Girl power is set to dominate the AFL if Abbey Cooksley has her way.
As the code commemorates its inaugural Women’s Coaching Month, the Cardiff Hawks mentor’s leading the charge alongside Mel Somerville at the AFL Hunter Central Coast (AFLHCC) club.
They are just two, of the many, being acknowledged and celebrated across the footballing community in July.
In fact, there are more than 250 women registered to coach throughout NSW and the ACT, calling the shots week-in, week-out from senior grades to the youngest Auskickers.
Each of them tells a unique story about how they started, why they do it and what they love about it.
However, a common theme is that all would recommend others to get involved in leading a team.
“It [Women’s Coaching Month] means everything to me,” Cooksley said.
“It’s such an amazing thing the AFL has brought in for the first time.
“It is really important to actually shed some light on the women stepping into the coaching positions.
“I feel it was such a long stint to get female players in the game itself.
“And, now, we can make the transition into the coaching ranks.
“There are two of us at Cardiff, Mel and myself.
“She’s mentored the under-15 girls for a few seasons, so she was the lone soldier for a while.
“I’ve stepped into it [with the under-17s] this year, alongside Brett Godfrey and Troy Martini – and I’m loving it.”
Cooksley played netball, until the age of 18, before lacing up her AFL boots.
While injuries have hampered her progression on the field, the setbacks also opened a few doors.
“I’ve done two collarbones and an ACL,” the 24-year-old told the Newcastle Weekly.
“Technically, I’ve been a player at the Hawks for six seasons, however I’ve only made 41 appearances.
“So, coaching’s been amazing for me.
“It’s allowed me to still be a part of the side without feeling like I’m missing out on anything.
“It’s very fulfilling as well.
“I love watching the growth of the teenage players and seeing them all grow into a team of real mates.
“I’ve done the seasons on the sideline – but this has been something completely different.
“Next year, I’ll stick to coaching.
“That will eliminate the risk of injury,” she added with a laugh, “although I don’t know if it will help my blood pressure.
“Seriously, it’s been terrific; I think I’ve really found myself in this role.
“It’s just given me such a whole another side of me I didn’t know I had, footy mind-wise.”
Football participation for women and girls has risen by more than 550% in NSW and the ACT since 2010.
Nationally, the number of females playing community AFL also swelled to greater than 70,000 in 2021, the largest yet seen.
Despite those figures, coaching involvement is still male-dominated, with women making up fewer than 10%.
So, this latest campaign hopes to inspire more of them to take up those roles and address the gender imbalance.
“My advice to the AFL [to get more females involved] is value what you have – and embrace it,” Cooksley said.
“Just acknowledge women are coming.
“Either get on board with us or get around us – and we’ll steal the show at the end of the day.
“That’s the ultimate goal.”
To learn more about AFL coaching for women, visit www.coach.afl/women-girls-coaching
Get all the latest Newcastle news, sport, entertainment, lifestyle, competitions and more delivered straight to your inbox with the Newcastle Weekly Daily Newsletter. Sign up here.