Peta Searle is an assistant Australian Rules football coach with VFL club Port Melbourne. Peta was the first Victorian Women’s Football League (VWFL) coach to coach a team (Darebin Falcons) to five consecutive Premier Final wins and the first female coach in the TAC with the Western Jets. She was also the first head coach of the AFL Victoria VWFL Academy and the first female to coach in the VFL.
Right Now: What inspired you to take up a career in AFL coaching?
Peta Searle: I’m not sure if it’s a career, probably more of ambition than anything, but I played as a youngster so I always had a passion for football. In terms of moving from a player to a coach I always knew it was going to happen. The deciding moment for me (it has got nothing to do with football, I was a phys-ed teacher) was when I was coaching a year eight hockey team. One of the girls wasn‘t very skilful at hockey, but I said to her if you just stand over here near the post, when the ball rebounds out you could be there to push it in and score a goal – and it happened. When it happened, the excitement that I had for her – I just thought what I’m feeling for her is more amazing than anything I’ve felt during my own sporting pursuits in the last few years. From then on I knew that I would go into coaching just for that feeling of elation when helping others achieve. The internal feedback I received from that girl was the start of where I could go with coaching.
From then on I knew that I would go into coaching just for that feeling of elation when helping others achieve.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
It’s hard to pinpoint because it’s been quite diverse, obviously with girls and then boys and then men. I’d like to say it was the other day in my backyard when my six-year-old finally picked up a footie and took a speccy!
Obviously winning five grand finals in a row with Darebin Falcons – at the time I probably didn’t appreciate it but now that I haven’t coached a women’s club for some time I look back at it and start to understand the magnitude of the success and how special something like that is. But also where I am right now, at Port Melbourne, it’s a historic and very proud club, it’s one below AFL level and working with Gary Ayres every day – so a couple of highlights I guess.
Which female sportspeople do you look up to?
I have a lot of admiration for Sally Pearson and Anna Meares. I think Lauren Jackson has done just wonders for basketball. But I think really, what really inspires me is Britney Hamilton, the surfer that lost her arm in a shark attack and came back and turned into a professional surfer. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried surfing but it’s bloody hard work so to do it with only one arm and the fear that she probably had to face going back into the water – I just think it’s an inspiring and outstanding effort.
It’s a bit of a vicious cycle, you need a high media profile to gain sponsors and yet the sponsors drive the media.
Women make up just nine per cent of all sports coverage in Australian TV news and current affairs. Why do you think women’s sport doesn’t enjoy broader coverage?
It’s a bit of a vicious cycle, you need a high media profile to gain sponsors and yet the sponsors drive the media. It’s inadequate, and to hear that Sally Pearson has actually lost sponsors since her gold medal win – that’s very disappointing. I guess Olympics come every four years and the year after you win you’re not out there and the sponsors have pulled away.
Basically the government and commercial partners really need to work together to improve the media profile of female role models such as some of the girls at the Olympics, and the women’s cricket team. There are lots of strong, powerful and inspiring women, and there are a lot of women and girls out there that now read the sporting section, and watch a lot of sport on TV. There’s certainly a niche there and one media outlet just needs to commit to it. Honestly with the men’s sports, how often do you read the same stories over and over again? There needs to be a change and it needs to be driven by the government, the media and commercial partners, and once they do it the others will follow.
What do you see in the future for women’s sport and in particular, women’s AFL?
Women’s sport in general has been improving. It’s on the incline, there have been more opportunities developing, starting really well at lower levels. Lots of different sports have great programs where girls can follow pathways from a young age to teenage years to senior years.
Certainly there are lots of opportunities for girls to take up sport. And there are a lot of levels now too. For those that want to be a bit more professional there are elite level programs at underage levels. If you look at the back of end of that, women’s sport is only going to get better and better.
At the moment there come times where women can’t make a career out of sport and may need to make sacrifices or go back to a normal work occupation.
I think that where it really needs to start to change is at the top end – the financial viability of being at a high level and being able to make a career out of it. At the moment there come times where women can’t make a career out of sport and may need to make sacrifices or go back to a normal work occupation. The next focus needs to be on making sport really available for younger girls in terms of earning a career.