New pathway emerges for prospective coaches

WHEN Geelong AFLW senior assistant coach Nat Wood was playing in the VFLW, she saw now-Southern Saints coach Peta Searle forge a path from playing to coaching in women's football.

Now, the AFL Coaches Association, in conjunction with Lucky Chicken Eggs, is taking steps to encourage current AFLW players into coaching with its 'Coaching Crusade' program.

Along with a coaching pathway outlining steps for prospective coaches to take, two AFLW players (one this year and another in 2020) will be offered a coaching scholarship.

They will take part in the AFLCA 'Next Coach' program, take a study tour to the United States and receive mentoring from an experienced AFL coach.

Wood said AFLW players now have the opportunity to develop both their playing and coaching skills at a high level.

"Current AFLW players are now in a terrific space where they do have access to really high-level and elite coaching, from head coaches to assistant, development and strength and conditioning coaches," Wood said.

"They're living and breathing that environment. They see that within the club.

"It's a terrific endorsement to have the backing of the AFLCA, for them to say, 'We're really going to actively support your aspirations should you be wishing to pursue that'."

Wood, the only full-time female coach in the AFLW, had a 16-year playing career in the VFLW with Melbourne University (1998-2009) and Darebin (2010-14).

She witnessed Searle's journey to become the AFL's first female full-time assistant coach at St Kilda (as a development coach in 2014).

"I've been fortunate enough to be surrounded by some pretty amazing players who did go on to coaching. I was coached by Peta at Darebin and I played many games against her as well," Wood said.

"In terms of someone forging that path and showing what's possible for female footballers to progress from playing to coaching, it was definitely something that you could see through Pete's work.

"At the time, there were also a number of players who, post-playing, moved on to coaching at community level.

"We only had the state league competition and the national carnival. There weren't the opportunities there are now working in elite environments."

Wood gave up playing to take a role as assistant principal at Bellarine Secondary College in Ocean Grove in Victoria's south-west.

She later contacted Geelong to offer her advice as an experienced female player (having also played for the Western Bulldogs in the first two AFL women's exhibition matches in 2013 and 2014) when the club was applying for an AFLW licence.

The club eventually offered her a job as an assistant coach with the VFLW side, working with now-AFLW coach Paul Hood.

Despite having never seen coaching as an option when she was playing, she has now taken the reins of the VFLW team in her own right, in conjunction with her role with the AFLW side.

"I studied to be a phys-ed teacher, so there's an element of being curious to learn and always wanting to support the learning of others," she said.

"I never articulated or wanted to go into coaching. I was very much invested in playing. Away from football I was doing things that, I guess, in the long run, helped me with coaching."

For more information on the program, click here