A-League Women welcomes record number of female coaches in charge

There was only one female head coach in the W-League last year, but that number has risen for the new-look A-League Women season.

This year, four out of 10 A-League Women head coaches are female — the highest number of female coaches in the league’s 13-year history.

The women in charge include Ash Wilson (Newcastle Jets), Catherine Cannuli (Western Sydney Wanderers), Gemma Lewis (Wellington Phoenix) and Vicki Linton, who took on the head coaching position at Canberra United last season.

For Wilson it was a long road top job, having served a five-year apprenticeship as an assistant coach.

“To go through all of the training and assistant work to get here shows a real commitment to the trade; I am really excited,” Wilson said.

“It’s great the clubs are recognising the value and the contributions of some of these coaches.

“To see more females stepping up is great, but for me it’s not a female or male thing, it’s who’s the right coach for the job.”

Jets player Hannah Brewer is about to clock up her 100th club game but has never played under a female head coach.

Newcastle Jets Women's coach Ash Wilson talking to her team at training
Before stepping into the head coaching role Ash Wilson spent five years serving as assistant to Craig Deans.(Supplied: Newcastle Jets)

“A female coach really understands the female game,” the veteran defender said.

Having played in the league since the inaugural year of 2008, Brewer is pleased to see how the game’s opportunities are changing for women.

“I couldn’t speak any higher of Ash, she’s is a great person on and off the field, she knows us girls and takes the time to get to know us as people and as footballers, which is not something all coaches do,” Brewer said.

“Ash really deserves where she is going with her career.”

Lewis, coach of this year’s newcomers the Wellington Phoenix, has also had to work hard to earn her stripes.

“I have been coaching for the past eight years in New Zealand, I’ve worked with the national team Auckland and Northern, on the international stage with the under 20’s and under 17’s and assisted the Football Ferns for the World Cup,” Lewis said.

Gemma Lewis
Wellington’s women’s team, coached by Gemma Lewis, has been several years in the making. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

“The more we can demonstrate that females are more than capable at that level, that will show others and mean [more] female coaches coming through the pathways.”

“Getting more females is about visibility … coaches are now thinking, ‘is this sustainable and something I can make a career out of?’

“We can break down those barriers and show if you’ve gone through that training, you’ve got your badges, you will be given that opportunity.”

Elite football still a juggling act

In a bid to make the game more gender-equal, this year’s top-flight men’s and women’s football competitions have been rebranded as A-League Men and A-League Women.

While progress is being made, the semi-professional nature of women’s football is still a juggling act for women.

Most of the players in Australia’s elite competition have to balance full-time or part-time work or study commitments.

On top of coaching the Jets, Wilson is also a full-time teacher at Hunter Sports High School.

“During the week I’ll get to school around seven, teach all day, head straight to training after work, come home from training and spend the night planning the next session,” the physical education teacher said.

“A typical weekend is mixed with planning, football, marking [school work].

Growing up, Wilson dreamed of making it as a footballer and came close making her national league debut at 15.

“I could choose an occupation that was going to make me some money – I didn’t have that opportunity through football,” Wilson said.

“I made the very hard decision to step back from the top level and there are times I regret it, but my passion for football has allowed me to work at the highest level again with talented athletes (as coach).”

Wilson applauds the growth of female football but believes there is still room for improvement.

“The commitment to continue to mentor female coaches and give them opportunities has been excellent,” she said.

“But everyone can look at it now and say it still needs to be better, which it does and obviously the leagues and the players are going to continue to work and fight for those things.”

The A-League Women’s season kicks off when the Wellington Phoenix and Western Sydney Wanderers go head to head on December 3. 

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