Real chance to show skills, sharpens skills in women's sport | From the Press Box with Melanie Whelan

TEST: Ballarat athlete Tahni Nestor was a late call-up to Carlton's AFLW season earlier this year. She seizes a chance to show her athleticism on the Combine stage at Etihad Stadium this week. Picture: AAP
TEST: Ballarat athlete Tahni Nestor was a late call-up to Carlton's AFLW season earlier this year. She seizes a chance to show her athleticism on the Combine stage at Etihad Stadium this week. Picture: AAP

EXPOSURE is a powerful tool in changing attitudes on the sporting landscape.

But it is about the right exposure – smart exposure.

AFLW made a huge impact on launch, three years ahead of the AFL’s initial plans for a women’s league. The response was so big it surprised the league’s top heavyweights.

Exhibition matches had been a taste, but this proved there was a strong appetite for women’s football.  

This week’s AFLW Combine is a major factor in getting the next steps right. The AFL announced its expansion plans for the women’s league last month, a staggered process in a bid to keep athlete and game standards high.

An AFLW Combine was a venture into the unknown in some ways because it had not been done before. But the purpose is the same as the Combine for young men – screening skills, athleticism, agility, speed, endurance and player personality to grow the game.

Clubs want to get the right athletes to develop and the exciting part for women is AFLW is essentially still working on starting near scratch because this is new territory, entering a second season. AFLW clubs need the right athletes to showcase the game and promote what is possible.

Western Bulldogs’ midfielder Emma Kearney, who is also a Melbourne Stars WBBL cricketer, said exposure for both sports as elite offerings, particularly AFLW, had been incredible in the support this had generated.

 “As soon as you showcase a sport, people better appreciated what you’re doing,” Kearney told The Courier. “When people are amazed how hard we hit, we’ve actually been doing it for ages.”

AFLW Combine and the upcoming AFLW draft helps bring the league in line with what is expected in the AFL and spark more interest.

In turn, put simply, greater exposure leads to greater the resources and chances for elite female athletes get to fine-tune their game.

‘Build it so they will come’ is a mantra Ballarat Football League has long used, particularly in developing women’s football.

The BFL has been a leader in the state in building up from its inaugural youth girls’ season with four founding teams in 2011. This now extends from junior girls to open-age women’s competitions overseen by a dedicated female football manager.

Grassroots exposure, has all been about opportunity, creating a safe and fun environment for female to play the game. Some may have been football fans but for others it is another non-traditional option to be more active and try something new.

BACK: Rush basketballer Ash "Splash" Spencer has a chance to showcase her game with Bendigo Spirit and WNBL action back on television. Picture: Bendigo Advertiser

BACK: Rush basketballer Ash "Splash" Spencer has a chance to showcase her game with Bendigo Spirit and WNBL action back on television. Picture: Bendigo Advertiser

AFLW’s impact has also forced other female sports to restructure their branding and exposure, like Super Netball transforming the game into a professional arena with groundbreaking broadcast rights. Top female cricketers have also struck a better pay deal. And this weekend, we will have the return of Women’s National Basketball League broadcasts with the WNBL launching this season in an edgy new #WatchUsFly promo.

The right exposure for women’s sport carries a pretty empowering message and it is a pretty exciting landscape to watch unfold.