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‘Your spirit just rises’: What makes Bulldogs skipper the game’s best leader

Ellie Blackburn has been named the AFLW Players’ Best Captain for 2021, presented by The Diamond Guys. Kirsty Lamb, teammate and fellow member of the Bulldogs’ leadership group, writes for on what makes Blackburn “the best captain” she has ever played under.

I’d comfortably say Ellie’s the best captain I’ve had in my entire sporting career.

Ellie is an incredibly humble person and we’re so grateful at the Bulldogs for what she’s done for the sport.

She’s still developing her captaincy, but she’s really stood out in the work she’s put into her leadership in the offseason. I’ve been privileged to see it first-hand.

Ellie’s growth has been significant over the AFLW’s five-year period. There was a period where (former captain) Katie Brennan wasn’t on the park due to injuries, so Ellie stepped up into that leadership role. She did it so naturally.

She’s one of those people who has always been a leader and she’s really been able to bring the group together in her own way.

Over the last two or three seasons, she’s done an enormous amount of work to become heavily involved in leadership and helping to develop people.

Her career outside of the club also has a people-facing focus, so she’s surrounded by leadership every day and I think that’s helped her in her role as captain.  

One of the most important things in a team environment is connecting with people, and that’s something Ellie really values and puts a lot of time and effort into.

But it’s also something she read a lot of books about during the COVID period.

In that downtime last year, Ellie focused on developing her understanding of how to become a good leader, and how to connect with people and value their opinions.

Not only do people listen to what she says and follow her lead, but she’s also equally as good at being there for you, listening, and genuinely valuing the opinions of those around her.

Ellie’s personality is one that people naturally gravitate towards. She’s a great person and she’s got a great family behind her.

She drives her leadership not only on the field but away from it too.

What she does on the field is phenomenal, which has been well-documented over the course of the AFLW with her All-Australian selections and best-and-fairest wins.

Then away from the field, she drives performance and club values and I think that’s so critical for a leader.

“When you have a coffee with Ellie or you meet up with her, she’s a really good person to have a conversation with. Your spirit just rises – she’s someone that you want to spend time with.”

She’s put an enormous amount of work into her fitness, and I think her fitness levels have gone to another level. She trained the house down over the lockdown period. I trained with her a few times and saw firsthand just how hard she was working.

Not only did her physical performance go to the next level, but mentally, she was tougher.

Throughout the COVID period, Ellie was critical in maintaining connection for our group. She really stood out in what was a difficult period for everyone. Its amazing what a simple message or phone call from your captain can do to your spirits and energy levels.

It’s an incredible accolade to get acknowledged by those that you’re playing against as someone who stands out. It shows that you’re ticking all of the right boxes and I have no doubt that Ellie will be extremely humbled by the award. It’s also a moment for her to acknowledge her place in the AFLW game and how respected she is by her peers.

With her demeanor and attitude, she will continue to go from strength to strength with her leadership.