Riding the wave of women’s football in Australia

by frank-stuart

When ACPE graduate Stephen Peters started his career, the coaching opportunities in men’s football were limited. Instead, he sought a position in the women’s league. One day, he thought, I’ll transfer across but instead he developed a huge liking for it and stayed to play his part in the rise of women’s sport.

“After playing in the Men’s National Premier League, I noticed the big disparity between men and women’s football,” Stephen said. “Back then, the women had minimal resources – half a pitch, balls and some gear. We got by on blood, sweat and tears.”

In 2010, the Gladesville Ravens were the first football club to test Stephen’s skills. “They were a battler side in the second division of the Women’s National Premier League and it was a massive learning experience,” Stephen said. “I discovered coaching women was different. They were very good at absorbing information and combining as a team.”

“Within three years, we had raised the level of skill across the club and achieved promotion. Unfortunately, we got relegated back to second division the next year but it showed everyone that we could do it.”

In first division, the North West Sydney Koalas had noticed Stephen’s efforts and headhunted him. “The Koalas had better resources and buying power and they wanted to take the club up a level,” Stephen said. In my first year, the U16 moved up to fourth place and the next year the U17s team finished third and made the preliminary final. I was gaining momentum as a coach and women’s football was taking off.”

“The national team started being treated like a professional squad. They had training camps, team building, technical training, some pay and travel support – the stuff that men’s football has had for years,” Stephen said. “The Matildas had greater opportunities to travel, they were climbing the world rankings and female pioneers in the game, players like Lisa de Vanna, were showing younger women what they could achieve.”

The pathway to elite football was improving. In 2015, in first division the Blacktown Spartans asked Stephen to become the assistant to the first grade coach. “I had to take the opportunity,” he said. “In the previous season, the Spartans had finished last. There was work to be done but the team was gritty and determined. We recruited smartly and worked so hard we finished second in the competition. I was getting a reputation for lifting a team to a higher position.”

“In 2016, the Koalas persuaded me to return to the club in the role of head coach for the first grade team. We made it to the Grand Final but lost the league by a single point,” he said. “Still, it’s rewarding to have achieved the triple runner’s up crown!”

Today, Stephen is back at the Spartans as the Technical Director overseeing all the grades. He said women’s football is on the right track. “It’s in a great growth spurt as so much is being done to bridge the gap between men and women’s game on and off the field. In Australia now, you can watch female players progress from our domestic league to the world stage. That’s good for everyone involved.”

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