Michelle 'Alpha' Densley in action Photography: Darcy Allen
In their first season working together, Southern Saints Head Coach, Michelle 'Alpha' Densley, and Assistant Coach, Leah Olsen, are the driving forces for Women's Coaching and Development. With the rise of all 18 AFLW Teams (and soon a 19th in 2028 with the addition of a Tasmanian team), the demand for women in coaching is higher than ever, with more than 530,000 women lacing up their boots and running out onto the field each week. Women's football is rising in visibility and popularity, which will only continue to have a positive impact. So having women invest and participate is incredibly important in the development.
Alpha coaching from the bench. Photography: Darcy Allen
Growing up with very few women influences in AFL, Alpha says that her family was a massive inspiration for her,
"My eldest brother and uncle were probably the driving force for my football development. Being from the country, we learnt to sink or swim, so I learnt football at a pretty young age but never had the opportunity to play."
Alpha was in her mid 20's when she moved from the country, and after finding out that women can in fact play football, she jumped at the opportunity. Starting her career at Parkdale Football Club in 2006, she quickly progressed into higher leagues and eventually into assistant coaching roles, which inevitably led her to her senior coaching roles.
"Thinking back now, I look at the women I played with, and most of them had so much potential and ability to play the game they loved, but most never had the opportunity to start at a young age to develop to their full potential. I then look at the flip side and see the support and growth in the sport now, and I'm just thankful I can be a part of it.
Growing up being told "football is for boys", the fact that I get to now coach young players and support young players to love their sport is something very surreal."
When a combination of age and injuries brought Alpha to the end of her playing career, it was her sheer love for the sport that stopped her from giving it up, instead moving into coaching. Alpha has always viewed herself as a leader, saying, "It's easy to be a leader in a field you are so passionate about."
Taking her coaching to new levels in her first year at the Saints, after being a part of the side in 2018 and 2019, Leah Olsen has always loved watching and playing footy. So when her playing days came to an end, she wanted to make sure she was still a part of it somehow.
"Returning to the club where I learnt the most about myself and my game has been great!" says Leah.
When asked what she hopes to see in the future of women's football, she stated: "It's come so far already, but I would love to see my daughter one day running out as an AFLW player and knowing she has all of the opportunities that any of the boys do."
Leah believes it's essential to allow women to have the opportunity to be a part of key decision-making roles at clubs.
"It couldn't be more important to have strong female representation at the club and around football. It shows a stepping stone for young girls and allows the players to form connections with potentially like-minded people."
In her day-to-day life, Leah is a full-time PE and Psychology teacher. Having always enjoyed teaching and coaching, she knew she wanted to be a part of the football space, seeing herself as a leader through everything she's done.
With the future of the AFLW looking extremely positive, there is still a way to go before the game gets to where it deserves to be.
When asked what she is looking to see in the near future, Alpha's response was,
"I'd love to see a fair representation of skill sets and development of the players and upcoming players, therefore gaining the respect from the dominant AFL men's community and workforce so the girls and women can be proud in their own game and don't feel like they are lesser or "not as exciting" as the men's game. I know the development and expansion of the sport are important, but I hope the drive for education and player development is valued over the expansion of a business."
Alpha also hopes to teach players to love the sport as much as she does.
As well as having other strong women to look up to, it is essential to have a balance where women know they have other men, especially in such a historic game supporting, teaching and encouraging them to succeed and develop.
"I believe a balance of both men and women coaches and leaders are required, especially in our sport and depending on what that team needs. I'm so lucky to have some amazing men in our program that I trust wholeheartedly and couldn't imagine our team without them, while equally having some powerful women part of our program. Our club is run by Marcus Ashcroft, one of the most real and kind humans I've ever met, and although I support women in senior roles and want to see that increase expediently, I wouldn't swap Marcus for a second," says Alpha.
Some advice from Alpha to anyone in a coaching position in female football is,
"For the participation and development of women's football to increase and get better every year, let's make sure their environment is safe, and they just absolutely love what they are doing! We know there is little to no money in women's football, so let's ensure they have fun while still developing."
Alpha, Leah and the rest of the VFLW coaching group have managed to take the Southern Saints 5-3 for this season, hoping for a push towards Finals.
These women should be incredibly proud of everything they've achieved. They are true inspirations to other women and younger girls who play and want to be where they are one day.
Written By Darcy Allen - Sandringham Football Club Media