Who are the women to watch? The next wave of coaches

THE SIXTH season of the NAB AFLW competition won't feature any women as senior coaches.

Just three women – Bec Goddard (Adelaide 2017 and 2018), Michelle Cowan (Fremantle 2017 and 2018) and Peta Searle (St Kilda 2020 and 2021) – have held the position, alongside 23 men in the same period.

Current and recently retired players are working their ways through the coaching pathways, with premiership Crow and former Gold Coast leader Sally Riley just appointed as an assistant coach for NAB League side GWV Rebels.

"I’ve done quite a bit while I was teaching and playing over the last five years at AFLW and I’m super passionate about coaching, especially at the development level and I want to pass back what I’ve learnt," Riley said.
 
"I didn’t get the chance to play footy in Ballarat because there was no competition for women. To come back into the Rebels’ changerooms and see the faces of so many women who have joined the AFLW competition is incredible for women’s football."

So, who are the women to watch?

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WOMEN ALREADY IN THE AFLW RANKS

Jane Lange already has an AFLW game under her belt (and a 100 per cent win rate), the senior Melbourne assistant coach filling in for Mick Stinear earlier this year.

She's a two-time premiership coach with Darebin, and has also worked at Carlton as an assistant.

Lange isn't alone in the AFLW ranks, with Natalie Wood (Western Bulldogs, formerly Geelong), Narelle Smith (Adelaide) and ex-players Lauren Morecroft (Carlton, formerly North Melbourne), Lauren Tesoriero (Richmond), Amy Lavell and Lisa Webb (both Fremantle) holding assistant coaching roles in 2021.

North Melbourne's Natasha Hardy and Melbourne duo Brooke Patterson and Tamara Hyett were development coaches in 2021, with the latter brought into the Dees after a successful stint leading Sandringham in the NAB League.

Cowan's role changed at West Coast as the women's program was restructured, moving into an operations role from an assistant coaching job.

Some clubs have already announced their panels for the 2022 season, with the likes of former AFLW players Courtney Cramey, Leah Kaslar (both Adelaide), Emma Grant (Richmond) and Melissa Hickey (Western Bulldogs) signing on, while Emma Sampson has also joined the Crows.

Michelle Cowan addresses the Eagles' forwards during a game in 2020. Picture: AFL Photos

COACHING A TEAM IN THEIR OWN RIGHT

Four women have led VFLW teams this year: Chloe McMillan at Collingwood, Dale Robinson at Southern Saints, Goddard at Hawthorn and Penny Cula-Reid at Williamstown.

Cula-Reid won a flag coaching the Magpies before making the switch to Williamstown, while McMillan's 2021 Pies have qualified for the Grand Final.

Robinson took her side to a semi-final this year, while Goddard was previously an AFLW premiership coach at Adelaide.

Former VFLW Saint Steph Binder has just been appointed North Melbourne's VFLW coach for 2022.

Long-time Adelaide assistant Smith was recently appointed head coach of SANFLW side Woodville-West Torrens, joining North Adelaide's premiership coach Krissie Steen (who has also worked at GWS).

Former Carlton head of women's footy Nicole Graves has coached Coolangatta in the QAFLW for the past few years, while there weren't any women in senior coaching roles in the WAFLW this year.

Hawthorn assistant Christina Polatajko was awarded the AFLCA's coaching scholarship this year.

Hawthorn VFLW assistant coach Christina Polatajko addresses the team during the 2021 season. Picture: hawthornfc.com.au

WHO'S THE NEXT GENERATION COMING THROUGH?

There are plenty of AFLW players, both past and present, coming through the coaching ranks.

Vic Metro, Vic Country and South Australia had all-women coaching panels at the recent NAB AFLW Under-19 Championships, with all other sides having at least one woman involved.

Eight of the 13 NAB League sides had women on their coaching panels, including two at the Bendigo Pioneers and Jacara Egan at Calder Cannons, the first Indigenous woman to coach in the competition.

GWS skipper Alicia Eva has long been involved in coaching before the AFLW competition, and last month became the first woman to join the NAB AFL Academy coaching panel. Eva is also a development coach for the men’s GWS VFL team.

Other current and former players to watch:

  • Former Fremantle and WCE player Cassie Davidson (senior coach, Woomeras)
  • Former Brisbane Lions player Lauren Arnell (Brisbane Academy)
  • Former Gold Coast skipper Sam Virgo (senior coach, Queensland boys under 17s, senior coach men's QFA)
  • Current GWS player Katherine Smith (assistant, Allies)
  • Current Melbourne player Krstel Petrevski (assistant, Woomeras)
  • Current Richmond player Monique Conti (assistant, Medleys)
Tiger Monique Conti helping coach the Woomeras. Picture: AFL Photos

WHAT ABOUT THE PATHWAYS?

The AFL has two different programs currently operating.

The She Can Coach program has been extended nationally this year after starting as a Victorian product in 2018.

There are currently 36 women involved from across the community, state level and talent pathways, and aims to increase the number of and improve the capacity of coaches, as well as increasing visibility of coaching role models.

The BHP Women's Coaching Academy was also launched in 2018, and provides women with the opportunity to complete a level three coaching course.

The current intake is Hickey, Grant, Robinson, Virgo, Hardy, Sampson (North Adelaide W and South Australia assistant), Shannon Millar (Nightcliffe senior coach and Allies assistant) and Lisa Roper (Fitzroy senior coach and Sandringham assistant).

(L-R) Vic Metro coaches Jacara Egan, Hayley Gossow, Courtney Young and Lisa Roper. Picture: Getty Images

WHAT'S NEXT?

Clubs have been following a trend of late of bringing in men from their AFL programs as senior coaches, giving them combined roles as soft cap cuts in the AFL begin to cut deep.

Adelaide's Matthew Clarke (AFL ruck coach), North Melbourne's Darren Crocker (AFL scouting), Richmond's Ryan Ferguson (VFL assistant) and St Kilda's Nick Dal Santo (club academy) are among the ones to have dual responsibilities.

A few are on sixth-month full-time contracts, while Geelong's recently vacant role was advertised as a part-time gig.

Resigned coach Paul Hood spent the 2021 season teaching at St Joseph's College during the day and coaching at night, which was ultimately unsustainable.

It could be viewed by clubs as overreach by the AFL, but if the trend of combined men's roles continues, perhaps money needs to be put aside for exclusive AFLW senior coaching jobs.