AFL launches private girls’ school comp as female participation jumps
Originally published by the Sydney Morning Herald.
The AFL has continued its push into NSW and female football circles with the launch of its Sydney independent girls school competition on Saturday, alongside the first independent girls school installing AFL posts on its oval.
The establishment of the independent girls school competition comes after trialling a four-week pilot program last year and introducing a boys’ competition five years ago. About 500 girls will participate this year, with 32 teams playing across the school term at three venues.
Abbotsleigh, on Sydney’s upper north shore, is one of the schools hosting the competition. It has had roughly 100 students join following gala days that introduced girls to the sport last year.
“A sport like AFL has been waiting to come along,” Mark Everingham, Abbotsleigh’s sports co-ordinator, said. “The girls are looking forward to running around a little bit more, and from the get-go they’ve been looking forward to tackling. They’re definitely not shy to get stuck into it.”
The contact element of the sport is a big drawcard for the girls, whose ages span 12 to 18. “Trying something new with the contact was really exciting,” Kira Owens, a year 11 student, said. “Having a brother who plays rugby, I wanted to get a bit of contact into my sport. I really enjoyed it.”
Year 8 student Sophie Bradshaw agreed: “Everyone just really loves the tackling and the kicking. I used to just wrestle with my brother a lot, but now I can tackle my friends.”
Seizing the aspirational aspect of the AFLW has also been important, with Abbotsleigh bringing on GWS Giants player Louise Stephenson to assist with training.
“[Stephenson] was really good,” Charlie Lamb, year 10, said. “She was really helpful in coaching us and having that perspective of playing as a woman.
Alexandra Williams, year 11, added: “The rise in the AFL women’s has shown us that there are other girls that do it, even if it’s predominantly a male sport, that you can go out and get bigger and better.”
The school’s AFL coach Ben Carlyon said he thought the game would be “huge” for the girls in coming years, particularly with the emphasis on skill development.
The new competition forms part of the AFL’s plan for increasing the depth of talent in NSW to sustain the elite women’s competition and eventually have two Sydney AFLW teams.
Club AFL participation for girls across the city increased by 46 per cent last year, with the combined NSW/ACT region recording a 41 per cent increase in female club participation growth.
“The growth and change in women’s football has been incredible,” CEO of AFL NSW/ACT, Sam Graham, said.
“Off the back of AFLW, now that we’ve got a national competition, there’s a real pathway and role models playing on national television week in and week out. Now the challenge is ensuring we’ve got enough female-friendly ovals and facilities to accommodate that growth.
“I see it really continuing to blossom, and having more talent and local draftees coming out of the region. The girls who are playing in the independent girls’ competition will be playing AFLW on the national stage.”
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