NOT A female football coach – a football coach.
It was an important distinction Alicia Eva made early in her coaching journey that helped her move past some of the prejudices she encountered as a woman in a male-dominated field.
"There were quite a few challenges early on that were probably nothing to do with my footy IQ or my understanding of the game and everything to do with people not having worked with women in that space before," Eva told womens.afl.
"One of the biggest challenges was that I felt like I had to prove myself before really getting stuck into the work.
"Some of that I probably made bigger in my own mind, but some of it was tangibly there.
"There were a lot of people who approached me as a young woman in a coaching role with a bit of trepidation because they hadn't encountered that before.
"They didn't know my experience.
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"I think every young coach feels like they have to prove themselves to some degree, but when you're in the minority I feel like there's a bigger gap to jump over.
"That has been a challenge, but the more confident and comfortable I've become in that space … I kind of just get on with it now.
"I acknowledge that some people will have their opinions, but I'm not here to change the opinions of others.
"I'm here to be a coach, not a female coach, I'm a coach."
The star Greater Western Sydney AFLW skipper is also a development coach at the club, with duties across the women's and men's programs.
Eva started down the coaching pathway as an 18-year-old at the local club in Melbourne where her dad was a coach and where she'd played from the age of five.
While living her dream of playing elite level football with Collingwood in the first AFLW season in 2017, she also coached the Calder Cannons to the premiership in the inaugural season of the girls' competition.
She counts the historic opening clash against Carlton at a packed Princes Park as one of the best experiences of her life.
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But when the Giants came calling at the end of that inaugural season with an opportunity to further her coaching career with the club's academy and as a line coach with the NEAFL side it was an offer she couldn't refuse.
"I guess it was the first real step I took in terms of football not just being a hobby that I was volunteering for – it was tangible employment," she said.
"It was probably the first time I genuinely thought that this could be my future, to work in an AFL environment."
In 2019, Eva was awarded the AFL Coaches' Association coaching pathway scholarship that included mentoring by premiership coach John Worsfold, a US study trip and inclusion in a program run by renowned coaching guru David Wheadon.
"I learned so much," she said.
"With Woosha (Worsfold), it was really high-level thinking stuff about how to manage different people, having an understanding of what my values are as a coach and being authentic."
Eva, who is also completing a Masters in Psychology at Macquarie University, is undoubtedly a trailblazer for women in coaching, but admits she never really saw herself as such until quite recently.
Her primary focus is on-field success with the Giants, but she also wants to be a passionate advocate for women to take up coaching, which includes speaking about her experiences during Women's Coaching Month.
"We've seen a handful of women work in the AFL space, but we need to talk about how we make sure that we have women as coaches of AFLW sides and women on the coaching pathway," she said.
"It starts with opportunity.
"I probably hadn't looked closely at how my experiences helped create a pathway but now that I'm a bit older I am really conscious of that.
"I want to advocate for more opportunities for women because there are some amazing footy brains out there and some amazing teachers of the game.
"I think clubs will be better for it if we can get more of those women into their football programs."
>> Watch the 2021 NAB AFLW Draft LIVE via womens.afl and the AFLW Official App on Tuesday, July 27 from 6.45pm AEST
Over the course of July, the football community is invited to join AFLW and State League coaches alongside other industry experts, in a three-part webinar series that showcases women’s coaching pathways across all levels of the game.
The AFL’s Women’s Coaching Pathways include:
She Can Coach Program
The ‘She Can Coach’ program was launched in 2018 and was established to increase the number of women in coaching, improve the capacity of these coaches, increase the visibility of coaching role models for women, and develop a network of women in coaching across all levels of the game. There are currently 36 women participating in the program, with four current Umpire Coaches, and 32 participants who are involved in coaching at either a community, state-league, or talent level. She Can Coach has expanded to a national program in 2021, after previously operating in Victoria only.
BHP Women’s Coaching Academy
The BHP Women’s Coaching Academy was launched in 2018 and provided six women with the opportunity to complete the Level 3 Coaching Course, in addition to further development opportunities. In 2021, the following women were selected as part of the BHP Women’s Coaching Academy:
For further information about Women’s Coaching Month, and the AFL’s women’s coaching pathways including the She Can Coach program, BHP Women’s Coaching Academy and the AFL Victoria Women’s Coaching Academy, visit coach.afl/women-girls-coaching