By JORDAN ROUTLEY
Women are not just paving the way on the field, they are now taking charge off the field as well, and North Gambier’s Fiona Young is at the forefront.
In the same month the AFL is celebrating AFL Women’s Coaching Month, Young became the first female to coach at the SA Country Football Championships when she joined Michael Hunt as co-coach of the South East women’s team.
It is just the latest step in a long coaching journey for Young, who served as a playing assistant coach under Hunt in 2021 and 2022.
“It was a huge privilege to step up and coach with Michael and just a great experience to be a part of,” Young said.
“I’ve been fortunate to work with Michael in the past so to share that experience and learn from him was amazing.
“Ultimately we didn’t get the result we were after but I came away with a lot of experience that I will take with me going forward.”
Young, originally from Mildura in Victoria’s north-west, was forced to give away football in her early teens due to the area not having a female team.
Hockey and cricket took over as major interests for Young, who moved to Mount Gambier in 2010.
Sixteen years later, at the age of 29, Young took up football again at North Gambier’s Tigers, where she is now captain of the senior women’s team and coach of the U16 girls team.
A major part of Young’s aspiration as coach is to develop pathways and opportunities for women that didn’t exist when she started playing.
“I want to make sure girls have the opportunity to become great footballers and help them reach the highest level they can,” Young said.
South East and North Gambier Women's coach Fiona Young
“I want to make sure girls have the opportunity to become great footballers and help them reach the highest level they can.''
Young’s hard work with the U16s culminated in a grand final appearance last season, which she considers one of her proudest coaching achievements.
“Although we fell just short in the end, the girls played their hearts out and were totally committed to the cause,” she said.
“I was so proud of them and the effort they put in.”
Young has had several mentors to lean on in her time at North Gambier, including club Secretary Steph Jones, senior men’s coach Ben Hardy and her husband Tim, who is also the men’s reserves coach.
“Ben has been around a long time and is such a passionate football person. I’ve been able to watch him go about it and learn a lot from what he does,” Young said.
“Tim is so supportive and has really helped me along in my journey. I hang around and ask lots of questions and he’s always happy to answer them.
“I’m part of a really good club here at North Gambier and feel very supported in my coaching journey.”
That journey has also included a stint with the Glenelg junior academy, first as an assistant coach in 2021 and then senior coach last year.
“Working at that next level up and seeing the professionalism and the team environment was great for my own development,” Young said.
“I have certainly taken a few things from that experience to try in my own coaching at North Gambier.”
Young is part of a growing wave of female coaches across the state that is rapidly increasing every year.
In 2022, as many as 260 women registered as coaches in South Australia – a 40% increase on 2021 figures.
This included 77 women coaching at all levels across the SANFL, including two senior coaches in Glenelg’s Lexia Edwards and Woodville-West Torrens’ Narelle Smith.
Much of this growth can be attributed to the SANFL’s Female Coaching Academy, established in 2018 to provide a pathway for more women to become senior coaches.
Each year the Academy takes in aspiring female coaches and places them in elite football environments to provide development and learning opportunities.
Academy graduates also complete their Level 2 Coaching Accreditation, a key step in the coaching journey.
Last year’s crop were invited to Port Adelaide’s Alberton headquarters for a coaching seminar by the Power’s AFLW coach Lauren Arnell.
The Academy feeds into the AFLW Coaching Academy, which counts SANFLW coaches Narelle Smith and Krissie Steen among its graduates.
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