This is why every football team should hire a female coach.



Peta Searle is a 39-year-old mother of two. She’s an assistant school principal at a high school in Melbourne. And she’s also a woman who is kicking some ridiculous goals (no pun intended) in the world of Australian football.

After a long career in women’s football, and an even longer string of coaching roles over the last few decades, she was the first-ever woman to get a coaching role in the VFL (Victorian Football League). She has been with Port Melbourne for the last two years, training up the boys along with Gary Ayers.

She was also the first female coach in the TAC (another AFL league) with the Western Jets, and the first head coach of the AFL Victoria VWFL (Victorian Women’s Football League) Academy Coach/Mentor.

She’s also the head coach for the Western Bulldog women’s team, runs the AFL Women’s High Performance Academy, and the Victorian Women’s stateside.

Busy. Busy. Busy.

I had a chat to her about how she’s managed to get to where she is. Have a read:

Natalia: How did you even get started in football?

Peta: Yes. I was brought up into a football family. My mum and my sister were very passionate supporters. In those days there was no Auskick or anything so, I played one year with the boys in the under 9’s when I was about 8, and then when I was about 20 I started the women’s league. So I played for about eleven years and then went from playing to coaching.

When I first became a coach, there were a lot of radio callbacks and stuff like that. You get people ringing up saying, “oh well I wouldn’t listen to a female.” But really, those times are gone and the support I have behind me has been amazing.

I’d like to work in an AFL club as a resulting coach. The biggest challenge is for me, now, is getting into an AFL final. That’s tough. Every year I keep knocking on doors and keep asking questions, and every year, I keep getting turned back so that’s the challenge. Am I ever going to get to an elite level? I’m not sure.

N: And why do you think AFL is that way?

P: There are so many AFL clubs and lots of coaches out there. There’s so much competition – everyone wants to get there. Because it’s such a cut-throat environment, they tend to go with people who they’ve played footy or coached before.

If you’ve played footy before, it’s all about the amount of trust that you have earned from the people you play with – so I think they take that into account. Employing unknowns such as myself – you know they don’t know whether its going to be a positive thing or not.


N: And what do you think is the benefit of having a female coach as opposed to a male coach?

P: Female rugby-heads tend to be more process-driven, rather than results-driven. Which is perfect for development. Our level of instinct is different – probably due to our sensitivity of others – so we tend to read people really well. Because, you know, football is not just about skills but it’s about how you manage the people you’re working with.

I also I know that in a list of 45 and over AFL club, you’re not going to be suited to every person. There will be some people that tend to go towards the female rather than the male, because also they are less threatening. So they tend to open up, or they tend to ask questions that they might not always ask. Just little things like that.


N: Do you think we’ll be seeing more female coaches coming through?

Yes, absolutely. To them I’d say – keep following your dreams and asking the questions. Unfortunately you have to put yourself out there and you get a whole lot more knock-backs than you do like anything else in life, but you just have to keep asking.

Unfortunately, you can’t make a living out of coaching unless you’re in an AFL club – so that’s why I have to pull away from Port Melbourne a little this year. I have to go back to work and make a living. If I could do it full time and make a living out of it, then that’s where I would like to be. That’s where my passion is.

I also don’t want to miss out on my kids. You know, following your passion is so important, and, if you can do it, great, but also family’s the most important.

N: What do you think needs to happen for people to start taking women’s sport a bit more seriously?

P: It’s a vicious cycle. TV will say they don’t cover women’s sport because there’s no sponsers. Sponsors will say they don’t do it because no-one’s watching it. Well, they’re not watching it because it’s not on TV.

We really just need a sponsor to just be the first to invest. It’s such a growth sport and at the highest level it is great footy. It’s there, it’s just it needs somebody to take that step, and once it does, it will be a snowball effect – but we probably need a multi-millionaire sponsorship to come in and make it happen – so that the TV, media and newspapers will follow. Then others will think they are missing out and will sponsor it as well.


So you know, we just need that one breakthrough.

N: What advice do you have for girls who are hoping to play sport professionally?

P: I think that as a female, you can turn a living out of playing anything that you love – you just have to go for it. Keep passionate. If the opportunity is there and you can do it, go for it.

The biggest thing for women is that the opportunity is not there. So they have to make choices to do something that takes a lot of time for recreation, or to earn a living – so I guess that’s the issue that arises now. It’s great to see women are starting to get a little bit more money but I think there’s still a long way to go.

At the end of the day, you have to fulfill what you are made to do, as there will be a hole in your life if you don’t try and do your best.

And in other sporting news from the week… 

Sally Fitz at the Women In Sport awards

– The I Support Women In Sport Awards were held in Sydney this week. A huge congratulations to all of the successful winners, particularly Sportswoman of the Year, Sally Fitzgibbons and the Women’s Health organising team who put on the event, led by the fabulous Felicity Harley.

– An international netball test match saw the Australian Diamonds beat Malawi 83-34 on Wednesday. It was the debut international match for new Diamonds player Paige Hadley.

Speaking about the team, coach Lisa Alexander said that they’re all being sent to the gym to bulk up for future international games.

“Netball’s changed. It went through a period when everyone was lean but we decided skinny’s not better,” she said. “You need power to beat teams like New Zealand. You’ve got to be strong and fast and you’d got to do it for 60 minutes.”

– The Hockeyroos lost to World Champions Argentina in a test match series this week. The Australians lost the series 2 – 1, despite playing an amazing game in Perth on Monday.

They will now head to the Hockey 9s events, playing matches against Argentina, Canada and Malaysia.

– The Westfield Young Matildas are currently competing in the AFC U-19 Women’s Championship – you can go here to send them a message of support.

Have you seen anything in the sporting world that you’d like to talk about?