Bec Goddard headlines Hawthorn’s all-female coaching panel for VFLW team the Hawks, setting new benchmark for women’s AFL
The Hawthorn Football Club has set an AFLW benchmark today without even having a women’s team in the elite competition.
- Bec Goddard coached the Adelaide Crows to the first-ever AFLW premiership in 2017
- Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett says the all-female coaching panel is not about “gender-based recognition” but professionalism
- Hawthorn’s VFLW team is called the Hawks, but the club does not have an AFLW team
The club has announced an all-female coaching panel for its VFLW team, the Hawks, spearheaded by Bec Goddard, who coached the Adelaide Crows to the first-ever AFLW premiership in 2017.
Hawthorn is paying more than lip service to the need to develop coaches who are female and who can coach teams across the gender divide in the future.
Of the 14 AFLW teams currently in the competition, only one has a female coach — St Kilda’s Peta Searle— while in the VFLW, there are five.
Joining Goddard are assistant coaches Christina Polatajko and Hayley Gregory alongside development coaches Lou Wotton, Natasha Beck and Steph Carroll.
Club president Jeff Kennett says it is not about “gender-based recognition”.
“I don’t like the term ‘breaking a ceiling’ because they’ve earned their position based on merit.
“But I do think it’s wonderful as we move towards equality in sport, people are given the opportunity based on their professionalism, based on their enthusiasm, based on their qualifications to get the opportunities Bec and the team are getting.”
Goddard told The Ticket: “It’s a really significant announcement.”
“I’ve been thinking a lot during COVID about one day when they put me in the ground, how will I be remembered in footy and what contribution did I make?” she said.
“And I really wanted it to be more than just the 14 games of AFLW that I coached, I really wanted to be able to start to open doors for women coming through and to have a powerful football club like Hawthorn back this, and actually have this initiative, to be brave, and have such overt leadership, I think it’s really, really important.”
During the COVID-19 shutdown, VFLW coaching staff lost their jobs but Goddard says that sparked a conversation that has led to the club committing to invest in the future of the women’s game.
“All of the women’s coaching staff had their contracts terminated, there was no competition, so we couldn’t stay on staff and during that time I was able to start having conversations with the CEO Justin Reeves about what the future of football looks like at Hawthorn,” she said.
“It became really clear that women were a really big piece of that and not just in the playing role — if you want to be the CEO, you can be the CEO, you want to be the head of comms, you can be the head of comms, you want to be a coach then we’ve got those leadership positions available to you.”
Hawthorn chief executive Justin Reeves said he was not going to let 2020 put a handbrake on the VFLW program.
“In the current industry climate, there is a significant gap in the development pathways available to female coaches,” he said.
“By implementing an all-female coaching panel, in a structured environment with the right support and development opportunities built in … we will be making a significant and meaningful contribution to the furtherment of women’s participation in the AFL.”
Women in catch-22 over experience required to fill coaching positions
Despite having instant success as a coach in the inaugural AFLW season, Goddard struggled to find other coaching positions as she confronted all-too-common difficulties of juggling the need for a full-time job to support her part-time coaching position.
“I think there are a number of barriers that are in the way for women in coaching in the AFL and the first one of those is it’s still a part-time competition,” she said.
“None of the athletes are full time and therefore a lot of the coaches are not either.
“I simply couldn’t stay in Adelaide for another year as well as manage my full-time employment, and that was the priority.
“So I left and I suppose I’ve been trying to get back into the industry, I believe I have a lot to offer in coaching and I’ve ended up at Hawthorn where I feel really valued … I feel like they’re really innovative in the way they’re treating their women’s program.”
Women at all levels of sport are in a perpetual catch-22, being constantly told they do not have the experience required for vacant positions yet being unable to get the experience to start with.
“I had some feedback provided to me once, ‘Oh well, you haven’t played 200 games of AFL and you don’t have a direct relationship with an AFL head coach, I have empathy for you because you won’t be able to coach in the industry’,” Goddard said.
“And to me, that should just not be a blocker. When we look at merit and what we want in a coach there should be nothing that immediately rules out such an important part of our community.
“There’s just no diversity and it needed to change … I mean, there is no timeframe on diversity but there is a timeframe on the door being shut.”
The club president agrees.
“At Hawthorn it’s not always about games played, it’s about an individual’s character, it’s about their knowledge, it’s about their enthusiasm,” Kennett said.
“For any job at all I don’t look for the person who’s played the most games, who’s got the most degrees, I look for the people that have sufficient knowledge, passion, enthusiasm and values that they’re going to seize this opportunity and grow it.
Kennett was ‘turned upside-down’ for prediction about women in footy
Asked when Hawthorn might have an AFLW team, Kennett says, “You’ll have to ask Gil McLachlan that cause I’ve asked him many, many times, but you know what? The AFL are like a socialist organisation and perhaps because we are operating on a commercial basis … we are not part of the mould of a typical AFL club at the moment, I’m sorry to say, but you’ll keep that to yourself, won’t you?”
He says as one of the unassisted clubs during the COVID-19 pandemic, not needing bailouts from the AFL, Hawthorn is one of the best placed to have an AFLW team.
“We will put in whatever is necessary to be successful, we will do our best,” he said.
“It won’t necessarily win a premiership in either division, but the bigger test to me is the quality of the people that we have, how they feel as part of the Hawthorn family and where we can encourage them while they are with us to prepare for life after football.”
And does he ever see the day when the best coach to guide the men’s team is a woman?
“Some years ago when I was first the president of Hawthorn I made what was considered then to be an outrageous comment — that I wanted to be the first AFL male’s club to have a female player,” he said.
“I was hoo-haa’d, boo-haa’d, turned upside-down, attacked, etc … I actually think it’s possible one day that a female will play in a men’s side.
“And the reason I said it then is not only because I’ve always supported the opportunities for people regardless of gender but because in order to survive you’ve got to be commercially alive.
“Things have changed, and things are changing, so no, I don’t rule that out at all.”
Goddard is hoping she’s at the right place at the right time and the AFL allows Hawthorn to field an AFLW team in 2022.
“I’ve really changed my views about how many teams we should have in the comp … initially I was really worried about the competition expanding too quickly and what the product would look like to get the fans and sponsors on board but we’ve gone well beyond that,” she said.
“We’ve got the fans, sponsors are coming on board, people want to watch women’s sport on TV, they want to hear about it, they want to read about it in the newspapers, and if all of the AFL clubs want a licence now, the talent is there and I think we can do it.”