Pivotal role of culture at Lake Wendouree

Bringing together a team of diverse female footballers, who had different backgrounds, ages and levels of experience, Lake Wendouree playing-coach Melinda Sands believed there was an essential ingredient she needed to get right.

TEAM SPIRIT: Jacinta Brew, Bridie Biggs, Melinda Sands, Tamara Campion, Hannah Ormond and Rachael Mahoney. Picture: Lachlan Bence

TEAM SPIRIT: Jacinta Brew, Bridie Biggs, Melinda Sands, Tamara Campion, Hannah Ormond and Rachael Mahoney. Picture: Lachlan Bence

“Going into the coaching role a little bit blind, I knew there was one thing I wanted to focus on and that was the culture first - before the football, before the fitness,” she said.

“We worked really hard on that from day one.” 

Lake Wendouree has just finished its first season in AFL Goldfields Women’s Competition.

The club, which started as a group of 10 at a trial day in February, has already 21 of its playing list committed to next year. 

Sands said a large part of the club’s success in retaining interest, especially with a couple of heavy defeats early on, had been an inviting and accepting environment. 

That club unity translated onto the field with a strong second half of the season.

“It all starts back at our culture and being a safe place for them to come to and a place they want to be,” Sands said. “The football is almost secondary to the feeling that they get just from being around the team.”

For Sands, giving the players an opportunity to be heard has been crucial, which is why everybody had an input in creating the team’s set of standards.

“We had quite a few team and leadership meetings throughout the year where we discussed potential issues and the direction we wanted to take the team this year and into the future,” Sands said.

Hoping to continue her role next season, Sands would like to build the relationship between the women’s team and the rest of the club, particularly the boys. 

“Just something like inviting them down to training to run some drills or even participate in training with the ladies,” she said. 

“Footy is a really great place to represent wider society when it comes to inclusiveness and respect towards women.”

Sands said another important part of establishing a strong culture was having women involved in all facets of the game including coaching and volunteer roles. 

“The gender roles are out the window these days,” she said. “I would encourage females to just stick their hand up and have a go.”

Sands also suggested clubs have representatives higher up, such as on the board, as a voice for the women’s game. 

“It’s still in the developmental stage, but there are some fantastic people in the region willing to fight really hard for it,” Sands said.