Michelle Cowan is a coach that has walked uncharted territory for the majority of her career. Fittingly, Cowan is poised to become the first female to coach an AFL side, signing with Fremantle for the inaugural AFL’s National Women’s League starting in 2017.
Cowan’s journey is one of dedication, passion and resilience, forging a legacy that will inspire many to follow in her footsteps.
From an early age, Cowan developed a deep passion for sport, as well as mentoring – recalling that her first ever paid job was in coaching.
“I always loved watching the game growing up and going to AFL games with my Dad and Brother. I’d also watch as much local and WAFL games as I could, as a 15-year-old girl sitting up on a bank just watching game after game. From a coaching point, this was my first ever paid job I had. I’d coach teams after school for some extra pocket money – hockey teams, softball teams, volleyball team, athletics team” said Michelle.
This love of the game led Michelle to become a pioneer of a male-dominated industry, breaking down the barrier of limited job opportunities that women have traditionally faced.
At 21, Cowan became Australia’s first female WAFL assistant coach at West Perth. In 2013, she was appointed senior coach of the Melbourne Football Clubs Women’s side, leading to her most recent role working alongside Paul Roos and Simon Goodwin with the Melbourne Men’s side as a Player Development Coach, a role that required her to travel to Melbourne from Perth four days a fortnight.
Melbourne Assistant Coach, Simon Goodwin has praised Cowan’s leadership and coaching credentials along with her impact on the playing group and support staff. “We’ve certainly seen that some players feel more comfortable talking to her about certain things. It has added a new dynamic to the group,” said Goodwin.
Following the AFL’s announcement of an eight-team women’s competition in 2017, Fremantle – as the only WA side granted a licence, was quick to approach Cowan for the senior coaching role.
“Michelle was the standout candidate for the position of senior coach of our Women’s Team. Among her many attributes, including coaching experience, knowledge of the game and people management skills, is her proven ability to attract and retain players,”said Fremantle’s chief executive Steve Rosich.
Cowan’s interpersonal and relationship skills have formed the basis of her coaching philosophy and reputation.
“As coaches it is imperative we understand the scope of the role as a coach. We have many hats to wear, it’s not just moving the magnets. I always put the person first and the footballer second, showing care for the individual” said Cowan.
Cowan is excited by the growing popularity and increasing opportunities for females in football. Her national company offers facilitating and mentoring services across Australia. “It’s a really exciting time and I am so honoured to be a part of this game. We will have many more women involved in the future – I recently presented at a coaching course which had over 70 females, a brilliant number”, said Cowan.
Cowans story is another example illustrating that the ability to create relationships, educate and influence players , outweighs the importance of playing at the highest level to be a successful coach.
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