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Is The “Gender Divide” In Footy Diminishing – A Case Study

  • Thursday, November 11 2021 @ 08:23 am ACDT
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Yesterday, on a small school oval in far North Queensland, a team of girls played against a team of boys in our school’s first ever match which pitted one gender against another. Our boys and girls had been wanting this match all year, as had previous teams in years gone by, but with the help of local women’s footy gurus we went ahead.

Gordonvale State School has enjoyed success with girl’s teams since 2013, reaching regional and state finals regularly. The boys have not been as successful at that same level, but many play for local clubs so there is a high skill level and understanding of the game. It was always going to be interesting to see whether the boys dominated or the girls surprised.

Back in 2009 I arranged a similar game for girls v boys at another school. The girl’s team featured current North Melbourne AFLW player Elisha King. Whilst she terrorised the boys that day and booted around four goals, the boys were too good – by a significant margin.
Twelve years later it was overdue that we try again. Cutting a long story short, the scenario above actually occurred in both instances. The first half saw the girls tackle, chase and harass the boys, setting up their own scoring opportunities. At half time the boys led 28 to 19 but that alone did not tell the tale. The girls were ferocious. They were also talented. It really was stirring stuff.

At half-time, the boys licked their wounds (literal wounds) and devised a far better tactical plan. They focused on defending rather than ball chasing and used teamwork instead of individual glory. The boys had room to improve their game, whereas the girls had pretty well peaked by half time.

The final score reflected the difference – Boys 65, Girls 19. The fact is, the girls did surprise somewhat, but in the end the boys did dominate on the scoreboard. But not in general play. The girls just found the defence too hard to crack. They kept the boys to roughly the same score-line in the second half.

So, what, if anything, can be taken from a school match, some three thousand kilometres from footy’s heartland? Did our example hold any relevance for footy beyond our local level and be a pointer to state, national or international change? There is no way to measure this. All that can be done is surmise.

However, the following is true. Twenty years ago a similar match might have yielded a twenty goal to nil score-line (presumptuous, I know, but the footy world was different then). Yesterday was a seven goal difference. It begs the question – where might we be in another twenty years? Will we see even results? Or will the male dominance simply evolve, as women’s footy has already seen, to maintain a gender imbalance?

People across all spheres of sport and life will have their own opinions on this, and most will have some level of validity. All I can do is extrapolate my own observations on a hot, steamy afternoon under tropical skies. The girls have, in my ten years coaching at Gordonvale State School, significantly bridged the gap between footy for girls and boys. They only possess one girl who possesses the talents of Elisha King (echoing 2009), and the rest just worked hard, used and developed their skills and showed their pride to drive as hard as they could.

If that continues to occur over the next twenty years, it is conceivable that women’s footy will be closer to an even footing with the men’s game and we may even see men’s v women’s games at higher levels across Australia and in overseas markets.

No matter how I look at it, though, yesterday was a day of great pride for me. I also believe it was for the girls and everyone who watched the game.

The term “Girl Power” is becoming a little hackneyed over time, mainly through misuse. But yesterday I really did see the true meaning of that term, as well as the excitement that goes with the journey from here at our school and beyond. The “gender divide” that is spoken of in sporting circles certainly is, on the evidence presented in Gordonvale yesterday, diminishing.