Growing up, Rebecca Privitelli didn’t have much choice which sport to play in the backyard.
The eldest of three siblings, Privitelli followed her father and five uncles into the backyard of their Resevoir home kicking the footy around.
It’s that playful mucking around with her footy-mad family that formed her passion for the game and became the foundation of the connection with her father.
“For me, footy gave me the relationship I have with my dad. It’s something that has been very special between us my whole career,” Privitelli told Aflplayers.com.au.
“Sharing that with him is really special and now I just love the game. My passion is growing all the time and I continue to love every part of it.
“Nowadays, I love the team orientation to it. You’re training so hard with a group of girls for months and months for a small competition. The fact we go through so much together for that build up and the emotion that goes into it are some of my favourite parts.”
Long before she was drafted to Carlton with pick 142 in last month’s women’s draft, Privitelli played Auskick before starting primary school and switching to St Marys in Greensborough at the age of nine.
It was there she lined up against boys — often as the only female on the field.
While the memories are a little sketchy, one game does stick out in her mind.
“I remember my first ever practice match,” Privitelli recalled.
“It was just before the season started and we played against Eltham. I was the only girl on the field as was always the case at that age.
“Their team would laugh at me because of that ‘I’m playing on a girl, so this will be an easy game’. Then I kicked two goals on the kid I was playing on and he didn’t want to play on me for the rest of the game.”
Privitelli believes her ability was enhanced to a greater standard from her time spent kicking the footy in the backyard and playing against boys, which was ultimately an advantage when she switched to the youth girls competition at the age of 14.
She played three years at St Damians and a few years at the Kew Rovers in addition to representing Victoria.
Privitelli had made a name for herself as a standout junior talent, but it was her time playing in the seniors at the Darebin Falcons which opened her eyes to the hard work required to take the next step in her development.
“2012 was a bit of a turning point for me. When I was in the youth girls national team, I never really worked hard enough to be a better player, I just had the natural football ability.
“Because I’d played boys footy when I was a bit younger, I had a bit more experience than the girls who had just jumped into footy at that age. So I got by on natural ability but I never stood up or performed at a national level when I was playing for Victoria.
“I had so many great players around me — we won four national championships in a row so we had a really strong team but I felt like I was always a passenger and wasn’t performing enough. I just sat at full-forward and led out and I felt like I could give more than that.
“I really tried to change my mentality. I was never fit, so I tried to become a more versatile player and I went from the least fit to one of the fittest in the group.”
— La Trobe Sport (@LaTrobeSport) November 2, 2016
Her hard work paid dividends, with Privitelli getting selected with pick 14 in the inaugural women’s draft in 2013 — selected by the Western Bulldogs ahead of the likes of Elise O’Dea, Katie Brennan and Bianca Jakobsson at the age of 18.
She played in the women’s exhibition matches in 2013 and 2014 but admits she “wasn’t ready for that level of football yet.”
Despite the steep learning curve, the now 21-year-old is ready for a second crack at the elite level — this time with a club she knows intimately.
Privitelli held a work placement position at the Blues in 2016 and has worked closely with senior coach Damien Keeping as his assistant at the Calder Cannons in recent years.
And she not only wants to further her playing career. With a range of coaching experiences, Privitelli plans to continue to grow women’s football.
She’ll enter 2017 as the inaugural Northern Knights youth girls coach — after originally applying for the role of the team’s manager and with a Sports Management degree at La Trobe University behind her, she is keen to pass on her knowledge and experience to the younger generation in the sport.
“My drive for wanting to follow the path I am is to give back to the grassroots level,” Privitelli explained.
“Doing stuff like this has always been a hobby for me and a lot of the coaching I’ve done in the past has been volunteer work but I would love to make it a lifestyle — that would be a dream come true for me.
“Growing and helping the game is a passion of mine. To some extent it’s because of the opportunities I’ve had but I really just enjoy doing it. I don’t feel like I’m forced to do anything, I just like doing it.
“With women’s footy on the rise, it’s a great opportunity for women to get involved as well.”