That’s a pretty accurate measure used by plenty of people when working out who the ‘best’ coaches are.

            • May 4th 2018 @ 10:43am
              I ate pies said | May 4th 2018 @ 10:43am | ! Report

              Those people are wrong and lazy. I could have coached Brisbane to a premiership in their premiership years.

              John Buchanan even admitted that he didn’t need to do much when he had such a dominant team; it’s a different sport but it’s a relevant point all the same. Having the best list doesn’t make the best coach; having the best gameplan that’s adaptive and getting the best out of their players makes the best coach.

        • May 4th 2018 @ 8:57pm
          GJ said | May 4th 2018 @ 8:57pm | ! Report

          Interestingly I notice you didn’t address the other, possibly more important point I made. That being the rumours are true and the club made no effort to find any sort of full time role for her based on the premise a number of senior players would’ve left had she remained in the role.

    • May 4th 2018 @ 9:43am
      I ate pies said | May 4th 2018 @ 9:43am | ! Report

      “Mary’s Wonder Women”…the most patronising column name in the media today.

      • Columnist

        May 4th 2018 @ 10:13am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | May 4th 2018 @ 10:13am | ! Report

        It’s catchy enough to get your attention and troll me. So I must be doing something right. Thanks for the clicks!

        • May 4th 2018 @ 10:58am
          I ate pies said | May 4th 2018 @ 10:58am | ! Report

          Having a different opinion doesn’t make someone a troll.

          If I called my wife a “wonder woman” for doing something that I already do, and thousands of other men and women do, she’d slap me, and I’d deserve it.

          For balance, how about we have a column called “Mikes Marvellous Men” where we can talk about how wonderful men are for doing things that women have been doing for decades.

          I respect your opinion, but I find this talk of congratulating women based on their sex is made under the assumption that being able to do the same thing as men is some sort of achievement. It’s the same as writing “you did well, for a girl”, which is terribly condescending and patronising.

          Fair enough, write a column about women’s sports, but they’re not “wonder women” because they can kick a football. They’re just women, just like men who play footy are just men.

          • May 4th 2018 @ 12:22pm
            Ben said | May 4th 2018 @ 12:22pm | ! Report

            ‘I ate pies’ goes BANG! Well said.

          • May 4th 2018 @ 8:44pm
            Basil (the original) said | May 4th 2018 @ 8:44pm | ! Report

            Standing ovation.

          • May 4th 2018 @ 10:31pm
            Yoshi said | May 4th 2018 @ 10:31pm | ! Report

            I wouldn’t normaly agree with you I ate pies, but well done here.

            Everybody seems to have an illogical pet cause these days. But every so often, an undeniable grain of truth shines through 🙂 .

    • May 4th 2018 @ 9:49am
      Ben said | May 4th 2018 @ 9:49am | ! Report

      Of course your comparison of there being no memo sent from the AFL to their coaches in regards to low scoring games is not at all a suprise. But I’ll give you an educated answer.

      Low scoring AFL game = high pressure, high tempo, high skilled football, massive attendences and tv audiences.

      Low scoring AFLW game = amateur skill level, very ugly to watch, tiny crowds and tiny tv audiences…

      Is that a good enough answer?

    • Roar Guru

      May 4th 2018 @ 9:55am
      Penster said | May 4th 2018 @ 9:55am | ! Report

      Good article as usual Mary and completely agree about nonsensical mid-season rule changes and directives. The AFLW reps to the Players Association opposed this and the AFL went ahead regardless, that’s not supportive, it’s meddling from AFL House. At least in that regard, the W comp has achieved equality with the mens.

      Coaching stock in most sports is derived from those who’ve retired from playing the game at that level. AFLW isn’t there yet. It’s not far off and current senior players are cutting their teeth coaching lower levels, which I saw last weekend at the NSW AFL state team U16 play offs, some excellent talent coming through the player and coaching ranks. Having spoken to a few of the AFLW players, the message is the same – get the best person for the job, male or female, because they want to win.

      • May 4th 2018 @ 10:38am
        Ben said | May 4th 2018 @ 10:38am | ! Report

        Have you ever heard of the saying “don’t bite the hand that feeds you”?…

        The AFL has pumped millions of dollars into the AFLW, a competition that has given the AFL business nothing back.

        The AFLW and it’s supporters have whinged and complained relentlessly about pay, about tv rights, about the judicial system, about season length! When will it stop?!

        And god have mercy on the AFL if it even DARES to ask the AFLW to play a more entertaining brand of football, and perhaps repay the faith ($$$) the AFL has put into it! How dare they! 😑

        • Roar Guru

          May 4th 2018 @ 1:14pm
          Penster said | May 4th 2018 @ 1:14pm | ! Report

          And the award for “Missing the Big Picture” goes to ……………… ^^^

          • May 4th 2018 @ 1:21pm
            I ate pies said | May 4th 2018 @ 1:21pm | ! Report

            You don’t understand the big picture at all.

          • May 4th 2018 @ 2:43pm
            Ben said | May 4th 2018 @ 2:43pm | ! Report

            I would love to be in an AFL board room, hearing them talk about the millions they have thrown away with the AFLW competition, just to get a few more fans, then have someone like yourself pop up and be like “look, you need to think about the big picture fellas”. You would get laughed out of the room! 😂

            The AFL is a business. Like all businesses, it likes money. It’s only a matter of time before the board of the AFL sit down, and really weigh up if their virtue signalling will ever bring them the $$$ they want.

            Having a look at the happenings of AFLW season 2… I think they have already worked it out. 😉

            • Roar Guru

              May 4th 2018 @ 3:15pm
              Penster said | May 4th 2018 @ 3:15pm | ! Report

              AFL is a not for profit and the “big picture” is getting people, humans, men and women engaged and playing the sport. You guys must be spewing that the world is changing, it’s a constant source of amusement that you’re spitting chips and shrilly complaining about the other half of the population getting a share of the chocolates.

              • May 4th 2018 @ 4:36pm
                Ben said | May 4th 2018 @ 4:36pm | ! Report

                I can understand you actually believing that, because the AFLW indeed makes no profit… But the AFL is a business. They sell entertainment and merchandise, and make more than $300 million a year.

                “getting a share”… Really? Where’s my share? I’m a middle-aged person with more ability than almost all AFLW players. Why don’t I get to be on tv, being given thousands of dollars?

                …oh, that’s right, I’m the wrong gender! 😉

              • May 4th 2018 @ 4:59pm
                Aligee said | May 4th 2018 @ 4:59pm | ! Report

                Its far more than a few fans Ben.

                Its a stack more players, a stack more volunteers, a stack more political clout at local, state and federal level for facilities because of increased participation at both male and female level, its a godsend for struggling country clubs that now have different revenue streams.

                It actually shores up the game at many many levels, whatever the AFL have spent, i reckon they will get more back.

              • May 4th 2018 @ 6:44pm
                I ate pies said | May 4th 2018 @ 6:44pm | ! Report

                Aligee, if you believe that women’s footy will have country footy then you really have no idea about the cost structures of country footy and you have no idea about how the AFL operates. It’s unfortunate that you people are so willing to believe what you’re told if you think you’ll get the outcome you want, because it makes it very easy for the people who are manipulating you.
                In short, women’s footy won’t save country footy and it won’t save the AFL. It will have the absolute opposite effect.

              • May 5th 2018 @ 9:12am
                Aligee said | May 5th 2018 @ 9:12am | ! Report

                Well, i have given you some examples of where women’s football helps, you haven’t given me any where it doesn’t, just a blanket statement.

                There is a league called AFLNW which includes teams from Moree, Tamworth, Gunnedah etc , it has 7 mens teams, this year they have a four team women’s league to compliment it.

                It is a tiny little league out in the country, how is adding 50 % + more teams and players not adding to country football, not giving it a big push and lifeline at the same time.

                Socials are bigger, fundraising bigger, more admin and volunteers, more community involvement because of more women’s involvement.

                How exactly is that a negative.

                i want you to exactly spell it out ??.

            • May 5th 2018 @ 9:51am
              BrainsTrust said | May 5th 2018 @ 9:51am | ! Report

              The AFL have hardly pumped any money into the AFLW, the spend has been modest.
              They don;t play many games to save costs the total wage for the team is less than the average for one player in the AFL.
              AFL earns its money off the Southern States,
              then it pours the money into the North East.
              A subsidy that has been going for many years.
              The women are a political necessity, without them then governments will shut off all the government funding that goes to the AFL.
              So the 1.5 billion stadium in Perth, which AFL did not contribute a cent too.
              Now all the money from whatever modest rent was being charged will be channeled into the mens AFL in that state. A 1.5 billion dollar property should be charging about 5% of that in rent per year. So the rent for the Perth stadium should be 75 million a year.Split that per event of which there will be about 32 a year and it should be 2. millon an occasion. Thats a 44 million a year freebie for the AFL more than the cost of the AFLW.
              That would not have been remotely possible without the AFLW.

    • May 4th 2018 @ 10:15am
      Lroy said | May 4th 2018 @ 10:15am | ! Report

      Women resigning a sporting position to focus on their career is not a uniquely female thing.

      Men do it every day of the week… have a look in the drop off in playing numbers in all sports once men (or women) enter the workforce.

      This is something all the women playing in the league will have to weigh up, same as men do.

      • Roar Guru

        May 4th 2018 @ 11:32am
        Dalgety Carrington said | May 4th 2018 @ 11:32am | ! Report

        You wouldn’t find any head coaches at AFL level doing that though.

        • May 4th 2018 @ 1:22pm
          I ate pies said | May 4th 2018 @ 1:22pm | ! Report

          The AFL is not a reasonable comparison, and you know it.

        • May 6th 2018 @ 2:44pm
          Train without a station said | May 6th 2018 @ 2:44pm | ! Report

          But is that partially because of the commitment required to get there would prevent them from building a lucrative career alternative?

    • May 4th 2018 @ 10:24am
      Mattyb said | May 4th 2018 @ 10:24am | ! Report

      Eventually there will be more woman coaches in AFLW,the competition is still young and a bit more experience is just needed.
      I’m a big fan of AFLW and with girls myself have seen the impact it’s been making but I do feel many of our fans have massive chips on our shoulders and are trying to force things down people’s throats rather than let the game evolve naturally.Lets revisit some of these issues when the game grows a bit more.
      There’s definitely a dark underlying culture in AFLW at club level that I’d like to see first addressed but perhaps I’m old fashioned in some regards so I just live with it,but I’m not sure all the girls are treated completely equally amongst themselves either.