After being awarded the AFL Coaches Association & Lucky Chicken Eggs Coaching Pathway Scholarship for 2020, former Collingwood foundation player and vice-captain Emma Grant spoke to aflplayers.com.au about her football journey and what the opportunity means to her.
Kavisha Di Pietro: You’ve been involved in football for a really significant period of your life. Was coaching always a path you saw yourself going down?
Emma Grant: My passion for coaching came about a little more in the latter part of my career. I’m a teacher and so my background in education has always given me a thirst to pass on my knowledge and educate my younger teammates and be a mentor to them. I’m really fortunate to have had some really amazing coaches in my time, not only in AFLW, but in junior football as well and when I played netball. Coaches to me were like second parents and were fantastic role models and mentors for me.
Part of your coaching role started with Interleague, under-18 talent pathways and representative side coaching. What did that involve for you?
My coaching started back in Bendigo coaching Interleague teams and then when I moved to Melbourne the opportunity came up to coach the under-16s Vic Country girls team alongside Katherine Smith (Melbourne AFLW), which was an amazing experience. Last year I was coaching the under-16s Vic Metro girls team and then this year accepted a fantastic opportunity to coach the under-18s Vic Metro team. Now with COVID-19 that’s been put on hold, but we’re all really looking forward to getting back to playing and working with those girls. I’ve really enjoyed being involved in the talent pathway and with the junior girls. Any learnings that I’ve taken through my time in the AFLW I am really keen to pass on to those who are coming through the ranks.
When you reflect on your own football journey and what you’ve been able to achieve, what does it mean to you to have been awarded the AFLCA coaching scholarship?
I’m super humbled to have been the recipient this year. I think the opportunities that will open up for me and the learnings that I am going to get out of the scholarship… you can’t put a price tag on that. I’m really excited to get stuck in once life goes back to some sort of normal.
Hopefully that will be fairly soon! You mentioned before the coaches you had when you were growing up that acted as ‘second parents’. Was there someone in particular that stood out for you?
Steve Simpson! As a junior girl, playing in an all-boys team, Steve was a fantastic coach. He passed away recently but he really stood out. Another one more recently was Wayne Siekman (former Collingwood AFLW coach). He guided me in my first three years at Collingwood and was a fantastic mentor. Brad Gotch (Collingwood Academy coach) is another one. When I first applied for this scholarship last year and finished runner-up to Alicia Eva (GWS Giants AFLW captain), the AFLCA linked me in with Brad. He’s been fantastic in guiding me and helping me develop my coaching to where it is today.
You’ll now have Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley as a sounding board. How does it feel to have someone of his calibre as your mentor?
It’s absolutely crazy to know that I am going to have this relationship with the Nathan Buckley! I think we’ve all seen how he has developed over the last nine years in the senior role at Collingwood not only as a coach, but as a person. I can’t wait to have him as a sounding board, be able to bounce ideas off him and learn from one of the very best.
As you mentioned before you’re a teacher by trade. How does having a background in education help you when coaching different playing groups?
Teaching and coaching have so many similarities. For both roles, the way we portray the message is so key in what we do to make sure we are delivering it in the right way for the right person. As a teacher I have learnt so much on the way we communicate and being able to bring that to a playing group is incredibly valuable. The way we develop relationships and rapport is equally as important and I think that all crosses over really nicely with coaching.
You’ve faced a number of challenges throughout your football career. What have you learned from them to help you as you embark on your coaching career?
Growing up in the country and being away from that metro hub, you know that you have to give up and sacrifice a lot to get to where you want to get to. The last 12 months and my experiences with injury and concussion, I’ve learnt from that too. Previously I had never been in a rehab group or been away from main training for extended periods of time and it definitely challenges you. I’ve developed a newfound respect for those players who have to go through rehab, because you understand their experiences differently. As a coach I definitely want to make sure I can support my players through those kinds of moments. I want them to know that they’re part of the group as much as possible.
You’re now retired from the AFLW. Where do you hope to see yourself in five years’ time?
I never want to put a roof or ceiling on where I can go with my coaching but I think at the moment I am super happy and humbled to be in the position I am. This scholarship is going to support me to become the best coach that I can be but where that takes me I’m not entirely sure. It would be awesome to be coaching at an AFL or an AFLW level, but for me it’s all about taking opportunities as they come and doing a good job with them, learning as much as possible and taking the good with the bad. There will be cold and wet nights where you are out there coaching and it might not feel like what you signed up for, but I want to remember it’s all part of it. When the players demonstrate the skills that you’ve been working on or you achieve your goals as a team then it makes it all worth it. Those are the reasons you coach.