More girls want to play Aussie Rules Football and the number of teams at junior league level is growing as a result of the AFL’s inaugural women’s competition, administrators say.
Peter Nicholls, general manager of the Yarra Junior Football League, says: “It’s been growing steadily, but this year there’s been quite a jump.”
He says the league grew from 53 girls’ teams in 2016 to 82 in 2017. He expects it to add an Under 11s age group next season.
“A lot more girls are realising what a good sport it is to play,” he says. “I think it will only keep growing.”
James Sutherland, Youth Girls (under 18s) team coach with Bulleen Templestowe Junior Football Club, says the women’s season has had a huge impact, with many new players and new teams formed.
“Girls can now see a pathway and don’t need to feel different for wanting to play AFL.”
Mr Sutherland says he switched after many seasons of coaching men and boys because he “saw the opportunity and challenges in female football”.
Mr Nichols says that after being approached by AFL Victoria, the Yarra Junior Football League started its girls’ competition in 2011, with just 10 Youth Girls (Under 18) teams.
Now in its seventh season, it has more than 1500 girls playing, across 26 clubs and seven age groups, including under 10s, 12s, 13s, 14s, 15s, 16s and the Youth Girls.
Bulleen Templestowe Junior Football Club has had several new female players join this year. Registration for its three girls teams has gone up by 20 per cent from last season – a welcome increase after Mr Sutherland’s Youth Girls team “struggled with numbers” last year, he says.
He says 10 players are new to his team, with most having never played before.
Mr Sutherland says female football has grown immensely since he first became involved, “especially on the back of the AFLW” and the exposure it has given the sport.
He is now in his third season of coaching Bulleen Templestowe Youth Girls, having coached them to premierships in the past two seasons.
“Being a primary school teacher, I have always encouraged girls to get out of their comfort zone,” he says. “I enjoy teaching (them) skills and teamwork and seeing development in individuals and the team.”
Mr Sutherland says the future of girls’ football is “very promising”.
“With government and local funding, I can see it going ahead in leaps and bounds,” he says.