After being awarded the inaugural AFL Coaches Association & Lucky Chicken Eggs Coaching Pathway Scholarship for 2019, GIANTS AFLW vice-captain and GIANTS NEAFL Development Coach Alicia Eva took the time to reflect on her football journey.
When I was running around on the football field as a 10-year-old I never thought I’d grow up to a coach.
Instead, I think I’m where I am now because of my love for the game.
Growing up, I spent significant amounts of my time watching and playing football.
I was consumed by it and so began to develop a ‘footy brain’, which I think is the number one requirement for coaches.
I had my first experience coaching with my local side when I was 18 and too old to play in the Youth Girls competition.
That experience was something I began to really enjoy and from there the idea of becoming more heavily involved in coaching was something that enticed me.
Through the Victorian state coaching pathway and the NAB League team the Calder Cannons, I had the opportunity to develop my skills.
Over my journey I’ve been incredibly lucky to have access to, and work with, so many amazing coaches and pioneers of the women’s game and football as a whole.
People like Chyloe Kurdas and Jan Cooper, who have both helped kicked down doors in the AFLW playing space, have all helped to shape me in a coaching sense because they’ve taught me about resilience, how to run a good program and how to manage people.
When I reflect on my journey a defining moment was when I attended the 2014 AFL draft on the Gold Coast with the Calder Cannons.
It was an amazing experience to see seven players drafted and then two taken in the rookie draft.
But, it was also a point when I found myself thinking, ‘I wish we could have this.’
I felt immensely proud to be there with the Cannons and be part of the journey for these boys to realise their AFL dream but I also wanted women to be afforded those same opportunities.
When the AFLW was announced it was a moment where I would be given the opportunity to live out a dream I didn’t think would be possible.
I wanted to give myself the best opportunity to play so I gave coaching away for a period of time but deep down I knew I would come back to it.
Reflecting on my journey, to be awarded the AFL Coaches Association & Lucky Chicken Eggs Coaching Pathway Scholarship is monumental.
A lot of where I am now has come off the back of significant sacrifices, hours of unpaid work and time that I was dedicated to because I wanted to give myself an opportunity to create something.
When I left Melbourne and moved up to New South Wales to play for the GIANTS I did so for further coaching opportunities.
I could list off every coach in the GIANTS program and the contribution they’ve made to helping me grow.
When I sat down with Leon Cameron earlier in the year and he said the GIANTS wanted me on board with their NEAFL side it was a ‘pinch myself’ moment.
When a head coach of an AFL club sits you down and actually applauds the work you’ve done and recognises you for what you bring to the table, it’s a pretty cool moment.
Being at the GIANTS I’m given the chance to sit in on team meetings and match committee.
As much as I am a sponge and absorbing all the information, the hands on experiences I’m privy to are things money can’t buy.
Photo: Essendon FC
As a female coach in what has previously been a heavily male dominated environment I’ve experienced some level of anxiety.
That anxiety has been centred on a fear of a female coach not being the norm – I’m 4 ft. nothing talking to men, some of who are almost 7 ft.
We often talk about ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ and it’s critical for everyone to be given the same opportunity to fulfil their ambitions.
The process of becoming a coach has taught me about resilience but also in the importance of trusting your own ability.
I’ve learnt to back my footy IQ 100 per cent and although coaches won’t be correct all the time, my ability to understand the play, to teach, to instruct and hopefully to develop players, is something I have every faith in.
There will always be external commentary and that’s something beyond our control but when you’ve had the opportunity to impact or help develop a player, it’s a moment that makes it all worth it.
In the past 12 months I’ve had a few of those moments that have stood out.
When I first moved to NSW I took on the role as head coach of the under-18 Allies team.
The biggest challenge for the girls in that team became about where they were located across the state.
Some girls were travelling more than the time they were spending at training.
Being able to help develop those girls and see them get drafted was a special moment for me.
I developed a whole new appreciation for the sacrifices the players and their families made.
Another moment was when one of the GIANTS boys sent me a text thanking me for the development work I had been doing with him.
For someone who is still new to the space and has gone through a crazy transition of playing AFLW to coaching AFL players in the space of a couple of weeks, it was amazing to be recognised and know that you’re having an impact.
The coach of the GIANTS AFLW side, Alan McConnell, is the reason I applied for the scholarship.
He told me I was the ideal candidate as an AFLW player who already had a wealth of knowledge from my years of work in this space.
I’m not quite sure how he would have reacted if I didn’t apply.
The opportunity to be able to be part of a program that will fast track my development and open me up to a network of people is significant.
To be mentored by a premiership winning player and coach in John Worsfold is an opportunity I feel privileged to have.
People would give an arm and a leg to have just one phone conversation with someone of his stature but to be able to sit down with him during the year and use him as a sounding board is an opportunity I don’t take for granted.
Initially I was worried about sending him too many messages but from my first encounter with Woosha, and I’ve only met him once, I know that he’s excited to take on the role as my mentor.
All three elements of the scholarship are exciting in their own way.
To be able to travel overseas and engage with a variety of sports professionals will offer unique learning experiences that I could only access through this environment.
Who doesn’t like travelling and educating yourself at the same time?
The program itself and all the different elements offered through that will also be critical to my development.
I want to coach at the highest level I am capable of coaching at and being part of this program affords me the opportunity to be the best that I can be.
In five years I hope to still have the chance to be playing AFLW but until then I will keep working hard and embracing opportunities as they come.