Understanding Female Footballers

There are few differences between coaching male and female footballers.

Coaches should stick to good coaching principles such as striving to meet individual needs in order for their footballers to achieve optimal enjoyment and performance.

Female footballers are generally tough, strong willed, determined, train hard, ferocious competitors, want to learn and thus absorb their coach’s advice readily - and talk a lot.

If you are coaching a female football team or have female players within a mixed gender team, there are some key things you should know:

  1. Why girls want to play AFL
  2. Barriers to participation for female footballers
  3. What they want from their AFL experience and their coach
  4. Some unique issues that a coach of female footballers may face
  5. What the female player pathway is and tips for coaching each age group
    • Auskick (5 – 9 years)
    • Junior Girls (10 – 12 years)
    • Youth Girls (13 - 17 years)
    • Women’s League (17 + years)

Why girls want to play AFL

Boys and girls differ in why they want to play AFL. Coaches need to understand these gender differences and adjust what they expect of their players.

Top reasons girls want to play AFL:

  • Socialise and have fun. Coaches should not underestimate this wish of female footballers!
  • Sense of belonging to a team
  • Love the physicality of AFL – tackling, bumps, shepherds etc
  • Learn new skills
  • Body image - get fit
  • Feel good and relieve their stress
  • Personal improvement – if they don’t feel like they’re improving they won’t stay (boys are more motivated by the result rather than merely participating).
Implications For Coaches
  • Set individual and team goals
  • Be aware of body image issues – players should feel comfortable doing drills, being in the changeroom and wearing the club’s apparel. Girls can find it ‘uncool’ to sweat or work hard. This can be especially true for girls from a culturally and linguistically diverse background.
  • Balance participation and personal improvement with game results
  • Coach the basics of kicking, handball and marking in a football context eg why handball is used to maintain possession
  • Teach the skills of tackling, bumping, head over the ball in a pack etc well.
  • Educate players about the importance of core strength for stability and injury prevention
  • Provide opportunities for players to chat and listen to their opinions

What females want from their AFL experience

Through a number of surveys and focus groups seeking female footballers’ feedback conducted across Australia the AFL has ascertained what it is female footballers want most from participating in AFL.

  • Have FUN with their friends
  • Be competitive
  • Improve their fitness
  • A coach who talks respectively to their players
  • Improve their skills and football knowledge
Implications For Coaches:
  • Provide fun training sessions. Use a variety of ways to deliver your message eg use a whyteboard to demonstrate set plays, show correct kicking technique with video replay, hand out a sheet describing what to do at stoppages etc
  • Use the players background in other sports to teach football specific skills eg executing a ruck tap using the footwork of a basketball lay up
  • Encourage your footballers – sandwich one piece of  constructive advice between 2 positive comments
  • Include time for chats during training and encourage club social events
  • Impart football knowledge  and language in context eg show what a “fat side” and “skinny side” looks like. Don’t assume the players understand football terms.
  • Ensure you have a coaching philosophy that balances what the footballers want with what you would like them to achieve
  • Listen to your players’ opinions – make them feel included
  • Improve fitness through a variety of fun activities such as small games, setting individual improvement goals

Barriers that prevent females playing AFL

Currently there are several unique reasons why some potential female footballers cannot play AFL. Coaches have an opportunity to help overcome any of the following barriers:

  • Gaps in the player pathway – no competition/club/team close to home/school
  • Lack of girls only groups/teams
  • Social stereotyping – fear of being labelled ‘butch’ because they play a predominantly male game
  • No one to coach them
  • No quality coach – treats them like boys rather than understanding what they want from their AFL experience
  • Reduced time to commit to football due to other commitments such as relationships, study, work, other sports, home duties etc. Generally girls drop out of sport in Australia around 14 years of age.
Implications For Coaches:
  • If there is no next age group for players to go to in their area try and involve them in cross regional games
  • Help them set up a team or be prepared to coach a small number, or set up an all girls zone within your boys team
  • Listen to the girls’ body image concerns and encourage them by promoting their athleticism
  • Have a succession plan if you no longer wish to coach eg mentor a female
  • Every player wants a coach who is encouraging, fun and fair. No player wants a coach who swears, is rude, demeaning or who has favourites
  • Be flexible and allow for AFL to not be the #1 priority for your players