G’Day learning peers,

Welcome to Blog 5 of ‘Gunn Engagement - 365 Day Sharing Project’ a daily reflective piece for teachers/coaches of all movement contexts, curating the learning of unique individuals. 

I’m Gunny (Coach Gunny/Craig Gunn) an experienced educator. I have a particular ‘calling’ to support those at the grassroots/foundation/community level.  As such consider joining the below group:

“Grassroots Coaching and Consulting” Facebook group (not the page) which gathers coaching/teaching brains from around the world.  It began less than 17 months ago and now has 528 members from every continent and most sports:

Join and invite your friends!  We’re practical, warm and engaging, but also a little more generalist for people who are often given a bag of balls as volunteer ‘coach’ and are trying to navigate what it means to be a teacher!  

I’m sharing this ‘Gunn Engagement - 365 Day Sharing Project’ to further support communities of educators, sharing about how to best engage learners. 

The topic of today’s piece is a revisit from last year where I had questions around the true cultural acceptance of women coaches into the national game. Not a whole lot has changed from my experience…

My blog begins now:

I, like many of you who coach women and girls, or, indeed, who just love the Australian Football League Women’s (AFLW) competition, thoroughly enjoyed Julia Hay’s recent opinion piece on LinkedIn, called, “The Importance of Women Contributing to Australia’s National Sport Australian Rules”. It is an inspiring tale of Julia’s recent decision to take up Aussie Rules coaching and implores other women to strongly consider volunteering to coach the nation’s game. Indeed, she rightly points that, “Women need to realise their experience with other invasion games such as basketball, netball, soccer and hockey, can easily be applied to football.”


However, I’ve since reached out to Julia, the great PE teacher, plus others, with some reservations about this rallying call. For example, I posted her amazing thoughts on the Brisbane Lions AFLW Facebook fan group which stimulated much discussion. Maybe things are different in Melbourne but up here, much of the commentary was from supportive men and women who sadly at times had some doubts about the ‘can do’ attitude. No need to go into it, but, I also gained my first ‘intelligent’ troll, who goaded me over email about my feminist agenda.

I may be facing further hate mail for saying this, but, Aussie Rules ‘clubland’ to me seems dominated by a ‘macho’ culture that does not like ‘change’. This is saying something from a bloke who was reared on playing and loving rugby league, the most beautifully simple game in the world. However, I stress now that it will take more than women putting their hand up to break the gender sterotypes Mrs Hay spoke about… I reckon it’s us stuck in cement blokes who need to change. Let me explain…

I have coached and educated in all sports and levels for a couple of decades. I swore that I’d never coach my own daughters and have happily sat back and enjoyed their triumphs or failures under many good and some not so good coaches. My girls knew that they were always there to work and have fun with their mates and I only complained once about coaches, after half a season of two blokes screaming constantly at the teenage umpires!!! I cringe every time I hear the ‘roar’ of ‘BAAAALLLLLL’ by the crowd at our young officials but that’s something for another day…

However, when it was my time to take my youngest daughters U/11 gals team, when there was no other option, the shoe was on the other foot. You see I was different!!! I hadn’t ever played AFL before and was actually formally complained about for allegedly not teaching the girls basic skills. This was not true, because as Julia pointed out there is research out there suggesting that there are far more effective ways of training than drills, like her referenced Game Sense. And, I was the lecturer of PE and Sports Coaching at a local university teaching Game Sense, along with, Teaching Games for Understanding, The Sport Education Model, and, the Constraints led Approach among others.

Thus, whilst my methods were completely backed by, modern motor learning theory and coaching ‘101’; plus, despite the fact that my players were five times more active than any teams around, comments would be made to club hierarchy by former players that I was doing it all wrong because I wasn’t using ‘drills’… But this was just the tip of the iceberg and you can read more of this journey if you Google a paper written by me and ably led by the wonderful Aussie Rules and Game Sense ‘Guru’, Dr. Shane Pill from Flinder’s University, presented at a Australian Council of Health Physical Education and Recreation (ACHPER) international conference in 2017. POINT BLANK: You see, I wasn’t the right cultural fit for people used to the way things were usually done. BUT…it got worse!

One afternoon I was sick and my wonderful, surf lifesaving, mother of three daughters, plus, dynamic, role modelling, assistant coach was charged to take the session. She worked in a girls’ boarding school, had a thirst for my coaching style, because as she said we “Didn’t ‘Lord’ over the kids”, and, had a true passion to serve the kids. Yet, I was worried about the folded armed male brigade in close proximity, which proved sadly correct. To support, I sent my wife, an experienced educator with illustrious levels of EQ to assist. However, the males soon moved in and made comments about what was going on to the coaching coordinator who had chipped me about this ‘games stuff’ before. By halfway through the session, the males mounted their mutiny and took over… My amazing assistant coach whom I was grooming to take over, resigned and took her girls away… Forever…

I have many, many sad tales of ignorance among my ‘national game’ male peers to add if you want to contact me. But needless to say, I, and a few of the key females driving the program have progressed to supportive climates. I though, am still coaching, senior men, women and girls from U/11-17, and happily assist with coaching the Queensland U15s girls, through what they affectionately call ‘Gunny Madness’. It’s actually just game centred learning, that to be honest, they are just not that used to.

Once again, Julia is right about the research saying Game Sense is effective but the research also suggests that Aussie Rules coaches generally don’t use it even if they say they do!!! Walk past any senior, ‘sub elite’ team and you will see line ups, waiting behind cones and static learning environments, because, CHANGE is HARD!!! Don’t believe me??? Consider that Game Sense was launched in Australia in 1995. It was taught in my rugby union Level II course in 2000, yet when I get to present anything on Game Sense in Aussie Rules circles, coaches constantly refer to Game Sense ‘drills’ which would be rather counter-intuitive to its earlier promoters like Rod Thorpe and Ric Charlesworth. Yep, CHANGE is HARD because CULTURES are STRONG! Which also means, some of us fit in and some don’t…

This is the bones of my present research: coaching behavioural change. But what have I done to help the change? Well, I have started and run a diverse sports coaches’ group called, “Grassroots Coaching and Consultancy”, where worldwide sports coaching experts like Shane Pill offer their help for all members FREE. Look us up and join 330 members from all around the world who are questioning the cultural, learning ‘norms’ and supporting each other to “BE THE CHANGE!!!” And, finally to support ‘change’, I have been on social media to call on any female coach inspired to improve learning outcomes, to connect with me virtually or face-to-face in Brisbane for FREE support. I am very experienced and know that coaching this game has challenges for humans who don’t kick as long as others… This is odd, because you see, we are the ones who can be the best of coaches because we have remained curious about how “things get done ‘round ‘ere’!”

As for Mrs Hay, I applaud you as a true WARRIOR in the movement and look forward to aligning myself with you in further initiatives. Indeed, I applaud the AFL for inviting you to a ‘think tank’ on attracting more female coaches. This is a MUST for my daughters and their male peers. However, a ‘caveat’, I believe much education is needed around cultural change in ‘clubland’ to ensure this gets going properly. We need ‘true’ support for a ‘hands up’ policy, because, some clubs DO CHANGE and others DON’T.

In fact, I’d reckon the rise of the AFLW has probably saved many clubs but has taken us all ‘off guard’. It was only last year that my girls’ club got change rooms, which was far better than previous years’ changing on the field. However, as an educator, I wonder how much of this current growth has been properly thought through. Indeed it reminds me of Susan Kahn (2017) citing Peeler (2009) on what led to the collapse of Enron, “There is a strange thing goes on inside a bubble. It’s hard to describe. People who are in it can’t see outside of it, don’t believe there is an outside”.

Thus please volunteer leading female coaches because many of you reside outside the ‘bubble’. In fact, you will probably be better teachers as a result of this. But, seek support early and often in preparation for those can’t see outside…

Yours in learning,

Coach Gunny