How AFLW Inspired Me to Return to the Game of Aussie Rules
POPSUGAR has partnered with AFLW to celebrate women in sport and their impact beyond the field.
I didn’t know it then, but in 2019, a spontaneous decision to wander down to the local footy oval was set to alter the course of my life. I’d never been to an AFLW game before, but the balmy summer’s evening was inviting and the prospect of enjoying some women’s footy with my mates was too good to pass up.
It had been almost 15 years since I picked up a footy ball myself, but sitting there on the boundary, the nostalgia was instant. The kicks, the marks, the body-on-body tackles; the sheer grit and determination on display from these athletes — female athletes — stirred something in me. I wanted to play again.
I didn’t have to wait long to find my place on the footy field; a friend who had joined me at the game knew of a local club looking for players. She was kind enough to drive me to my first training session the following week. That was all the encouragement I needed; I was hooked.
My first season with my team was nothing short of euphoric. It’s an incredibly powerful thing to realise the strength and skill of your own body. Like the women on the turf at Whitten Oval that day, the Geelong Cats and Western Bulldogs, I was kicking, marking, and tackling to my heart’s content.
I played 16 games in the back line that year; defending the goals valiantly, making tackles and breaking through to repel the ball back up to our scoring forwards. We finished the season without making finals, but I didn’t care — I’d spent the year playing footy with 30 best mates, building new friendships around this fabulous game.
Reconnecting with footy has meant more than just emulating the epic feats of my AFLW heroes. I’ve been privileged to develop as a leader of my team and club, to combine my love of the game with my work in creative storytelling, and to find my place in a like-minded community of footy friends.
Alongside my enthusiasm for playing the sport, I’ve channelled my passion into beating the drum for the women’s game. I write the match reports and features on the opposition for my own competition, shoot the action on my camera from the boundary and have been lucky enough to talk all things AFLW on both podcasts and radio. Footy has given me so much, so it felt like a natural progression to give back and use my skills to celebrate it along the way.
I’m five seasons in now, and if I’ve learned anything, it’s that footy is so much bigger than just the game. The AFLW has paved the way for more women and girls to play at any level and be a part of an amazing movement — one that is synonymous with empowerment and inclusion and maintains a strong connection to its grassroots.
For me, and many others, it has simply and powerfully shown us that we CAN be what we see.
When I was younger, I played as much footy as I could, starting with Auskick, until I aged out and was unable to participate with the boys. There wasn’t a local girls’ team for me to join, and certainly no women competing professionally — no visible role models that I could aspire to.
Whilst I’m finally getting that chance to play again now, young girls today have the opportunity to play footy uninterrupted, all the way to the elite level, and the national competition is richer for it. The stalwarts of the game, those that fought for visibility and the opportunity to play, now take to the field with those that idolise them — the young and emerging stars of the AFLW.
The AFLW has presented all of us with a new generation of role models — elite athletes who care deeply about their game and the community around it. Players who pull double shifts and inspire fans on- and off-field, often working in roles that help others alongside their sporting commitments. People who are connected to their culture, identity, and expression; and wear it all proudly, while running out four quarters of footy on the big stage.
Since that first game, I’ve followed the competition and these stars with gusto; the continued connection and fandom making for some solid motivation. This year my team claimed the ultimate footy prize, a Premiership. It was the culmination of many years of hard work and development, but heavily influenced by the existence of the AFLW.
Many of us were inspired to participate by the athletes of the AFLW. We model our training and game play on theirs, aspire to equal their prowess in the gym, and some of us even have nicknames that pay homage to our heroes. The importance of their presence in our footy lives shouldn’t be understated.
If I’d never gone to that game and never seen women like me playing a sport I love, I might not have ever reconnected with footy. And yet now, I play it, I watch it, I shoot and write about it — it’s woven so richly into the fabric of my everyday and the people in it — I really can’t imagine a life without footy and the joy that it has brought me.