'Footy was everything to me': How injury helped ex-Sun realise her coaching dream

Sam Virgo absolutely loved playing football.

So it surprised the Gold Coast captain when her decision to retire at the end of the 2021 AFLW season wasn't accompanied by the feelings of sadness and loss that so many athletes experience at the end of their careers.

The opportunity to pursue her coaching dream beckoned.

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"It was so easy … easier than I thought it would be, to be honest," Virgo told womens.afl.

"I was tossing it up throughout the year without it being at the front of my mind.

"But as soon as I said it out loud to my partner, about two or three weeks before the end of the season, I just felt a real sense of relief which made me really sure about the decision being the right one.

"I really enjoyed being a part of the game as a player and I'm enjoying it just as much as a coach.

"I think I'm pretty lucky in that I can still stay connected to the game and enjoy it like I do.

"I think I'd probably be a little bit lost without footy in my life. I just love the game and love what it's been able to do for me."

Virgo played 29 games over a decorated career that began with the Brisbane Lions in the inaugural AFLW season and ended with two seasons at Gold Coast.

She missed the 2018 season after tearing an anterior cruciate ligament, and while she was devastated by the setback, she has come to view that period as a pivotal time in her coaching journey.

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"I was in a bit of despair really because at that point footy was everything to me," she said.

"The AFLW had just started and here I was falling off a cliff.

"I was trying to think of all the ways I could fill my life up with footy when I couldn't play.

"Coaching was a piece of that, I got a job at Champion Data calling the stats, I was just trying to fill the void so the injury definitely accelerated my coaching and knowledge of footy.

"I was the team manager with the Lions, so that opened up the business administration side of things and what it takes to run a footy team.

"It was an amazing opportunity for me to develop different skills.

"I'm just so grateful to have had that experience now."

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Virgo is completing the AFL's Level 3 national high-performance coaching accreditation, is coach of Queensland's under-17 boys' side and is an assistant coach in the men's program at QFA Division 1 club Coorparoo.

With Coorparoo's regular head coach unavailable for a recent match, Virgo was entrusted with the senior role and oversaw a big win over Aspley.

"It was so much fun," she said.

"I loved planning for the day, preparing what I was going to say and trying really hard not to do too much different.

"We're trying to win a premiership so if I came in and tried to turn everything upside down it won't help anyone.

"I just tried to keep it the same … it was all about getting the result."

Virgo is unsure where her coaching journey will take her but is open to the prospect of coaching in women's or men's programs down the track.

For the time being, she's happy to continue developing her coaching craft and work towards attaining her Level 3 accreditation.

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"I'm a bit of a geek for new ideas and listening to people talk about things that they've done, so I'm completely geeked out by the Level 3 course," she said.

"I'm loving the content and there's a pretty diverse range of people presenting ideas.

"I finished school in year 11, and I didn't go to university, but I have a real love of learning.

"I just love coaching, I'm invested, I love planning, I love making up drills … all of it.

"It challenges my creativity … it's a part of my life where I get to do things I wouldn't otherwise be able to.

"I'm really enjoying it, it makes me happy, so I'm going to keep doing it for as long as it does that for me."

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:
Melissa Hickey
Natasha Hardy
Emma Sampson
Shannon Millar
Emma Grant
Lisa Roper
Dale Robinson
Sam Virgo

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