An emotional Nathan Ake has dedicated his first Champions League goal to his late father, who’d been terminally ill and died moments after watching the Manchester City defender score his first Champions League goal.
Women in coaching has been a hot topic in recent times, especially in football. The lack of women coaches at an elite level has been discussed at length, yet there has been more lip service paid to the issue rather than any significant action.
While the W-League now has three senior coaches out of nine that are women, a key to having more women succeed in football coaching is to actually have them in the A-League.
The W-League’s professional standards have increased substantially over the past few years, but it is light years away from the A-League. It is still essentially a semi-professional league with part time footballers.
The wages of W-League coaches, on average, is barely enough to make ends meet and often falls below the poverty line.
While exact numbers are kept confidential by clubs, it is estimated the average senior coach gets between $25-35,000 for six months work.
The average annual salary in Australia in 2021 was $89,000 (or $44,500 for six months) according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, while the poverty line (cost of living) sits at $22,000 per annum for a single adult and $46,500 per annum for the average family, according to The Smith Family.
This means coaches in the W-League often have to find other employment to survive, meaning less time and energy available to focus on coaching.
Also, the limited season (13 rounds) barely gives coaches enough time to work with footballers, most of whom are not available all the time either.
It is a recipe that gives coaches in the W-League very little opportunity to learn their craft and reach their potential.
A-League coaching jobs provide a full time year round occupation. Having the stability of a decent wage, as well as the chance to work full time hours for an extended period with full time footballers, is the best way for any coach to learn and develop their skill sets as a coach.
Kate Cohen at Macarthur FC is one of the few women who has a coaching role in the A-League. She is Head of Analysis at Campbelltown, and played a prominent role as the Bulls made a finals appearance in their maiden season.
Cohen worked under Bulls head coach Ante Milicic at the Matildas after a stint as Academy Coach at Sydney FC.
While it may seem clubs are reluctant to provide women with more opportunities in their A-League coaching set-ups, it is also evident a number of women are reluctant to get involved anyway. This should raise alarm bells.
A prominent female coach who has worked extensively in the NPLW system and has been involved in the W-League, recently lamented the A-League was not set up to provide women the right environment to work in.
This is something that football authorities should be concerned about. Trying to create a culture where women feel comfortable and safe to do a coaching role among men is something that all A-League clubs should work towards.
It has done wonders for the Bulls. Now it’s time more to followed suit.
With so many intelligent women footballers now calling time on their careers, and so many females that have been involved in coaching at the NPL level for a number of years, there is plenty of football acumen in women that male footballers can benefit from.
Belinda Wilson for example, has been a successful coach in the W-League with Brisbane Roar, but last year also won a men’s title with Byron Bay FC in the FFNC Premier League.
Wilson would be someone that would provide great value in the A-League due to her extensive experience.
Setting up an environment where women are comfortable to provide this is a process that may take time, but is worthwhile investing in.
Many A-League clubs have women working in a number of different roles in the back office from commercial to media. While this is a start, very few have women in senior positions off the field. This is important in influencing a cultural shift where women in authoritative roles, such as coaching, are more visible.
An observation of a successful football club in another code is most interesting.
The Richmond Tigers AFL team have arguably been one of the greatest teams of the modern era. Three premierships in the past four years says it all.
The Tigers President is the highly respected Peggy O’Neal, who started at Punt Road in 2003 in the club’s commercial section, before being elected President in 2013.
While O’Neal has a high profile job, it’s the Tigers culture with regards to women that is something many sports clubs need to learn.
Richmond found that having women at their club in a variety of senior roles influenced the men to behave better. The men at Punt Road including players, were forced to watch their conduct and adapt their attitudes in order to survive in a professional environment where they were surrounded by women.
This created a culture where women were valued and appreciated just like the men were. Having women in prominent roles became the norm and the Tigers success as a club on and off the field (first club to have over 100,000 members) is there to see.
While the Tigers don’t have any women in their AFL coaching staff, Lauren Tesoriero is part of the AFLW coaching team. It is not hard to see in the future the Tigers will have more women in their AFL men’s program. Peta Searle at St Kilda was the first woman to be appointed as a coach in the AFL in 2019.
While coaching operates in a different realm to back room jobs, it is that cultural shift that is important and it needs to happen in football, and doing it on-field is even better.
If more women are given senior roles in A-League coaching set-ups, and importantly are valued and treated with respect so they feel comfortable, they will perform and it will become the norm. Players will eventually realise they can learn a lot from the coach regardless of the gender. In the end, the gender won’t matter. That is what we should be aiming for.